Ever wonder what would happen if you plunked a nuclear expert and a comedian inside a survivalist-style bunker and started pouring drinks? Wonder no more! Getting Bombed, an unscripted digital series featuring nuclear, cyber, and national security experts chatting over cocktails with comedian Chris Reinacher about the existential threats that keep them up at night, premieres this weekend on YouTube. New episodes will stream each Saturday through February.
Described by its creators as a mashup of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Comedy Central’s Drunk History, Getting Bombed aims to bring the discussion of imminent nuclear dangers to a mainstream audience in a compelling new way. “It’s quirky and fun, but it’s also informative,” says Kate Folb, program director at USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Hollywood, Health & Society and one of the show’s originators. Each show runs roughly 10 minutes and features a different expert spilling untold stories while sloshing their favorite drink. The full conversations are available as podcasts.
The series—several years in the making—was conceived by Folb and roughly a dozen other members of the N Square Innovators Network during their 2017-18 fellowship. N Square fellows spend a year working in teams to brainstorm and prototype promising ideas for bringing innovation to the nuclear field. Folb’s team, comprising a mix of nuclear experts and storytellers, set out to tackle what they saw as nuclear weapons’ “visibility” issue. “Nuclear threat is a vague notion for most people. They don’t even think about it, really,” said Folb. “So how can we change that? Maybe through a bit of entertainment.”
The idea for the show sprung from a chance dinner. Hollywood, Health & Society—which provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate and timely information for storylines dealing with health, safety, and security—had assembled a panel of nuclear experts to speak at the Writers Guide of America East in New York. A few experts arrived the night before, and Folb and a colleague took them to dinner. “They were talking science and nukes and policy, and we’re Hollywood people, trying to keep up,” she explained. During the course of the meal, the experts got progressively more tipsy, but kept talking. Recalled Folb: “My colleague and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God. This is a show.’”
Folb ran the idea by her N Square fellows team, and it stuck. They produced a low-budget pilot and presented it at a full N Square Innovators Network gathering hosted by Rhode Island School of Design in 2018. Dozens of young RISD students were there to see the pilot. “A bunch of them came up to us and said, ‘I would totally watch that,’” explained Folb. “That gave us momentum to keep going and to think we had something viable.”
Back in Los Angeles, Folb showed the pilot to various producers and writers. Among them was Hollywood, Health & Society board member Stephanie Drachkovitch, president and co-founder of 44 Blue Productions, creator of hit shows like A&E’s Wahlburgers, Animal Planet’s Pit Bulls & Parolees, and Netflix’s Jailbirds. They agreed to co-produce the show in a 50/50 partnership with Hollywood, Health & Society. Soon after, Folb began raising money, securing seed funding from N Square, Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Ploughshares, among others.
Ovrture, 44 Blue Production’s digital content studio, designed the set to look like a survivalist’s doomsday bunker and recruited comedian Chris Reinacher as host. They also added another person to the mix—a mysterious and silent figure named “Jeff” who hovers in the background and serves drinks while dressed in a yellow hazmat suit.
The decision to stream the series on YouTube was easy, Folb said. “We want to appeal to a youth audience, and young people aren’t watching TV—they’re watching YouTube.” She added: “There’s so little that young people know about this issue. They think it’s a World War II thing and that it’s not really relevant today. So we’re aiming to change that. What is a nuclear weapon? Why is it different? We’re going for all of it in the show.”
And that means bringing some levity to a dark, scary subject that can seem inaccessible to everyone but these experts. “We’re not trying to make light of nuclear weapons—we’re just trying to make it a little lighter to talk about,” said Folb. “One of the ways that we can get people to take action is by informing them, and one of the best ways to inform people is by entertaining them.”
Meanwhile, 44 Blue Productions is already putting together a pitch to turn Getting Bombed into a 30-minute show. But that will only happen if the series attracts a strong viewership. The more people watch the show, the more likely it is that they’ll get to see more. “One of our taglines for the show is, ‘Help us blow this conversation up so we don’t all get blown up,’” said Folb. “We need everyone to help spread the word.”
Story thumbnail photo: Chris Reinacher (comedian and host of Getting Bombed), Kate Folb (director of Hollywood, Health & Society and N Square fellow), and guest expert Jim Walsh (senior research associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program and N Square fellow)Top photo: On set with Chris Reinacher and Jim Walsh