It’s easy to feel a small amount of smug superiority over how batshit some of the folks are that Jordan Klepper talks with in his regular forays outside various MAGA rallies and hootnannies for The Daily Show and specials like tonight’s Jordan Klepper Fingers The Midterms: America Unfollows Democracy (which airs at 11:30 on Comedy Central), but that isn’t the point of the exercise.
Oh sure, laugh to keep from crying, but not so much that you miss the message. As he said to me last week, he’s just reflecting the world back to us, something that puts the onus rightly on all of us to be moved by and realize what we’re seeing, not just assume that there are grown-ups who will stop the inmates from taking over the asylum. Because, as should be clear, the grown-ups are on the ballot next week and it doesn’t seem like they’re cruising to victory.
We spoke with Klepper about those odds, what might come next for American democracy, and the shock, exhaustion, curiosity, and quest for understanding that seems to color the world of these specials.
I feel like every time we do this I’m checking on you. Are you okay? Has anyone spit on you? Have you been made to cry because you’ve been called a cuck? But, this time, I mean I care, but, I kind of need you to make me feel better.
How do you feel about the midterms and the state of democracy as someone who has been on the ground or driven into the ground?
Yeah, you came to the wrong guy. Making you feel good about the state of the world? I just reflect it, you do with it what you will.
Scream, run, cry.
Get you excited enough to vote? I think that, probably, one excursion out in the sun, doing your civic duty, that might be the best I can give you. Let’s see. This is a consequential midterm and it had us curious: election denialism, it’s on the ballot for 60% of Americans. What does that look like? And, frankly, it looks pretty intimidating and it sticks. We started out having a conversation about whether you accepted the last election and then we stumbled into having conversations about, “Will you accept this next election?” And, it feels like, that answer’s already been written. Most of the people we talk to will not. And so, you can already see the cancerous effect of this kind of conversation to the point where, “Oh, if you don’t get what you want, there’s a much easier way than accepting defeat. Just don’t accept defeat.” And, I see that happening across the country right now. Who wins and loses? I don’t know but, I do think democracy is probably not on the winning side of it all.
Have you lost the ability to be shocked by any of this at this point?
It’s hard to shock me. You will surprise me. A man told me that Joe Biden was executed at Guantanamo Bay and that James Woods is playing Joe Biden with a voice box. That surprised me. Didn’t see that one coming.
Because you don’t think James Woods has the range?
[Laughs] You’re right. I’ve seen him recently, he can’t pull that off.
In the special, you explore the possible consequences of election denialism and the term Civil War comes up. How realistic is that? I think you and I have joked about a couple of times previously about it and it seems like it keeps tiptoeing closer and closer.
It keeps getting closer to closer. I sat down with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, and he didn’t dance around it. In fact, he says, “I used to not want to talk but I think it’s important we do.” Yeah, it is a possibility. We’ve talked a little bit about this before, it’s a misunderstanding of what that might actually look like. And, I don’t have any magic ball here but, looking at something like what happened in Northern Ireland with The Troubles, I could see violence, I could see things happening in the streets, very localized frustrations. When you don’t have a trust in the democratic institution, and when you don’t have a shared reality or bedrock information source to come from, I think that puts everybody in a very precarious place.
So, we’re going to have a midterm election where there’s a lot of people who deny the results and they think that people who are in office are not legitimate. We are set up to have an election where we vote for somebody and then we have electors chosen by somebody else who is not choosing what the state chose. Those are dangerous places for a country to be in.
That feels like the most dangerous place, that happening, and also the most realistic possibility.
We thought that there were protections in the American experiment through the bureaucracy and the redundancy of some of its positions. But now you have the Secretary of State position being very important to, not only this election but, what’s going to happen in 2024. And, if you can get enough people out there who put somebody in there who believes, “I’m going to put my allegiance to this party over my allegiance to this country,” which, used to be a shocking opinion and, now, it’s almost a requirement for one half of the political spectrum right now. Well, that’s going to put us in a really scary place in 2024.
It feels kind of like closing time. It feels like the last call, sort of.
So much of what we had faith in is a general, good-natured desire to put the country first, which is the great irony around “America first” is it’s calling out the initial bullshit of what we all expected was actually the case in reality is like, “Oh no, you just gave away the game,” and you see it now. You also have a party that is losing its electoral base and so they’re fighting harder than ever to shore up the ways to win elections. And you’re like, “Oh really? Oh, shit. The Secretary of State can just do that? That seems like a flaw.” “Oh wow, if we got this many people, we do the lines here. Oh, they can do that? Well, that also seems like a flaw.” Yeah, it turns out those founders, those slave owners, didn’t have it all figured out.
(Laughs) Well, how much of the sort of ideology of “no fucks given because no consequences felt” thing comes from an awareness of where the media is. I like to use the analogy that it’s almost like Jurassic Park when the dinosaurs realized the fence wasn’t working. That’s what it feels like.
