Former White House speech writer speaks at WCU

Jon Lovett, a former political speech writer, came to visit WCU. Photo taken by Rebecca Romo.

Jon Lovett, a former political speech writer, came to visit WCU.
Photo taken by Rebecca Romo.

Who knew standup comedians could work for the President of the United States?

Jon Lovett, a former political speech writer for both Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama, came to Western Carolina University to speak about his experiences on Wednesday, March 18.

The event began promptly at 7 p.m. and took place in the  A.K. Hinds University Center Theater.

Lovett began his presentation by giving audience members a brief introduction to his life and was very honest when he shared stories about the experiences that led him to become a presidential speech writer.

Lovett wrote a speech for his college graduation ceremony and he liked it. “I liked the experience of talking in front of everyone and I liked making people laugh,” said Lovett.

Shortly after his graduation from college he got into standup comedy but didn’t feel that it was his calling.

“It’s really hard to do it professionally and I didn’t have the drive to succeed in standup like others did…I’m funny enough to be a funny professional but not funny enough to be professionally funny,” said Lovett.

However, being a late night standup comedian did pay off for Lovett when he made a connection with someone who helped land him his first official job after college to be a political speech writer for then-Senator Hilary Clinton which he decided was an opportunity that he could not pass up.

“I learned a lot and I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I got to work with her,” said Lovett.

After leaving his position with Clinton’s campaign, he got the opportunity to do a blind speech contest which landed him his next major job with the Obama Administration, making him the youngest speech writer for the White House at 25 years old.

“I think it works better when I hear what you guys questions are since I’m sure you know what you want to hear rather than me rambling,” said Lovett jokingly, which led to the next part of the event.

After he finished talking, he opened up the floor for students to ask any questions that they had.

One audience member asked if he told jokes to the President.

“Oh yes! One was ‘Now that you’ve seen Sister Act, here’s my brother act’…And the President just looked at me and said ‘No.’ So my next attempt was a little better. ‘It was so exciting to see Sister Act, which was of course about women in a convent. It was great research for where I plan to send my daughters after middle school.’ He liked that one, that one got me a fist bump from the President,” said Lovett which caused his audience to chuckle.

Another audience member asked if Lovett ever had trouble writing speeches that went against his belief.

“The gay stuff was hard for a long time. The democrats and the gay community were just grateful to be allies. It got really hard to write those speeches. It got harder and harder to say that we were for equal rights but not for marriage. I understood it at the time but I disagreed with it,” replied Lovett

Lovett also joked that he thought “the job of a speech writer is to ask enough questions to be able to know enough to write your speech” when asked if he was writing speeches about things he didn’t fully understand.

One of the final questions of the evening was if Lovett had any tips for students that wanted to get into a similar career path of becoming a speech writer or a screenwriter. Lovett was more than willing to share his short and to the point advice.

“It doesn’t matter what you major in; study something interesting,” said Lovett.

Hear some of Lovett’s advice for how to get into the speech writing career.

He also added that to become a writer, ‘the 10,000 hours thing is true’, write as much as you can as often as you can and eventually you’ll get great at it.

After his talk and question session Jon Lovett took pictures with students and answered any remaining questions they had. Photo taken by Rebecca Romo.

After his talk and question session, Jon Lovett took pictures with students and answered any remaining questions they had.
Photo taken by Rebecca Romo.

Shahidah Uthman, the president of Last Minute Productions who helped organize the event said, “there were 45 people in attendance which was under the number that was expected” but she thinks “the event went very well and Lovett was very engaging with the students.”

Lovett now works as a screenwriter for a show called The Newsroom.

Photos and video taken by Rebecca Romo.