Professional Trolls of the Campaign Trail Speak: Trump’s the ‘Biggest Prankster of Them All’
In mid-March Fox News ran a story about a pair of Trump supporters sporting fascistic armbands emblazoned with the candidate’s initial.
Reporting from West Palm Beach, Florida, Fox’s Carl Cameron told viewers: “Armbands is a fairly new phenomenon in American presidential politics. And so is Donald Trump.” Trump’s supporters, he said, were “fed up and cynical and angry about American politicians.”
The only problem is that the whole armband thing was a gag. As Mediaite reported at the time, the two “Trump supporters” Fox spoke to were, in fact, two New York-based comedians, Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler. Fox ended up retracting the story less than an hour after it aired.
The duo, who perform together as the guerilla comedy group The Good Liars, had been on the campaign trail for months, pranking candidates, crowds, and reporters with a series of impish, brazen stunts, many of which were reported with reasonably straight faces by the media.
In one memorable example, Stiefler appeared on C-SPAN trying to exorcise a demon out of Ted Cruz, screaming, “Look in the mirror and let the evil spirit leave! Leave your power-hungry demonic soul! Leave your wretched body!”
“A very confused fellow,” Cruz observed.
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 8, 2016
Throughout the election cycle Selvig and Stiefler would periodically appear in videos heckling Trump for being “low energy” (while praising him for saying “racist shit”), hijacking a Cruz rally, ruining Clinton’s photo-op by sitting right behind her and sporting “Settle for Hillary” t-shirts, and so on.
If there was a pattern to the stunts or an agenda other than just (mostly) good-natured trolling, it was not divulged. Not many seemed to notice that the same two guys were behind all the pranks. And the pair let all requests for comment go unanswered — until now.
We now know that the exploits were part of the filming of a mockumentary entitled Undecided: The Movie, in which Selvig and Stiefler portray a pair of ambivalent voters whose lives are being documented by a camera crew as they travel the country. Once they hit the campaign trail, the two become embroiled in “a sinister plot that could change the course of the election,” according to the movie’s synopsis. A screener of the film was not made available Wednesday, so it’s anyone’s guess how well the movie’s fictional plot meshes with the real-world antics.
The purpose behind their pranking revealed at last, Selvig and Stiefler spoke with Mediaite Wednesday to discuss their itinerant lives on the road as the 2016 election’s resident “professional trolls.” The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Mediaite: After the armband thing, we tried to reach both of you for comment. And didn’t hear back. What gives?
Jason Selvig: Well, we kinda took a code of silence while we were doing all of these political stunts and videos for the film. And we decided, no matter how cool it sounds, we’re not gonna respond so we don’t tip our hands to what’s going on right now.
Mediaite: As far as that goes, you must have known that people were going to start catching on. Did that at all change the way you conceived and executed the pranks?
JS: Not really. We were actually surprised how few people figured it out. We had several websites that posted about us numerous times but never connected the two events or the three events or the four events together. They just kept posting, being like: “Who are these guys?” And I think a lot of that is the media being like: “We need a good story here, and it’s not going to be as good a story if we say it’s the same two guys over and over again.”
Occupy Occupy Wall Street, Day One (2011)
Mediaite: Can you tell me how you developed your comedic style and how it led to the idea for this film?
Davram Stiefler: Sure. We started with Occupy Occupy Wall Street [in 2011]. We were down there, and we posed as investment bankers and decided to occupy the occupation of the park. It was supposed to be this one-off sketch, and the media really bit on it in kind of a cool way. It got conversations going, it was funny. So we kept these characters up. We got real bankers protesting with us. So it kind of took on — like the film — it got some momentum. So we followed that through to its end, to get the comedy we could from that. And it was a real learning experience, a really interesting experience.
Protect the Polls (2012): A fake advocacy group lobbying to legalize shooting anyone suspected of committing voter fraud.
DS: So we did Protect the Polls [in 2012]. We did stuff with Chick-fil-A a while ago, appearing on talk shows as Chick-fil-A representatives. We’ve done some stuff about the gun companies. And we’ve tried to keep the spirit of that original Occupy Occupy Wall Street thing alive in terms of bringing these characters that can get these conversations going, and are kind of ridiculous and say what people are saying behind closed doors but wouldn’t say in public. This election was an opportunity to look at our comedy in a bigger, broader way and say: What can we do with the skills that we’ve kind of been sharpening over the past few years to try and do something bigger and smarter and more ambitious? So that’s where we are now.
Mediaite: As this campaign got more and more ridiculous, did you have to adjust your strategy? Did you feel like you had to step it up a notch in any way?
JS: Donald Trump really threw us a curveball here. I mean, he is maybe the biggest prankster of them all. Yeah, a lot of the stuff in the movie I think we — a lot of the stunts that we did, we had come up with before we even started working on the movie. And then as we were working ourselves up for the movie, we had these ready-to-go pranks.
DS: I think we should emphasize though that the series of stunts that we pulled off, we fit those into the narrative of the film, and we had to tailor one to the other. It went both ways. We had something we really wanted to do, we had to figure out how to make it part of the film. We also had a story to tell and had to figure out which stunt we would need to tell that story. So we had a kind of interesting puzzle to solve in terms of that.
JS: But some of the candidate interactions, they’re not even stunts. And you’ll see when the film comes out. Some of them are just basically characters in a film. And it’s not us getting up and interrupting and making the news. It’s actually, like, hanging out with real presidential candidates for five to ten minutes at a time and making them part of our film. Kind of the way that we have to deal with them every day in real life, watching them on the news. We’re all part of their story. Now they’re part of our story. And we think that’s kind of a funny idea.
DS: I think that a little bit the premise of the whole thing is that we get dragged through their story for months. And what if we could put them through our story?
Mediaite: I guess I kind of suspected there was a project in the works here, but unimaginatively I just thought it would be a supercut of stunts and pranks. When did the idea of doing a narrative-driven piece come about? Are you playing yourselves in this story?
JS: No we’re not. Our characters are kind of based on our back stories in a lot of ways. Part of that’s a practical reason because we were going into places where you have to show your ID, and you have to have a name that’s on your ID. So they are extensions of ourselves, but the idea of having two undecided voters was a natural way to go and interact with every single candidate. Who doesn’t want to talk to an undecided voter?
DS: It’s such a good vehicle to get us at any and every event we’d want to be at, to interact with anybody along the way. We’re two guys tasked with the responsibility of making a decision about who we’re gonna vote for. So we have to experience everyone and everything on the campaign trail to mentally come to a decision.
Continue reading: Page two.
Selvig and Stiefler pretending to be Trump supporters at John Kasich’s victory speech following the Ohio primary.
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