Bradford Broyles, a filmmaker and GOP operative, has spent the last year and a half quietly publishing a video series lampooning Republican Gov. Phil Scott for drifting towards the political center. Now, Broyles is training his lens beyond Vermont.
“We want to create content for red-state America,” Broyles says. “And it’s kind of ironic that we’re doing it from Vermont, the bluest of blue states.”
Broyles and his partner Len Britton began producing satirical commercials during Britton’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2010. They started the “Fan Club” series (since rebranded as “News Done Right”) in early 2017 to criticize “left turns” made by the recently elected Gov. Scott.
Analysts say this week’s primary results show Scott losing support among his conservative base. Broyles believes his show forecast that shift.
“‘Fan Club’ early on saw where this administration was going, and we wanted to make a point of it — to call it out for what it is,” he says.
“Fan Club” posts were heavily — and anonymously — promoted on social media channels related to Vermont politics. Reporting by Seven Days and VPR suggested that Broyles was connected to the series, but the filmmaker refused to comment on his participation.
He and Britton are now shopping another series, “The Potwins,” to major networks. The show, which stars Britton’s son Jonah alongside professional actors like Kevin Sorbo, sends up modern political correctness. Broyles says the success of shows like “Roseanne” and Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” proves there’s a market for family sitcoms with a conservative lens.
But leveling up on his comedy mission means coming clean about the biting satire he’s produced locally.
Broyles, like Scott, has argued for more civility in political conversation. “We need to stop labeling each other with derogatory terms,” he wrote in a 2016 VPR commentary.
But the “Fan Club” videos are often unforgiving of the “Thunder Gov,” as the hosts call Scott. Seven Days reported that their criticism of the governor led to a formal complaint for violating electioneering laws.
“We’re a comedy show, and some of it’s not civil,” Broyles says. “That’s part of pushing the envelope and doing what we do. Parody and satire can be brutal at times.” He adds that the electioneering complaint is unfounded under his First Amendment rights.
The videos have also taken numerous stances that run counter to those of most liberal Vermonters: questioning climate change, opposing sanctuary cities, or mocking the #MeToo movement and NFL anthem protests.
Broyles says these extreme positions are all in the name of entertainment. “We go to the absurd level of things just to make points,” he says.
He declined to provide details on which platforms have expressed interest in either of his series. But he plans to continue working to expand his message: “Our big-picture vision is to create an entertainment network for conservatives.”
On this week’s podcast, Broyles talks to VTDigger’s Colin Meyn about sending up Scott in the name of conservative comedy.
This week, Republican Gov. Phil Scott defeated a primary challenge from the right: His opponent scored 32% of the vote by claiming that Scott had abandoned his conservative principles. As Scott heads into his second campaign for governor, one of his most persistent critics wants to take that same message to an even wider platform.
About a year and a half ago, these anonymous videos started showing up on social media.
Elizabeth: Hi, everyone. I’m Elizabeth.
James: And I’m James.
These two characters say they run a fan club for Phil Scott, but the videos make clear they don’t have much love for the governor.
Elizabeth: Phil Scott is an amazing race car driver. Nobody can take a left turn like Phil.
James: Yeah, he likes to make those left turns.
Elizabeth and James make fun of Scott for being too liberal. Here they are proposing a Scott-themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor called RINO-licious:
James: In this case, you know what RINO stands for?
Elizabeth: It’s a — it’s an animal.
James: It is an animal, but it also stands for Republican In Name Only.
Elizabeth: You’re always getting caught up in the labels, James.
Since then, they’ve expanded their aim to topics like climate change, the #metoo movement, and replacing confederate statues:
Elizabeth: That is the taking out of the statue of Mr. Civil War bad man. Mm hmm.
James: And who do they want to replace him with?
Elizabeth: They want to replace it with — drumroll — the one, the only, the legend: Obama!
Reporters from Seven Days and VPR connected these videos to Bradford Broyles, a filmmaker and a Republican who’s been involved in Vermont politics for the past decade.
Broyles wouldn’t confirm his involvement or talk about why these videos were being produced. Until now. Broyles talked to our editor Colin Meyn from Los Angeles last week.
Bradford Broyles: It started off as poking fun at Scott for being liberal on a lot of things right out of the gate. And I would argue that we were one of the first people that saw that. You fast forward to where we are today. Now, the whole state has seen what he’s done as far as policies being left of center for the most part. I would say that “Fan Club” early on saw where this administration was going, and we wanted to make a point of it — to call it out for what it is.
Colin Meyn: Can you tell us a bit about your career arc on the way to getting into film production?
