A week ago, I had the opportunity to interview Simon Sidi, a British-born ex-producer and co-founder of Politicon, an annual convention targeted directly toward political junkies.
Calling itself “the Unconventional Political Convention,” Politicon strives to incorporate the humorous and irreverent atmosphere of Comic-Con into a political environment, uniting the opposing poles of the ideological spectrum in the process. Featuring ardent debates, insightful panel discussions, and live one-on-one interviews and podcasts, Politicon has included a variegated array of talent in the past, from Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, and Tucker Carlson, to Trevor Noah, James Carville, and Cenk Uygur.
Traditionally hosted in Los Angeles, Politicon will be held in Nashville, Tennessee this year. Starring a lineup that includes the likes of James Comey, Sean Hannity, and Al Franken, the unorthodox political event will occur on October 26th and 27th in the Music City Center.
During our interview, I questioned Sidi regarding the entrepreneurial background of the convention, the convention’s attendees, the politics underlying the two-day event, and the change in hosting location. Here’s our exchange:
SIDI: Instantly on board. Every single person we talked to went, “Yes. We love this. We understand it. We know exactly what this is. We’re in.” Everybody loves it. The first person we booked: Newt Gingrich. I remember getting on the phone with him and telling him what Politicon was and he said, “I love it. I’m in.”
TYP: Was there a particular reason why Newt Gingrich was the first speaker booked?
SIDI: He understood what Politicon is. He understood that you have to get up close and personal with people. He’s an old-style politician — he knew exactly what Politicon was all about. And he loved it. When he came, I saw him signing Politicon posters like he was a rock star. He had a great time.
TYP: Certain debates in Politicon’s history — such as Cenk Uygur vs. Ben Shapiro and Hasan Piker vs. Charlie Kirk — were quite impassioned, evoking a loud response from the audience on multiple occasions. Do you think Politicon’s debates serve a beneficial and practical purpose in uniting people across the political divide, or do they serve more as entertainment?
SIDI: I think it’s a bit of both. I think people are entertained by them, but I also think that people like to hear the arguments. I remember during the debate with Ben, I was in the audience and I spoke to a couple of kids, and they were very left-wing — they were from Los Angeles —, and I asked if they were there to support Cenk, and they said, “Actually we’re here to listen to Ben.” People want to hear the arguments. I think that’s really important. I remember bumping into Lizz Winstead — she’s the creator of The Daily Show on Comedy Central — in the back of the room when we were having a pro-life debate, and she said to me, “I disagree with everything they are saying on stage. But this is the first time I have sat and actually listened to their arguments.” And it’s great — that’s what Politicon is all about. We’re not there to change people’s minds. We don’t expect people to sing “kumbaya.” But we do want people to listen and talk and engage.
TYP: Politicon champions itself as a nonpartisan political convention. After attending the convention, do you think attendees are more firm in their political beliefs or less firm?
SIDI: I think people change. But people are people. Some of them will not change and be staunch advocates for what they believe, and others will acknowledge the other side’s argument. We get a lot of both.
TYP: This year, Politicon will be especially unique, as it will be hosted for the first time in Nashville, Tennessee, rather than Los Angeles, California. Due to the change in location, do you believe the attendee demographics for this year’s convention will be different than the demographics for past conventions?
SIDI: We think it will be pretty similar. We’ve always had a very mixed split-down-the-middle crowd. We think we will get something similar. What has changed — and what we are really excited about — is that we are now selling tickets in over twenty-five states across the country. This is really exciting for us; in the past, it would pretty much be people in southern California that would be coming to Politicon. Which was great, and we loved it, and we had a real mix of people from the left and the right, but I think in Nashville, we’re really seeing a split across the country as well as a split politically. And Nashville is a perfect city for us. It’s a very liberal arts city; a city that’s growing; a city that has lots of new businesses coming in; and a city in an ostensibly very conservative state. So I think we’ll get a mix of people, which is very important for us.
TYP: Were you anticipating the dramatic change in the source of ticket sales, or was that an unintended consequence from moving the convention to Nashville?
