Adam Ruins Everything: Comedy that cites its sources

By Paula Hendrickson 
Contributor 

In this newfound era of “fake news” it’s more important than ever for reporters to cite their sources. But leave it to an informational comedy series to actually display those sources on screen.

Each episode of TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything—returning Tuesday, July 11 for its second season—explores three misconceptions tied to a common theme.

“The show is very broadly this idea that you think you know X, but I’ll tell you why it’s a common misconception,” show creator and star Adam Conover told me a couple months ago.

“The subject matter of the show is anything we can think more deeply about, anything we can look into and find out what the truth is. Anything,” he says. “ It’s not the topics that are as important as much as the method by which we explore those topics and the way we search for the information and the way we present it.”

Conover says the ideal episode will have three individual stories that make the case for a larger argument. Arguments that could change how the audience thinks—not what they think, but how they think. It’s basically Critical Thinking 101.

“Our goal is to really give people that 180-degree turn in how they see the world and make them see the world differently,” Conover says. Skepticism in encouraged.

Each segment is structured like a classic argumentative essay: “We have a thesis, we have our evidence to prove it, and we have our conclusion,” says the host. “It’s also a comedy piece, so we have to write funny jokes.” The challenge is that each joke needs to illustrate and heighten the information presented right before it.

The show’s writers and research team fact check, cite and review every fact that goes into every episode. Sources are noted right on the screen so viewers can check them, and in true academic fashion, a bibliography for each episode is posted on the “Adam’s Sources” section of the show’s official website.

“The reason we started doing that was because I was like, ‘Who’s going to believe me? I’m a comedian who reads a lot of articles and listens to a lot of podcasts, that’s all I am.’ But I want people to know it’s true,” Conover says. “I think it’s really important that when people hear a fact that they see up in the corner of the screen, New York Times or Nature: The Journal, and the year, so they can go find it.”

Doing so allows him to keep things civil with fans who might disagree with the show’s findings. If someone objects to one of the show’s sources, Conover invites them to explain why and offer an alternate source.

Adam Ruins Everything also seeks to expose the ways bad information spreads.

“One of the theses of our show is that people are not rational. In our best selves we are, but in our lesser moments or in our more normal moments we’re susceptible to advertising and bad information, and to manipulation—and there are people using those tools to manipulate us and get us to do what they want,” Conover says.

“I don’t want to give away any upcoming episodes, but in the new season we are talking about how some of the bad information we’ve all become familiar with in the last year got out there and spread.”

Programming notes

Season 2 of Adam Ruins Everything premieres Tuesday, July 11 at 9 p.m. on TruTV. View full episodes online at trutv.com/shows/adam-ruins-everything/index.html. R.

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