Bradford Broyles: I’m born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and I moved to Vermont about 12 years ago. When I was in Los Angeles, I was in the real estate business as a corporate real estate broker for a big firm. Moved to New England, and in 2007, we moved to Vermont. And starting right away, I was active in Republican politics in Vermont. I was the county chairperson for Rutland County for a couple terms. I’ve run multiple statewide campaigns.
Kind of the genesis of where we are today with our political comedy shows was in 2010, my business partner Len Britton was the Republican nominee for the United States Senate against Pat Leahy. We created a series of very entertaining messaging commercials on behalf of Len’s campaign that we did that got a lot of national attention and then went viral.
In one of these videos, Broyles and another actor knock on a family’s door as if they’re giving away a sweepstakes prize. But they’re not:
Bradford Broyles [in commercial]: This is a bill for your family’s share the national debt. It’s $168,000.
Bradford Broyles: Obviously Len didn’t beat Leahy — nobody’s going to beat Patrick Leahy — but it kind of got our creative juices going.
Broyles and Britton started a production company called Public Spectacle Media, which now makes the Fan Club videos and another show called The Potwins, a family sitcom with a conservative point of view.
The pilot stars Kevin Sorbo and Len Britton’s son, Jonah. It takes aim at the younger Potwin’s politically-correct school:
Dad: I told you this is crazy. I’m out of here.
Teacher: The word crazy has now been banned. We feel calling others crazy is preemptively judgmental.
Dad: That’s insane.
Teacher: That word was banned last year.
Bradford Broyles: We’re the only production company in the country that does what it’s called scripted conservative humor. I mean there’s a lot of unscripted — you know, there’s rants guys and there’s people like Steven Crowder — but we’re kind of in a niche that nobody’s doing. I mean, conservatives have never been viewed as as funny, right? The left has the market on funny, whether it’s Saturday Night Live, Stephen Colbert now, Jon Stewart with the Daily Show, all the late night guys. That’s all pretty much safe domain for the left.
Our big picture vision is to create an entertainment network for conservatives. And there’s other people in the marketplace that share that same vision and and energy that we do, but we’re looking to be a big part of that discussion and to create content for red state America. It’s kind of ironic that we’re doing it from Vermont, the bluest of blue states.
Colin Meyn: Yeah, Vermont and Los Angeles — neither of those embrace conservatism.
Bradford Broyles: No, no. We’re out in Santa Monica and I mean, Santa Monica is — it’s like Burlington. Vermont is a fertile ground for us because there’s so much, what I consider to be, wacky type of politics. That’s good fodder for us for entertainment.
Colin Meyn: Can you talk a bit about the process of the show? Obviously it reacts to Vermont news very quickly. There’ll be debates or events, and then within a day or two you guys turn around an episode. Can you just talk about — from idea generation to production, how that works?
Bradford Broyles: Yeah. And just to be clear, the show is written, directed, produced and distributed by Vermonters. Obviously, we’ve got two actors in Los Angeles that we shoot the show with, but all the content that’s originated comes from Lenny Britton and myself. Lenny is a writer by trade, we bounce ideas back and forth. We have another partner in Vermont that’s also an active writer with us. That’s a funny woman that’s involved in the process as well.
We create a bunch of ideas. We kind of hone them down to three or four skits that we like, and then Len will write them and we shoot them in Santa Monica.
A few months before he started publishing the Fan Club videos, Broyles wrote a VPR commentary about restoring civility in politics.
Bradford Broyles [on VPR]: Today there are forces at work on both sides stirring up division, violence and fear. So we need to stop labeling each other with derogatory terms. It’s time to listen to those with whom we disagree.
But he says his comedy does nothing to undermine that message.
Bradford Broyles: People say, well “Fan Club” is brutal sometimes, this and that. But I would argue that our show is done in a way that it’s not mean spirited. I mean, it’s it’s humor. Does it get edgy sometimes? Sure, but I don’t think it’s nearly in the vein of what you see on the left. And the right.
Colin Meyn: I know in 2016 you talked about, you know, you personally voted for Scott and Donald Trump and that there’s these drastically different perceptions of, especially in Vermont, how people sort of judge you for that. I guess criticism of Donald Trump is not part of the show and I guess I’m wondering personally how you feel about the impact that he’s had on the Republican Party.
Bradford Broyles: Well, you know, he’s the president of the United States. Do I agree with everything he says and does? No. But is the big picture and the policy goals that he have what I supported? Absolutely. So, you know, I take the good with the bad.
But my opinion really doesn’t matter. You know, I thought we’re going to talk about my shows. And we don’t really get into Trump too much. You know, there’s enough people that batter on the president and, you know, we try to stake out some ground that’s separate from what the president’s doing.
