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David Mandel ‘88: a career in comedy

ALWAYS LAUGHING: Mandel ‘88 as a high school senior (left); Mandel poses with his 2017 Emmy for Best-Comedy, Veep (right).

ALWAYS LAUGHING: Mandel ‘88 as a high school senior (left); Mandel poses with his 2017 Emmy for Best-Comedy, Veep (right).

ALWAYS LAUGHING: Mandel ‘88 as a high school senior (left); Mandel poses with his 2017 Emmy for Best-Comedy, Veep (right).

Solomon Katz

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76.3 million Americans laughed in their living rooms while watching the series finale of Seinfeld, a show that David Mandel ‘88 helped write.
On top of writing for Seinfeld in its final three seasons, Mandel has written for Saturday Night Live (SNL), been an executive producer and director of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and is currently the executive producer and show-runner of Veep.
When Mandel was at the school, he was enthralled by comedy, listening to old stand-up albums and watching movies and television shows including SNL, but he never envisioned it as his future career.
“Even though I was a huge comedy nerd, pursuing a career in comedy was never something a student at Horace Mann could picture. I loved making my friends laugh as much as I could, but if you had asked me in high school, I would’ve guessed I would become a lawyer or something,” Mandel said.
In high school, Mandel was involved in many extracurriculars, none of which were related to comedy. He was very interested in photography and spent a lot of time developing photos in the dark room and taking pictures for The Record and Mannikin.
Upon attending Harvard University, Mandel wrote for The Harvard Lampoon, the nation’s oldest humor magazine.
“Working for the Lampoon allowed me to be exposed to a new environment of like minded people and was my awakening to the possibility of pursuing a career in comedy seriously,” Mandel said.
The Harvard Lampoon worked on a TV show on Comedy Central, which is where Mandel met comedian Al Franken. Franken snowballed Mandel’s career by setting him up with jobs writing material for Democratic and Republican conventions and writing for SNL.
“I watch SNL because I don’t have to think about plot lines or deeper meanings, it’s just simply about getting a laugh,” Shant Amerkanian (11) said.
Working at SNL, Mandel met Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, eventually leading to his participation in Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm with my family, and Larry David’s social commentary is both ridiculous and hilarious,” Eliza Bender (10) said.
“I had wanted to work on these enormous projects so much, and it felt good to be working with guys like Jerry and Larry who only cared about being funny and nothing else, which is what I love,” Mandel said.
Mandel’s path has led him to his current job producing Veep, which stems from working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the set of Seinfeld.
“Back in the time of Seinfeld, there weren’t so many channels on television and there wasn’t anything like Netflix, so everyone in America who was watching TV was basically watching the same show, and Seinfeld was a very popular show. There was nothing better than going out on a Friday night and hearing people all over talk about the episode I had just worked on,” Mandel said.
Mandel has always been politically active since he majored in government at Harvard. Veep, a political satire, has had a complicated relationship in the past couple of years with the Trump administration.
“It’s clever and funny to point out subtle hypocrisies in an overall good president like Obama, but Trump jokes are told so frequently that it poses a challenge,” Mandel said.
Mandel genuinely feels bad about issues such as debt, the environment, and judges that the generation after his will have to deal with, so it’s hard for him to joke about such a real problem, he said.
Events like Russians hacking the Democratic Party make any material writers can come up with for Veep seem boring in comparison, Mandel said in an interview on NPR.
“Ah, I wish I had thought of firing the FBI guy,” Mandel said in an interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Although Veep is a way for viewers to escape real political problems by emulating a fictional presidency, Mandel hopes everyone stays on top of pressing political issues, he said.
“I’ve always loved having the opportunity to tell the jokes I want to and make people laugh, but no matter what side you’re on, I want everyone to be politically active,” Mandel said.

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David Mandel ‘88: a career in comedy