SIDI: That was pretty much the main reason why we decided to move the convention. We wanted to take Politicon into the country — into a place that more people could get to. And Nashville seemed to fit that bill perfectly for us. People like going to Nashville — it seemed like a no-brainer. And it ultimately worked out for us. We’re really excited.
TYP: On that note, will Nashville be the host for the foreseeable future?
SIDI: We haven’t made that decision yet. But so far, Nashville is looking good. We’re loving it there, but we don’t know yet.
TYP: A lot of young people visit The Young Pundit. Do you think there are any skills and abilities that the youth can obtain from attending Politicon that they may not obtain from traditional schooling?
SIDI: I think they will be able to meet people from all walks of life, and I think that’s really important. If you live in a community that is very similar, going to Politicon will allow you to meet and talk to people from all sides of the political and social spectrum.
TYP: Politicon receives thousands of attendees each year. Are you surprised by the turnout for a convention catered toward politics?
SIDI: Not surprised at all. I’m a complete political nerd. I figured that if I like it, others will like it too. It’s Comic-Con for politics, and we revel in that. We want people to enjoy themselves, to take part, and to engage with each other. We treat our conservative friends like they are Star Wars fans and our liberal friends like they are Star Trek fans. My favorite moment from last year was when I was watching something and turned around and saw two women behind me. A middle-aged white woman wearing a “MAGA” hat was sitting next to a young black girl wearing a “Women’s March” hat. They never met each other before, but they were laughing together and enjoying each other’s company. And I kept seeing them two or three times during the weekend still talking to each other whenever they bumped into each other. I think it’s really important that we were able to accomplish that sort of engagement.
TYP: The lineup of Politicon this year is predominantly comprised of Internet and television pundits. Is the paucity of office-holders and policymakers intentional, or are they generally reluctant to attend?
SIDI: We’re not necessarily always that interested in having the politicians there. Politicon is about people’s ideas and thoughts — we don’t always want to have the politicians there to talk about these things. We’ve had senators and congresspeople in the past, but Politicon is not based around that. We’re not there for them to proselytize to people. We want people to argue and say what they really think — politicians don’t always say what they really think.
TYP: If Politicon were started before the inception of the Internet, do you think it would have generated the same amount of success that it generates today?
SIDI: That’s a really interesting question. Yeah, possibly. We’re not really connected to the Internet. We’re a live event, where people come and experience Politicon. It’s like going to a concert or the theatre. Charlie Kirk said that we are Twitter in real life. I’m not so sure about that — I hope we do not have all the trolls. It’s a place where people get to meet each other. We have to walk some of the talents — it takes us half an hour to walk James Carville across the room because everyone wants a selfie. That’s what Politicon is all about. It’s about getting to see, meet, and hear your heroes and villains. We had Sarah Palin do something with us a couple of years ago, and she did a book signing afterward, and the line was out the door, and I could tell you that every person in the line was a liberal hipster from downtown Los Angeles.
TYP: It appears that Politicon greatly humanizes political figures that typically aren’t humanized in the media.
SIDI: Absolutely. I remember last year when we had Cenk and Tucker in a debate, and I remember both camps were like, “Yeah, we don’t want them to meet beforehand. They need to enter from separate sides of the stage. It must end in exactly one hour,” blah blah blah. Loads of demands. Anyway, after about two hours of debate on stage, the two of them were chitchatting afterward. They totally disagreed with each other, but they were able to have a conversation on stage, and they absolutely had a good time. That’s what Politicon is all about. We don’t expect people to agree; in fact, we don’t want people to agree. We want there to be disagreement and argument — that’s what this country is all about. That’s why we live in the greatest country on Earth, because of the First Amendment and free speech, and because you can say what you believe in. And that’s why we love putting on Politicon.
The Young Pundit would like to thank Mr. Sidi for taking the time to participate in an interview. To read more about Politicon and the lineup this year, you can view the official website here, and if you are interested in attending Politicon, you can purchase tickets here.
Daniel Schmidt is a 16-year-old political commentator and opinion writer. In his freshman year of high school, he founded The Young Pundit, a hard-hitting news commentary outlet featuring young, incisive, and unbought conservative voices. To read more about Daniel, click here.