Colin Meyn: I mean, obviously the shows do touch on Trump.
Bradford Broyles: Oh, yeah. We’re a political comedy show, and we’re a satire show. And the President gives us a lot of material.
Colin Meyn: You mentioned that you don’t feel like it’s particularly fierce — that the comedy isn’t as bad as it is elsewhere. I guess I’m wondering, sort of the inverse of that, do you think that it’s contributing to a more civil political conversation?
Bradford Broyles: Well, you know, we’re about entertaining and about the funny. So whether it’s civil? We’re an entertainment company. We want to entertain people and make people laugh. Politics is downstream from pop culture. We’re creating pop culture messaging that hopefully is resonating with young people. And if it gets people to think differently about how they perceive things, that’s one of our goals is to be able to influence people through humor to a conservative message.
I see where you’re going with the civility and that’s — yeah, that’s important — but we’re a comedy show. Some of it’s not civil. Some of it’s barbed. And that’s part of pushing the envelope and doing what we do. Parody and satire can be brutal at times.
Colin Meyn: There was one episode about halfway through these hundred episodes that joked about Vermont’s media being ranked number one in the country for political bias.
James: So what you’re saying is that the Vermont media is totally biased towards liberals?
Elizabeth: You say that like it’s a bad thing!
Colin Meyn: I was wondering whether or not that might have some part of why some of my colleagues might have had a less than positive view of you. I guess I’m just wondering — Seven Days did an article looking at whether or not the funding of this show might violate campaign laws. So I was wondering if you could talk about how you’ve been treated in the media, how the show’s been treated in the media, and also what you think about this idea of political satire maybe falling within election laws.
Bradford Broyles: Well, first of all, we’re clearly protected by the First Amendment. Then, satire and parody has been around politics since Aristotle. We follow in the same vein as great shows like Saturday Night Live and dozens of others.
You know, we’re nowhere near electioneering. We don’t tell people who to vote for. There’s no electioneering in our business model. We’re a comedy show.
I saw the Seven Days article. Obviously I’ve read the press. And it was expected. I didn’t expect to get treated better. But you know what? I’ve got a microphone too, and we’re going to use it. Did we poke fun at the Vermont press? And did I hurt people’s feelings over at VPR, Seven Days? Well, guess what gang. You know, fair’s fair.
Again, it’s satire folks, It’s humor. People, I think, realize it for what it is. I don’t back down from anything. I’m proud of our material, I stand by it. So that’s that’s my case.
Colin Meyn: You talked about expanding the show beyond a Vermont audience, which I imagine is limited in a financial sense. I guess I’m wondering, is this a business plan? Or are you sort of trying to use that microphone to have a conservative voice in Vermont politics?
Bradford Broyles: It’s a business plan. I’m not at liberty to get into details now, but we’re about to have the show picked up by a national platform, which changes the business model and the income generating on a big platform for us, which is exciting. That has been the end goal from the beginning, was to grow this entity into something much bigger and broader than Vermont politics, to a national voice of conservatism using our brand of humor. Which is taking serious subjects and presenting them in a funny way, and making our points along the way.
Colin Meyn: Can I ask you about some of the themes that show up both in “Fan Club” and then “The Potwins” and the political opinions that come through on the show? One is just a deep sort of skepticism of climate change.
Elizabeth: He’s so cool.
James: Yeah, if by cool you’re referring to how freezing cold it’s been in Vermont this summer.
Elizabeth: Stop! People need to know about what Groovy Phil is doing to sign up Vermonters to pay for global climate change.
Colin Meyn: I was wondering if you could talk about whether you share that skepticism and why.
Bradford Broyles: Oh, you know, I’m — I just like to point out that — again, it’s humor. And climate science, I don’t think it’s necessarily settled. Am I a skeptic? A little bit, but I’m not, you know — Climate science is something I think that gets so much attention and so much wild speculation of what’s real and what’s not, and what’s fact and what’s not. And so we weigh in on the skepticism side of things. I’m going to leave it at that.
Colin Meyn: Maybe a better question than going issue by issue is, as is often the case with comedy, the shows put forward a extreme view of whatever that view is. And I guess I’m wondering how much of the strategy here is to put forward a coherent worldview, or whether it’s to essentially trigger liberals?
Bradford Broyles: Well, you know, it’s it gets back to: We want to entertain people. Our audience, by the way, it’s not just conservatives. We have a lot of Dems and liberals that watch our show, and they complain about it, laugh at it. And I mean, my own experience, when I see somebody that makes fun of Trump in a humorous way and if it’s done really well, I’ll laugh at it.
I’m not one of these people that go, “Oh, I can’t laugh at that because I don’t agree with it philosophically.” Funny is funny, regardless of your politics, and our goal is: funny is funny.