I like the Jurassic Park analogy. I think you have a political class who realize they can turn off the fences whenever they want and there is no consequence. And then, you have an electorate that is just getting bad information. And, we look at the media diet and it’s showbiz. And so we keep thinking that news is something that is a social utility, a public utility, that we’re always going to get the best version of it instead of, it’s showbiz and you’re going to get the thing that could sell the most McDonald’s hamburgers. You’re going to get the thing that can make Elon Musk’s Twitter more profitable.
So, what do we get? We have a bunch of people who are consuming the most entertaining pieces of information they can. And the one people who had control over the switch, just were taught you don’t actually have to be fair with the switch. You can kind of do whatever you want. And the founders didn’t see that coming. They didn’t know about this social media and they also didn’t know that there’s a bunch of people who want to hold on to power and are so afraid of being called a sore loser that they’re willing to burn it down just to keep that job.
We’ve seen, especially on the left, just a reflexive eye roll to any kind of New York Times, “Let’s go to a diner and find out what Trump voters think,” kind of thing. Do you ever worry that you’re going to get kind of sucked up into the gears of something like that because you are putting a microphone in the faces of Trump voters to find out what they think? Even if, obviously, there’s a little bit of a different focus.
Sure. Well, I think, for me, it’s always curiosity. I think we are definitely heading to our own echo chambers in a way where we only want to hear what we want to hear, but we live in a democracy where we all vote on things and they have consequences and we’re seeing that take place with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. We’re seeing that take place with climate change, with all sorts of things. And so, even though we might lose, we might get frustrated at hearing what the other side has to say, we are affected by it. I do think that will continue to be a curiosity and an interest and it’s important for us to look into it and to see what are the beliefs that are being held. And not just from a cynical point of view. Hopefully, it’ll come from a point of view where maybe there’s a little bit of understanding where they come from. You’re not always getting that there, but I think checking in as to what your neighbors are thinking at least is helpful from the point of view of at least you know what they’re stockpiling.
(Laughs) I haven’t seen the special yet, but I know there’s a focus group element where you ask people what they’ll bring to a Civil War. So what do you specifically bring to the table for a civil war? What’s your skill set?
(Laugh) I think satire.
Oh yeah, that’s going to go real well for you.
I think I’m going to be loading my satirical gun on that battlefield and, I really think, as long as quips and insights can really do the deed in a civil war, I should be fine. Somebody once said you can’t dress a wound with a joke, but I’m going to really put that to a test.
Last question, delicately trying to weave this in. Obviously, your name has come up with Trevor leaving, not asking about that directly but, I’m just curious about what your approach is to being in the rumor mill and having your name come up. How does that work with ego?
That is such a hilariously delicate way of putting this.
(Laughs) Thank you, I try. It was like a Faberge egg of a question. But do you pay it any attention?
I can’t say I dive too deep into it because I’ve been through this before and there’s going to be a million people with insights that don’t really affect your life so you just keep on doing your thing. For me, I’ve still got a job to do with The Daily Show. I’m still going out. I think that midterms are super important. So, I think that’s where I put my head. I love The Daily Show. I was a fan of Craig Kilborn. I got brought on by Jon Stewart and I worked with Trevor Noah and so I have a lot of pride in that institution and hope for the next steps within it. And so, I’m flattered to be a part of any kind of conversation, but I got a job to do and my goal is to make The Daily Show great right now. And then, we’ll see what happens next.
That was a pretty delicate answer, too.
Boy. I don’t know. (Laughs)
It just rubs off. That was good. I think we got it.
Do you know who’s getting it? Have you heard?
Okay, Roy and Hassan. were they as delicate as I was?
I didn’t ask Hassan about it, but Roy answered it really well. It was more about work-life balance with the Roy question. I was delicate there, too. I’m pretty good at this.
I’ll take it.
Always a pleasure. I look forward to the next time. You need to add some stuff to those shelves, man.
I just moved, this is sad. Embarrassing.
Yeah, a little bit. Next time I hope to see some baubles.
Some Emmys, that’s what we need.
(Laughs) There you go. Absolutely. Get some advice from Trevor. Trevor was like an absolute pioneer in the shelf game with the at-home shows.
I think yours is better. You know what, his leans more toward corporate shtick. I mean yours feels lived in. You don’t have to give Trevor too much credit. He’s on the way out. That wasn’t his shit. (Laugh) That clearly looks like your stuff. Are those DVDs? Are we still watching DVDs?
No, those are Star Wars VHS. Those are the original trilogy that’s in my bunker just in case. So, that way, I don’t have to watch any of the extra digital effects. I don’t have a VCR, but I have the VHS.
If there’s a civil war, we’re not getting our streaming. So get your VHS back, Princess Bride and double down.
Yeah. I’m going to have to use them as trade in the new apocalypse, basically. No walking Jabba in these, this is the uncut, good stuff.
(Laughs) Well, good luck with that. I think that’s as good a plan as ever.
‘Jordan Klepper Fingers The Midterms: America Unfollows Democracy’ debuts November 1 at 11:30PM ET on Comedy Central and on Paramount+ the next day.