David Litt was 24 years old and just a few years out of college when he landed a job writing speeches for President Barack Obama — an experience he calls “surreal and completely terrifying.”
Though he was initially assigned the speeches no one else wanted to write, Litt eventually became a special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter. His duties included writing jokes for the short comedy routine Obama performed annually at the White House Correspondents Association dinners.
Litt says a lot of those jokes worked because they were coming from the president. “As I re-tell them, I often am reminded of this, because people give me a look like, Really? That was funny? And I’m like, Yeah, you have to hear the president tell it.”
Other speeches led to unintentional political controversy. When Litt wrote Obama a Thanksgiving address that neglected to mention God, conservative media criticized the president for the omission. The blowback taught Litt a valuable lesson. “Your job as a speech writer is not just to write good speeches,” he says. “Your job is to keep in the back of your mind the fact that there’s a whole industry of people trying to take your words out of context — and that’s politics.”
Litt’s new memoir is Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years.