Joel Silberman, ace progressive media trainer

This is the next-to-last in our series of interview, Five Questions, conducted at this year’s Netroots Nation.

This time the subject is actor, singer, comedian and star progressive media trainer, Joel Silberman. As you’ll hear, Silberman has trained everyone on our side from Markos Moulitsas to Van Jones and dozens of House and Senate members. (For his extended bio, click here.)

Joel is also a prominent gay activist, and a very effective one. How did he get there? How did he become who he is? It’s a fascinating story.

About the venue — We found a small table in the exhibit area, a large but crowded space, which accounts for the background hum and laughter you hear. The interview is clear, however, and Joel is strong-voiced and focused in his answers.

Five Questions with Joel Silberman

I began by asking Joel the same three questions I asked everyone this year — Is the U.S. approaching tipping points? Which tipping points will hit first? How will climate play out in the next few years? — and like most other interviewees, he mentioned climate before I did.

For questions four and five, I asked about himself and his journey. The answer was fascinating. Here’s the whole interview — enjoy:

Some samples:

▪ To question one, about wealth capture of the political system, Joel brings up the $2 billion dollars spent on the last presidential campaign and asks: “Why does it take that much money to become president … or senator, or congressman?” His answer to the problem is to echo Barney Frank: “Votes trump money.”

Joel Silberman

Joel Silberman

▪ To question two at (4:26) — what will bring the country back from the edge — Silberman offers an interesting answer. He sees “enlightened self-interest” as offering an answer, especially among the young (millennials) and especially respect to climate change. “Knowing we’ll die is the thing that’s going to change things.”

I enjoyed his phrase “relatively doomed,” by the way in his climate discussion. Silberman has nice a way with words.

▪ About climate change (7:46), Silberman notes, as I do, that the climate is making its own case. (Here’s hoping it makes its case in time.)

▪ At 9:40 I asked about his story, his journey, and got an unexpected response. I knew of his theater background, but not his background as a musician. He studied with Leonard Bernstein, for example, and sang opera. (You can hear that in his rich baritone.)

This led directly to his role as a political media trainer. As he put it (11:45):

I was trained as an entertainer. What better training for politics is there? You have to make people love you. And you have to make them come back for the second show.

▪ The discussion of his political media training — at which he excels, by the way — starts 13:22. He makes a number of terrific observations here. One is about how teaching teaches you your profession (I didn’t really learn punctuation until I had to teach it). Another is about the destructive role of narcissism. He’s very wise on the latter point.

What most don’t know is the extent and breadth of his client list. As he says, he started with Markos Moulitsas prior to Markos’ book tour and since has trained more than 60 members of Congress, many of whom you’ve heard and admired, and non-office-holders like Van Jones.

This is a fascinating part of the interview. Be sure to listen at least to that.

Bonus: At 11:13 he references “Steve and Edie” [oops, Eydie] — consider that a challenge, if you will. Who are (were) Steve and Eydie? (No googling…)

All Five Questions interviews

Here’s the complete list of this year’s Five Questions interviews. These will be published over the next few weeks in this order:

■ Sam Seder of
■ Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future and
■ Richard (RJ) Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future and Huffington Post
■ digby of Hullabaloo
■ Marcy Wheeler of
■ Joel Silberman, actor and media trainer — almost every good congressperson on our side, Joel has worked with them (this interview)
■ GottaLaff, actress, writer, director and co-proprietress of

I’ll update this list with links as the interviews are published. Thanks for listening.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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4 Responses to “Joel Silberman, ace progressive media trainer”

  1. pappyvet says:

    Thanks sooo much Gaius !!

  2. karmanot says:

    My sad too—what a pair Like Elaine May and Mike Nichols.

  3. emjayay says:

    Eydie died quite recently.

  4. BrianG says:

    I guess I’m officially old. i don’t have to Google Steve and Edie . . . thanks Gaius. ;)

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