One of the things that you just mentioned that we do a lot is we play out a lot of these policies and liberal ideas to the extreme. We did an episode on the national anthem controversy about the football players taking a knee: you know, what if your dentist took a knee in the middle of a procedure? The bus driver?
James: The dental hygienist takes a knee and pokes a hole in my cheek on the way down. Like, who would have thought they teach hating your country in dental hygiene school?
Elizabeth: Oh, geez, are you okay?
Bradford Broyles: We go to the absurd level of things just to make points, and that’s one of the things we’ve done for a long time.
Colin Meyn: So, on one hand, you’re talking about this show as a platform to put forward conservative principles in an engaging way, right? In an entertaining way. But on the other hand, that those views are sort of amplified for effect. I guess I’m wondering whether or not there’s a certain aspect of the show trying to influence people’s opinion, but then when those opinions are too extreme, it’s only for the sake of comedy. So I guess I’m wondering if you think that those two things can sort of exists in the same space?
Bradford Broyles: Yeah, we’re, we’re doing that, aren’t we?
Colin Meyn: But I guess when the views that you’re putting forward are, you know, extreme versions of your own skepticism, that sort of thing, whether or not if indeed you’re trying to influence people’s opinions, whether you’re contributing to more extreme opinions.
Bradford Broyles: I think people are smart enough to realize that they’re watching a comedy show. And like all hopeful, intelligent voters, people do their own due diligence. And while I’d love to have people watch News Done Right and and soak in our view of the world, I imagine that people probably use other resources to fill out that view. And then sometimes. we know we go off the Richter scale a little bit on some issues and have fun with it. Maybe a little bit more out of the mainstream, you know, so be it. But we come back right down to the middle of the plate often enough, and I think people are smart enough to figure that out.
Colin Meyn: There’s one episode in the midst of the #MeToo movement that dealt with toxic masculinity. The woman actress on the show wears a full hazmat suit, or whatever that is, to ward off toxic masculinity.
James: Come on, you’re making that up.
Elizabeth: Am not! Toxic masculinity is so real, the Boy Scouts dropped the “boy” from their name.
James: Yeah, I don’t think that’s the reason why.
Colin Meyn: Funny, maybe. Made me cringe a bit. I guess I’m wondering, do you ever cringe at your own show? And is that sort of a reaction that you’re looking for?
Bradford Broyles: You know what? That’s fine if people cringe. By the way, that episode was one of the most successful episodes we’ve launched.
Maybe your opinion — I don’t know what your politics are. But you know what, for every person that cringes, there’s five that think it’s laugh out loud funny. And again, the over-the-top of her wearing like a hazmat suit, because James is, you know, oozing toxic masculinity. Which, if you watch, there’s all kinds of stories about how, you know, the male influence in life is being kind of attacked in a lot of ways as being just a bad thing. Whether it’s Harvey Weinstein or whatever.
So, you know, we again, we play it forward where she’s got to wear a hazmat suit to keep the toxic masculinity away. I’m sorry if you cringed but you know what? Big deal.
Colin Meyn: You talk about, there’s very little space for conservatism in comedy. Obviously one of the most high profile exceptions to that recently has been Roseanne. And she was run out of town pretty quickly despite the success of her show. I guess I’m wondering what you made of all that and whether you think it speaks to the relationship between mainstream media and conservative comedy.
Bradford Broyles: Well, I think she made a horrible mistake. I knew when I saw that that she was done. I knew that that she wasn’t going to survive that. And I think she’s acknowledged it was a horrible mistake. There’s no room for racism in my world, I mean, or anybody on our side of the equation here.
I think it was handled in the way it was handled, and Roseanne is going to — they’re going to reboot the show without her. On the other hand, I think the success of her show, and Tim Allen’s show that got picked up by Fox now, “Last Man Standing,” that has conservative themes. Tim Allen is a conservative. Those shows are — and the Roseanne show shows — that there’s huge marketplace for this type of material, for right of center mainstream family conservative values in the marketplace.
I think even Hollywood is is grasping that, and we’re in the middle of it now with our Potwins show. We’re sitting across the table from people who probably don’t agree with us ideologically, but at the end of the day, it’s about money and making money here in this town. And if you can have a show that’s going to get seen by 10 million people, 15 million people, well, guess what? That works for a lot of people. And so we’re in the midst of hopefully finding people that see the value in in the show that we’re making here with the Potwins and the market that’s out there for it. And Roseanne and Tim Allen’s shows have have helped us make the case that there’s a massive audience for what we’re doing.
Colin Meyn: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk.
Bradford Broyles: Hey, no problem.
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