Recently, it seems that more and more celebrities have been speaking out, urging their fans to head to the polls on Nov. 6. John Legend, Rihanna, even Taylor Swift broke her political silence – which is still making headlines after her message about the midterm elections reportedly encouraged more than 400,000 people to rush out and register to vote. But, some might say that it was “Modern Family” executive producer (and five-time Emmy winner) Danny Zuker who started it.
His new book, He Started It!: My Twitter War With Trump, was written by Zuker with longtime friend/political writer, Paul Slansky. Released this past September, all 94 pages chronicle the jabs and witty retorts between Zuker and Donald Trump that took place between April and July of 2013. Zuker has also credited Trump on Twitter as co-author, with tongue firmly in cheek. The “Modern Family” EP may be a renowned comedy writer, but, as he pointed out during our interview, “I have to give him co-authorship. I think he got some of the better laugh lines.”
About a year ago, Zuker had gathered up a few friends to do a live reading of the now infamous tweets. The occasion brought out pals such as Slansky and actor Tim Simons from “Veep” (who took on the role of Trump). The Twitter war was read aloud. Zuker recalls how everyone in the room went from laughter to anger, to sadness, in the realization that “The Apprentice” host was now the President of the United States. Then Slansky offered up an idea. A book, where the proceeds would go to a number of charities whose causes have been directly affected by Trump; it would be titled after the former reality star’s response following an accusation of being immature for fighting with Zuker via Twitter - “He started it.”
And so it began. In the book, Zuker pieces together each tweet that took place over the course of those few months, up until the point he was blocked by the now commander-in-chief. It wraps up with the Emmy winner subsequently tweeting out, “I miss us” to which Trump replied, “Danny, I miss you tooooo!” Zuker then swung again, pointing out that a compliment paid on April Fools’ Day - may not actually be a compliment after all. The final knockout came in the form of a photo tweeted at Trump, which shows Zuker grasping an Emmy, surrounded by a couple of “Modern Family” cast members.
“I really do think if I were to go on social media now and say I was his strongest critic, but looking back after all this time, I’ve got to admit the guy’s done a great job, that I would be invited to the White House,” Zuker told AXS. “I joke that I could be Secretary of State, but I think that I could get a position out of him. Because that’s his ultimate thing; compliment him. Don’t criticize him. Tell him he’s funny, tell him he’s smart, tell him he’s sexy, and all of those things work.”
Zuker might be an expert on the subject now, but initially, he took to social media in order to test jokes and says that he was completely shocked when Trump first engaged with him. It was only once Zuker challenged his “Apprentice” ratings that the war began. Eventually, other comedians such as Andy Richter and Jimmy Kimmel chimed in, adding even more fuel to the fire.
The book turned out to be a clever and concise way to get across an extremely important message. “I believe there is no more powerful message throughout history than comedy and satire to make your point,” Zuker says. “Comedy automatically pulls somebody’s defenses down so they’re laughing. Then the message can get in. If I’m about to hear something I may disagree with, I’m geared up for it, but make me laugh and see a little bit of the ridiculousness of my position, or another’s position, and you’re already in there.” Zuker suggests that while some news outlets treat both sides the same, comedians, especially late night comedians and comedy shows, don’t; they illustrate that two competing points of view, even if they’re opposite, are not necessarily equal.
So, how do we help educate and unite, rather than berate and divide? And is that even an option at this point? “I’m probably the wrong person to ask,” Zuker laughed. He doesn’t predict anyone is going to be changing their mind on this matter, which is why he says it’s more important than ever to get out there and vote. “Run to the polls. Everybody who’s voting should be out there on their friends – let’s vote. We’ll drive together, whatever it is – we all have to do it. It has to be truly grassroots. That’s the number one thing,” he made clear.
Regarding the big picture, Zuker says that oddly enough, he’s optimistic. “People all over the country are really activated. People are aware. They know what’s going on. I’m hopeful this will come to action. I still think, while the systems have shown how flawed they are, how weak and vulnerable they are and how delicate democracy is, I think ultimately, it will prevail. I still believe there are more good people out there.”
“The number one message of this book is that this warning existed before 2016,” Zuker continued. “Paul [Slansky] said this and I think he’s right, that there’s nothing you’ll learn about Donald Trump the person, in the Bob Woodward book [Fear: Trump in the White House], that you won’t learn in these 94 pages. I don’t think this is hyperbolic; we’re literally in that moment where the life of the country is at stake. In November, we have to vote. We have to make this change and start to hold people accountable.”
You can keep up with Danny Zuker on Twitter and visit hestartedit.com to purchase a copy of He Started It!: My Twitter War With Trump. A portion of each sale goes to Planned Parenthood, RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and the World Wildlife Fund. This book is dedicated to voters. Go vote.
If you’re in Los Angeles, you can check out the SMCLA #RockTheVote Book Talk and Signing with Modern Family EP Danny Zuker, on Oct. 23. Click here for tickets.