‘The Coachella of Politics’: Q&A with Simon Sidi, founder of Politicon

The Hustler talks with the founder of the “Coachella of politics,” coming to Nashville Oct. 26-27

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60408680

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60408680

Will Fritzler and Miquéla Thornton

Politicon, the “Unconventional Political Convention” held annually in Los Angeles, is changing locations this year and making its way down south to Nashville’s Music City Center this weekend, Oct. 26 and Oct. 27. 

Also known as the “Coachella of politics” or the “political Comic Con,” the convention will feature debates, such as one between Twitterholics Kyle Kulinski and Charlie Kirk, two social media political commentators from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

There will also be panels and town halls speaking on prominent modern American issues such as guns, urban blight and neglect, President Trump’s tweets, Medicare and immigration reform. Plus, live recordings of podcasts will take the stage, like “Femsplainers,” “Devil’s Advocate” and the “Touré Show,” as will comedy acts, including satirical singer Randy Rainbow and the not-so-politically-correct sketch comedy show, News Done Right. 

The convention will also feature some of Vanderbilt’s own, including a panel discussion and book signing with Dr. Jonathan Metzl and a debate between Vanderbilt debaters Erich Remiker and Reagan Massey and Tennessee State University’s debate team on whether Trump’s possible impeachment would bring stability or chaos to the country. The Vanderbilt debaters will be taking the stance for impeachment and removal of the president. Remiker said they “hope to engage both the other team and the audience in a meaningful conversation on the role of impeachment in a functional democracy and the impact it has, not just in the US, but around the world… and to beat TSU.” 

Ahead of the convention, the Hustler spoke with the co-founder of Politicon, Simon Sidi. 

 

Vanderbilt Hustler: This is the first year that Politicon, started in 2015, is being held outside of Los Angeles, and you chose Nashville. Why? 

Simon Sidi: It’s a destination city, and it’s a great place. You can get to Nashville from Atlanta and Louisville and Chicago. People will come that short distance.

Most people in past years were from California. We’d occasionally get people from Seattle and Portland and maybe Nevada and San Diego, but it was all pretty much in that location. This year, we’ve sold tickets in 25 states. We’re really excited. We think Nashville is a great new home for us. We’re delighted to be there.

VH: How do you decide who speaks at Politicon and what issues they talk about?

SS: That’s our favorite bit, creating the show. We spend months working that out. We basically try to do something that pleases us, and if we think it’s gonna be good and interesting and fun, that’s what we put in the show. We’re not dictated by trends. We just put on what we think we like, and we hope other people will like it too.

VH: You’re a veteran of the music industry, and Politicon is very different. What do politics and entertainment have in common?

SS: It’s not that much different. It’s an event, a production, a show. The content is obviously very different, but there are many similarities. We want to bring that excitement, being a rock concert, to what we do at Politicon. We want people to applaud, cheer, boo, and have a lot of fun. We have serious moments, but we also want people to enjoy themselves.

You look out at our audience, you’ll see a couple guys wearing their MAGA hats, sitting next to a couple Bernie bros, with old women sitting behind them wearing “I’m with her” t-shirts. 

It’s a real mix of people, all together, all in the same room. They might not agree, and in fact, we don’t expect everyone to agree. We don’t necessarily want everyone to sing kumbaya at the end, but at least they’ve been in the same room and watched and experienced the same event.

VH: How has Politicon evolved since it started in 2015, maybe with respect to the growth of social media as a news source and the 2016 election?

SS: We try not to be too pushed around by things like social media and other events. We try to keep grounded. Our basic formula is the same. We’ve refined it a bit, we know certain things work and don’t work. We love having all the comedy we do, the one-on-one debates, those things work really well. 

We don’t do any streaming, we want people to be on-site, in the room. That’s the whole point. When you have James Carville and Sean Hannity debating each other, I want to see the whites of their eyes. They’re on for an hour without commercial breaks, under the lights, with the audience reacting to what they say. Let me tell you, the guard slips with everybody, and that’s what you’re coming to see.

VH: Some have criticized Politicon for hosting high-profile speakers for sake of ticket sales but at the expense of meaningful debate. How do you respond to that criticism?

SS: I don’t believe that’s correct. Yeah, we have people you’ve heard of. That’s the whole point. We have meaningful debates, we get very in-depth with our debates. Each one of the debates and panels, they’re on for an hour. It’s not like watching something on FOX News or MSNBC where you’ve got somebody on for 2-3 minutes and you’re straight to commercial. You get into the nitty-gritty with these debates.

VH: Why did you choose to add the Vanderbilt-TSU impeachment debate?

SS: We always have college debates. We love having the local colleges be part of what we’re doing, and we were super excited that you guys wanted to be a part of that. In the past, we’ve had USC vs. UCLA. It’s something we’ve always done, and we’re really glad to continue that.

VH: What do you hope attendees will take away from this year’s Politicon?

SS: I hope they take away the fact that they’ve been in a room with people they disagree with, and they’ve had conversations. We don’t all have to live in our silos and watch FOX News or MSNBC. Actually, we can engage in conversation together. This is the greatest country on the planet because of the First Amendment. Let’s use it.

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