Just when Jon Lovett thought he was out of politics, they pulled him back in. The 30-year-old former stand-up comic toiled over speeches for President Obama for three years before he quit in September 2011 to pursue comedy writing in Hollywood. "The one thing I didn't want to do was a show about the White House," he says. "I was too close to it." But on January 9, Lovett returned to the Beltway, where his old boss hosted a screening of 1600 Penn, the new NBC sitcom about a dysfunctional first family that Lovett cocreated with its star Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon) and former Modern Family producer Jason Winer.
"It was sort of fortuitous," Winer says. "Josh and I came up with the idea, but we were a little daunted by it because we could write the family stuff but we weren't confident enough to handle the White House details. Jon had just come to Los Angeles and we were introduced. I said, 'This is crazy. This guy has never written anything narrative before.' But there's nobody who knows this world better."
The idea of using the White House to depict an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation attracted Lovett, who was doing stand-up before he interned for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. That led to stints as a Capitol Hill press aide and as a speechwriter for Hillary Clinton. While on President Obama's staff, Lovett helped craft messages on the financial crisis and health-care reform, but he also provided the commander in chief's zingers for such occasions as the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Lovett's imprint on the early episodes of 1600 Penn is most prominent in the depiction of an unruly Washington press corps. "The press on the show does the same job that they do in real life," he says. "They're ridiculous. They have a hive mentality. But they hold everybody's feet to the fire. That balance of being completely annoying and totally necessary is part of the fun of the show."
In an upcoming episode, Lovett offers a peek into the speechwriters' room when President Gilchrist, played by Bill Pullman, needs to praise someone publicly whom he doesn't like. "I've lived that," Lovett says. "Finding the words isn't always easy."