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David Litt ’08 never expected to be Barack Obama’s speechwriter.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, Litt spoke to Yale students about his unexpected career in political media, journalism and comedy. Litt was invited by the Yale College Democrats and The Yale Record, and the event was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism. Attendees were encouraged to submit questions beforehand.

Litt served as Obama’s speechwriter from 2012 to 2016. Prior to the role, he worked as a speechwriter for Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and as an Obama field organizer.

Litt’s memoir, “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years,” was a New York Times bestseller. Litt formerly worked as the writer and producer of “Funny or Die,” a comedy website founded by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Mark Kvamme and Chris Henchy in 2007. He graduated from Yale College with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2008. During his time at Yale, Litt was the Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Record.

Josh Guo ’24, President of the Yale College Democrats, wrote that Litt was chosen as a speaker because of his multidisciplinary career that combines many of his passions — a career that would resonate with Yale students, who have a wide array of interests and seek to pursue them through many outlets.

“David Litt represents a unique blend of speechwriting, journalism, and comedy that represents the diverse array of career aspirations within the Dems community and student body at large,” Guo wrote to the News.

The event followed a Q&A format. First, Litt was asked about how he came to a career in speech writing. Litt joked that his decision to be a speechwriter was not a carefully calculated one.

“I kind of fell ass-backward into speech writing,” Litt said.

Litt also discussed how his Yale classes prepared him for speechwriting. In particular, he acknowledged a course taught by English professor Anne Fadiman. He explained that speechwriting is different from other types of writing because of its collaborative nature, which can make it difficult at times.

“If you are a speechwriter you hand your baby over to someone else,” Litt said. “Then, they do plastic surgery on your baby.”

However, Litt said Obama did not overmanage the speeches. Instead, Obama would make a few corrections if timing or word choice did not seem natural. 

Online Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Record Tara Bhat ’25 emphasized the value of having Litt share this experience writing jokes in the White House.

“It was really exciting to see somebody take comedy and do it professionally in a sphere with so much public impact,” Bhat wrote.

When it came to joke writing, Litt said that Obama often shifted punctuation to change the comedic emphasis and would only include jokes he found funny himself.

Writing jokes was one of the more stressful components of the job, Litt said. If a joke does not land, he added, it can create an awkward atmosphere, and it is difficult to assess how certain audiences may respond.

“If it’s a laugh line and no one laughs, I feel like I hear the sad trombone sound play,” Litt said.

Among his many wry jokes, Litt also shared advice with the audience based on his career, emphasizing how comedy involves lots of trial and error.

He also discussed his experiences of imposter syndrome in his job in the White House and advised students on how to minimize these doubts.

“All opportunities are going to go to someone with imposter syndrome, so they might as well go to you,” Litt said.

The event was held in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.

Update, Oct. 30: The article was updated to clarify that Litt no longer serves as a writer and producer of “Funny or Die.”