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Adam Conover Explains Everything About ‘Adam Ruins Everything’

Adam Conover says the “Adam” he plays on TV is a little more willing to “awkwardly interrupt people and tell them something they don’t want to know” than the real-life version. But both Conover the person and Conover the host (of “Adam Ruins Everything” on TruTV) are insatiably curious, particularly about topics that don’t have easy answers.

On this week’s episode of our podcast What’s The Point, Conover discusses how his show comes together and how he and his staff tackle complicated and stat-heavy topics like the Transportation Security Administration, gerrymandering and climate change. He also talks about how he manages to make it all funny and visually charming.

You can listen to the interview in the player above. Below are a partial transcript of the conversation and a video of Conover discussing his election special (this was recorded before the election, but I think it’s worth watching!).

Jody Avirgan: How do you walk the line between offering the tidy conclusions at the end [of your show], but also being responsible to the fact that stuff is complicated? Do you ever worry that you’re creating new conventional wisdom?

Adam Conover: That’s a good question. It’s quite possible. For instance, the idea that everything you know about something is wrong is itself a very seductive idea that can lead you to error. People want me to, often, apply the exact same process that we’ve done for one topic to topic A, B or C: “Show me how this is all caused by a big corporation.” Or “how this thing that I think is helping is actually not good.” And we want to do that in the writer’s room, because it’s easier to write those. There’s a formula: “what’s the De Beers diamond cartel for X topic.” And we have to be very vigilant to not do that by accident.

We just try to fold the complication in with the story. We did an episode about trophy hunting and Cecil the Lion and people saying “ban trophy hunting.” But there’s a lot of countries that are using trophy hunting as a way to sustain their wildlife populations.

That answer gives us a lot of moral and ethical pause. It’s not a tidy answer. It feels bad as an answer, and it’s not the case that it works for every single case. And so we include all that information. We have my character say, “I have a real hard time with this.”

Avirgan: I think about this struggle a lot with particular authors. You kind of live in the world of the Malcolm Gladwells, the Charles Duhiggs, the Freakonomics. They are so successful that [readers] end up with their own tidy conventional wisdom. That said, if you actually dive in … and read the work, they do live in complexity and test the various theories.

Conover: Well, the thing I realized about Gladwell — and I like his work as well — but there’s a degree to which I recognize as I’m reading him and thinking, “This is so great and so compelling,” and I say, “Wait a second.” The thing that he’s good at, as a writer, is separate from whether or not the thing he’s saying is true. He’s very good at making the point exceedingly compelling, but you still need to think critically about it. And we can fall into the same trap on our show.

Avirgan: When you have that thought — “this is a little too seductive” — that’s when you have to catch yourself and be trained to stop. Because there are moments of “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When you’re a debunker, everything looks like something you could debunk.

If you’re a fan of What’s The Point, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, and please leave a rating/review — that helps spread the word to other listeners. And be sure to check out our sports show Hot Takedown as well. Have something to say about this episode, or have an idea for a future show? Get in touch by email, on Twitter, or in the comments.

What’s The Point’s music was composed by Hrishikesh Hirway, host of the “Song Exploder” podcast. Download our theme music.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.