Los Angeles, CA –– When Mark was a young man, he ran away from home for Nashville, TN. An aspiring musician –– 'a bad song-writer' –– as he claims, who had a fun time living out his plan A. But his story, much like Res Ipsa's story, was written from a more joyful plan B. Mark changed course and entered into journalism, falling in love with writing and covering politics. He eventually became a political campaigner, and an advisor, helping campaign for many politicians over many years, including former President George W. Bush and the late Senator John McCain, among others. What a life to have written.
However, in typical Mark fashion, he didn't stop there. He kept writing more to his story. Today, Mark is the co-creator, co-executive producer, and co-host of Showtime's The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth. For his whole life, since he ran away from home, Mark has been really just one thing: a story-teller.
"The glue that holds everything together is about story-telling. And I love to tell stories."
We can relate –– it is in our core beliefs that every product should have a story and we believe humans are hard-wired for narrative.
Mark McKinnon grew up in Colorado. He was born in Boulder. Raised in Denver. His grandfather lived not far in Breckenridge. After that quasi ~Almost Famous~ stint in Nashville, Mark moved to Austin, Texas for many years, traveling all over for work. He lived and worked in Washington which is where he sat down with us (via zoom to LA) earlier this week to share a little more about his story, show, and sneaker collection.
Mark called from his room at the W Hotel, which sits just a block from the White House and across the street from the Treasury Building. He is there filming for this Sunday's show.
"There's such a firehose of shit out there and people can't make any sense of it, so at least once a week we can pull back and tie it all together with some meaning."
Mark's documentary-style show pulls back the curtains on American politics and government. It is an ambitious pursuit to make a show like this –– especially given everything we know and everything we don't know yet with more news coming out each day on the administration that just left office.
"Part of the reason the show works is we make a documentary every week and you don't have to wait six months to see it. I planned to do the show about the presidential campaigns in 2016, and I thought we would be one and done. Maybe come back in 2020 since it was designed to be about the campaigns and not about government. But a week into the Trump show, we were like the circus hasn't stopped –– keep going."
In the sixth season premiere, you will gain perhaps the most complete understanding of how chaotic and critical their coverage is. The episode follows the wild events from the first week of 2021. In case you forgot about it (Thank u January, next), the week will likely go down in history as one of the most critical and newsworthy weeks in our modern American democracy.
Mark is a co-producer for the show alongside John Heilemann (MSNBC analyst & exec editor @theRecount) and their two co-hosts Alex Wagner (CBS News contributor and contributing editor the Atlantic) and Jenn Palmieri (former White House Director of Communications from 2013-2015). The four would normally be filming together in one location, however, Covid-19 has spread them out into four different pods with a film and editing crew of about 7-8 per pod.
In just the first half of the 52 minute episode, Alex interviews Jon Ossoff, then Democratic Senate Candidate (who later that day won his seat), and Jenn interviews Stacey Abrams' about her organizing work for Democrats for the Georgia run-off election on the day they would later go on to earn a huge, surprising double-victory in the Senate. A surprise to everyone but Abrams, that is. The next day, Mark covers the Trump speech in DC that incites the immediate insurrection where domestic, white supremacist terrorists stormed and sieges the US Capitol Building. John rushes over to relay to viewers what is happening in real-time. Basically, all hell breaks loose and the teams have to act fast. By the end of the week, the tape and commentary is edited to near perfection for the viewer to learn and review all the stories of the week in a back-to-back-to-back format. Warning: you will need a break after watching this!!
Like us, Mark loves to travel during his breaks. The show films Monday through Friday with edits happening remotely, allowing him time to travel home to Colorado for the weekends.
About twenty years ago, Mark and his wife, Annie, found a home in a little town of 800 that sits a stone’s throw outside of Breckenridge. They moved there full-time a few years back to be closer to their grandchildren.
Mark is an avid mountain biker and skier, so much so that he will ski and bike more than once a day when he can. Moving to a little town in Colorado at 10,000' is well, as he put it, 'just paradise' –– and we happen to know about a little place called Aspen.
