In this week’s issue of EW, we compiled some of our favorite West Wing character Twitters — a community of accounts by unidentified users who tweet as the show’s characters, including President Josiah Bartlet, Sam Seaborn and C.J. Cregg — to explore how they keep Aaron Sorkin’s political drama, which ended in 2006, alive online.
In the process, we managed to track down the user behind the Joshua Lyman account (@joshualyman), who regularly tweets commentary on political happenings and interacts with other West Wing accounts. After exchanging several DMs, “Josh” agreed to answer some of our questions over email, as long as we kept his real identity hidden. (No worries, Josh — we know it didn’t work out so well the last time you tackled the Internet.)
“Lyman” shared his motivations behind creating the account, what he does to get into character and how the community works.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your end goal in creating the account and tweeting as if you were Josh?
“JOSH LYMAN”: At the time I created the account, I was troubled by the increasing professionalization of political Twitter accounts. As an early adopter of the service, I had appreciated the politicos who would come on and answer questions to the masses, but obviously that accessibility created liabilities, politically. Creating the @joshualyman account was a revolt against that: By modeling a (fictional) politician who would still be humanly accountable to his “constituents,” I hoped to push back against the artificiality of managed accounts.
Was your motivation more West Wing-related or was there a personal reason behind this?
I am motivated by a desire to affect politics in positive ways in keeping with the optimistic spirit of the show. There is a deep hunger for civics knowledge in America; many of the folks who tweet us have been so poorly served by the education system that their only relational knowledge of the federal government comes from the show. I feel a great responsibility to provide them a reasonably educated (Democratic, of course) perspective on current affairs. Many of my followers seem to really appreciate this effort.
What’s your process for getting into character?
After this long, it just comes to me. I am strict about breaking character and the “realness” of the simulacra: Sometimes Josh is Josh, warts and all. Since many fans place great value on the characters as friends and role models, I am also happy to continue the fictional aspects and view them as a fundamental aspect of the performance. The successful improv scenes also please me on a fundamental level, as they are harder than they appear. And no, they are not pre-scripted!
So how does the West Wing Twitter community work?
We all run our own accounts. occasionally folks organize something via DM or something but that’s become increasingly rare.
Who do you interact with the most in that community?
Probably Donna Moss, followed by Sam Seaborn and Danny Concannon, Josh’s friends. I also enjoy Leo McGarry’s account — of all of us, I think he has the best “voice.”
Have you ever heard from Aaron Sorkin or any West Wing cast or crew members?
Both Richard Schiff [who played Toby Ziegler] and Allison Janney [who played C.J. Cregg] have mentioned the community kindly. Some of the actors with more secondary, recurring characters have been really supportive. Mainly, we want Aaron Sorkin and et al to know that the community doesn’t mean to pressure them in any particular way. We are doing this for a variety of reasons, and a desire to continue the show is often not the top priority on “our” agenda as outsiders seem to think. While I would be happy for it to return, I’m aware there are myriad reasons it isn’t likely to do so.
How does the community and your tweets fit into the bigger picture of fanfiction?
Obviously, some aspects are like fan fiction, but I think it’s better to conceptually think of them as like The Colbert Report: We’re actors performing a perspective on current events. Where we are more like fanfiction is probably in our spirit of doing the work for the enjoyment of others.
Does anyone know you tweet as Josh Lyman?
Some folks know, but it’s better that this sphere is kept as small as possible so that people can have the illusion of talking to Josh. I would prefer it stays that way.