Q&A with Kevin Bleyer

In comedian Kevin Bleyer’s new book, Me the People, he attempts to do what no other political satirist has done before — rewrite the Constitution.

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Bleyer, an Emmy Award-winning writer for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” will be reading excerpts from and signing copies of his book at 7 p.m. Friday at the Politics and Prose bookstore. He recently spoke to The Hill about late-night comedy and interviewing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. 


Q: What inspired you to write this book?

To be perfectly honest, Thomas Jefferson told me to write this book. That is to say, he said, oh so many years ago, that every constitution naturally expires after the end of 19 years. So by his math, our Constitution expired over 200 years ago and should have been rewritten 11 times by now. He inspired me to write it, and quite frankly, I feel bad that I’m just getting to it now. I’ve been slacking for two centuries. 


Q: How did you balance writing this book with your work at “The Daily Show”?

It was kind of inspiring how my full-time job inspired the research for the book, and research for the book inspired my full-time job. In the last year, especially, but certainly in the last five years, you often hear people in the news — and of course the news is our business here at “The Daily Show” — cite the Constitution, quote the Constitution, cozy up to the Constitution, and I was never totally convinced that people knew what was in the Constitution when they were doing that. 

So I got the chance to do some fact-checking of my own, going all the way back to 1787, and try to determine if the people that were quoting the Constitution all day on cable news were at least somewhat hitting the target. It was nice to have my day job inform my night job. 


Q: For the chapter about the judicial branch, you had a fiery interview with Antonin Scalia. What was it like to grill the Supreme Court justice? How did you prepare?

Well, you could imagine it was a vast menagerie of emotions because I didn’t have too much time to prepare for it … I was nervous about it. I was this rapscallion out to rewrite the Constitution and he, of all the people on the face of the earth, is the one man you’d think of when you think of someone who is out to protect every clause or phrase of it. 

I was a little bit nervous that he wouldn’t suffer me and my foolishness. It was a relief when he sat down and was not only gregarious and engaging but seemed to get the joke and seemed to get the absurdity of what I was doing, and also seemed to understand the intention of what my book is. 

About halfway through the lunch I thought, “Well, shucks, I’ve got to find some way to get him upset with me,” and I won’t spoil it for the reader to let you know that I probably did. 


Q: How did you get that interview?

Completely happenstance and through the good will of certain people. The man that I reached out to to do my portrait for the book — I thought, of course, like James Madison, I had to do something to commemorate the fact that I was writing the Constitution — was Nelson Shanks, and he kept teasing me with the idea that I should meet with Justice Scalia. I didn’t know at the time that he was close friends with him. So when he called me and said, “Are you available tomorrow to have lunch?” at first I thought he meant with him, but instead he meant with Justice Scalia. 


Q: If you could get any lawmaker on Capitol Hill to read this book, who would it be?

[House Speaker] John Boehner [R-Ohio]. Because after he reads it, I’ll be able to claim that I’ve written a real tearjerker. You just know Boehner will turn the last page and say, “I laughed till I cried.”


Q: Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are running for president in 2012. Who do you vote for and why? 

You’re assuming that they’d be on separate tickets? 


Q: Let’s imagine that they’re going head to head.

What I want to know is what happened in the last four years that caused such a division between them. They’re kindred spirits, and you’re suggesting a world in the future in which they’re at each other’s throats. Is [Rep.] Ron Paul [R-Texas] running at this point? 


Q: Why not?

So now I have to decide, if I vote for Ron Paul, does that help throw the election to Colbert or Stewart? I want to be a spoiler in this election — that’s all I want to be. And I think they would respect that. 

If we’ve really come to the situation in which we’re actually going Jon Stewart against Colbert, I think it’s about time we give Ron Paul a shot.


Q: Who wins in the national election?

I would presume that it is a too-close-to-call election, and at some point there is a duel to figure it out. So the question becomes, who is the better shot? And I’m going to have to go with Colbert on that one.