"I fucking love it. As you know, it is just paradise. It is incredible having grown up there and now with tons of relatives and childhood experiences to relive as an adult.
"I love to travel. I used to travel my ass off. My kids gave us this present for Christmas -- StoryWorth -- where my wife and I are telling stories about us growing up. They'll ask a question every week and it goes into a log where we upload pictures relating to the questions. They asked us about vacation this past week and we realized, maybe it is generational, but we didn't take vacations when we were kids. We didn't go anywhere. We might go see our grandparents with our parents but we never left the country, ever.
"And so that is something we did aggressively with our kids. Especially since I worked a lot, we would do fantastic trips every year. South America. Europe. Africa. So I love to travel. We recently went to Morocco where I almost went bankrupt getting rugs that I now wear on my feet as shoes thanks to you guys."
Mark has so many pairs of our kilim sneakers that he half-jokes he has a different pair for every color in his wardrobe.
"I have so many pairs it is ridiculous. I literally have a pair for every color to match what I'm wearing.
"First of all, the reason I love them, my one fashion mantra in life: don't look like everybody else in the room. So even in my corporate life, I never wore a tie. I wore scarves instead of ties, that sort of thing. I just tried to do something different. I like things that are distinctive looking. Shoes were always a problem because everything is traditional. There is not a lot of creativity or ingenuity, particularly on the men's side.
Like most our customers, there is a good story around his first time discovering us.
"I was staying in a hotel in New York city for the show, a Marriott on 57th and Lexington, and there was a little tiny retail space at a hotel across the street and it had the kilim shoes! I couldn't believe it. I thought they were just the coolest shoes I've ever seen in my life. I bought the only pair that was there in my size. I kept coming back every two weeks because I wanted to see if they were getting more.
And then the hotel just disappeared, it went under construction and the whole place closed up. But I had to have them! I discovered Res Ipsa online... and then it became a horrible habit."
When I asked Mark if his family has bitten the bullet on Res Ipsa, he confidently reminded me who I was talking to.
"I am an acolyte, man! People see the shoes and ask where I got them. I tell them www.resipsausa.com, Baby! Everybody in my family has them. And once or twice a day people are like, 'Dude, where did you get those shoes?' They really catch people's attention."
Back in DC, I am still left wondering how you plan a show like this. How? You don't. You can't. But Mark and his team do it every week.
"Especially with Trump, it was tricky and that has been part of the trick of the show. Often, we put a show to bed on Sunday and then get on the phone about the next week. We would come up with a plan, but 50% of the time or more, something blows up on Wednesday or Thursday, and then we would have to redo the whole show."
Mark is hoping that won't be the case with the Biden administration. "There will probably be a little more stability with Biden but you know, it is just a crazy time we live in and we're going to always need to be nimble and quick and ready to adapt."
Mark thinks the show will be a lot less interesting with Biden administration and he means this sincerely and with the utmost respect for President Biden. "I hope so for the sake of the country and will be glad for Joe Biden to put us out of business."
So what is up next for Mark? After finishing this season, which runs through February, he plans to pick the show back up for another run this September or October. The show is almost 100 episodes in and already is signed up for two more seasons.
In the in between, he will return to Colorado where he can be around his family and enjoy the great Colorado outdoors he's always loved.
Mark, Annie, and their dog –– Gracie, an Australian Shepherd, because, he tells me, "Everyone needs a little Grace in their lives" –– are also considering traveling more within the United States since Covid-19 is limiting their ability to travel internationally. They are thinking about getting a van, loading up their bikes inside, and then driving to all the national parks around the country. Oh, and he says he can't wait to drive over to visit our new retail location in Vail.
And beyond that, we can expect Mark will do as he has always done –– change his plans. Tell a new story. He is currently working on a project with his daughter who lives and works here in LA as a screenwriter. He says subtly, and sweetly, that their new project together is really fun.
So Mark's story goes on. As he left it with me, "Keep up the good work, kick it hard and carry on regardless."
You can watch The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth on Showtime at 8pm ET/PT. The season 6 premiere is available for free on Showtime's YouTube channel.
All photos courtesy of our friend Mark McKinnon/Showtime's The Circus.