Jordan Klepper On Going To Hungary And Being Surprisingly Popular At CPAC

Save for his brief (and glorious and missed) show Klepper and that whole pandemic thing, Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper’s professional life has been dominated by his frequent sojourns into the MAGAverse, his microphone and the repetitive and largely incoherent musings of a strongman cosplayer turning him and other media kind into enemies of the people.

It’s all enough to understand why someone might want to get out of Dodge and see the world, exploring cultural differences while maybe establishing residency as a hedge against a trip back down the rabbit hole in the 2022 and 2024 elections. And that’s exactly what Klepper does in his latest Daily Show special, which airs tonight on Comedy Central at 11:30PM. But for Klepper, this is no vacation (trip to the Hard Rock Cafe aside). Instead, he’s gone to Hungary to better understand that country’s own conservative movement, its Trump-like leader, and why American conservatives seem to have found a scary soulmate and authoritarianism blueprint in the country.

We spoke with Klepper about all of that, the challenge of practicing his particular brand of comedy on foreign soil, being shockingly popular at CPAC (and what that might say about the convictions of some of its attendees), and why his and John Kasich’s shared music tastes might be the indirect bridge back to national sanity if we can only stop trying to get even with each other.

This is our regular wellness check.

I know. Yeah. How are you holding up?

How are you holding up? I’m here. You actually go talk to Trump supporters. I just see them on Twitter.

I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ve got yourself a good situation there. You just stay put, hang out, relax. You’ve got some books [in your office]. You’ve got shoes that look beautiful and like they’ve never been worn. Keep it that way.

They’ve all been accumulated during the pandemic. I’ve been able to talk myself into thinking that they’re investments. I didn’t go crypto, I went Air Jordan.

I will tell you, I think I understand Air Force Ones more than I understand crypto, so I get where you’re coming from.

How’s your reservoir of hope right now for the country and the world?

Oh boy. You know what? I think the water stays the same, but the evaporation level… It’s getting hot. No, I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but I will say it’s tough. I think there are a lot of forces. There seems to be a real groundswell that’s moving away from things that I think are for the betterment of folks, but the betterment of the few seem to be winning over.

I was thinking about what I was going to ask and one thing I wrote down was “why haven’t we eaten the rich yet?” And I thought that was maybe a little dark for a question. I don’t know that I’m officially posing that question.

Well, you know what? I mean, foodie culture is definitely at least on the rise.

There are two things careening towards each other, foodie culture and the dissatisfaction with the wealthy.

That’s all you need is a rebellious spirit and the ability to understand how to make your own sriracha and we’re close. And hopefully when those things come together, then the rich, look out. You’re starting to look more and more delicious.

With the podcast with former Ohio Governor John Kasich, is that a life preserver for you? “Let me find someone I can talk to on the other side who isn’t going to make me want to tear my hair out.”

You know what? That is 100% true. I think that thing came about, and it was I think, surprising to me and to Governor Kasich as well, but it was a little bit of a balm where I’m like, you know what? We actually are talking about things that are outside of the political spectrum, which has been a relief to find common ground on things that aren’t politics but are just life. And you realize that that’s another person as well. And I can relate to him as somebody of a different generation, but who loves music in the way that I like music and we share a lot of that perspective. And I will say, it’s funny in doing a podcast like that… it’s not the most popular thing with the people who tend to follow some of my stuff. I get some hardcore comments here and there.

I think something that I really respect about the governor is that he is a guy who, again, I don’t agree with all his policies, but what I do like is this past election, he put country over party and actually changed his mind, which I think is to be lauded and to be understood. And so this podcast has been a nice way to just talk to somebody who is able to go through that, who comes from a different perspective, and also provides a conservative point of view that is more palatable to me to listen to the arguments behind. I think we have to, we’ve got to be engaging with people who aren’t exactly like us. If we don’t do that, we are shit out of luck.

There’s such a fixation on everything being about politics. And I get that it’s a privileged state to think that you don’t always need to be there, but I don’t know. And it’s such a punitive thing where it’s like, “we need to punish the left or punish the right before we even get back to one and actually negotiate with each other,” and it feels like that’s part of the problem too.

I think it totally is. I mean, in many ways the medium is the message. And so these conversations are taking place on Twitter or Facebook or places that reward you for having that hot take, to be punitive, to be aggro. But it’s harmful. I think, as you said, for some people, it is a privilege sometimes to talk outside of that realm of the things that are affecting people in the political sphere. But it’s also politics is becoming a game and a game only that people are using as a cudgel to beat people down and that’s the only win. But it’s not a win. It’s an empty win that you have online to try to say that somebody’s just stupid. I think, I mean, I think trying to find some amount of understanding and common ground with folks is still the ultimate goal with any kind of discourse is what conversation actually is.

It’s not like that’s always happening in the videos when I go out to talk to Trump folks. And I understand that. Hopefully, there’s a little bit of insight into what that other perspective is and a little bit of comedy for mine. But I think the podcast has been a blast from my perspective to sit down and talk with somebody who’s unlike me and actually get along for the majority of the time. And I think that’s a good reminder that these other human beings that we might be fighting about, some of that stuff is a ploy by people in power to have you fight about that stuff and not talk about the 80% of stuff you actually get along with.

Klepper Hungary 2
Joel Sadler/Comedy Central

I feel like you might struggle to find that kind of conversational part at a MAGA rally. Do you ever actually encounter that at these sites?

I mean, common ground is few and far between when you go to a lot of these rallies. It didn’t use to always be that way. I would say the Trump rallies were the beginning of… you’re the enemy of the people. Right from the get-go, Trump pointed to the media. If you have a camera and you have a microphone, you are an enemy. So let’s get into it. I mean, I’d like to think there are at least political rallies and political events where people are a little bit sympathetic to some ideas. And I will get people out and about who are maybe more moderate and are interlopers at some of these events who are curious.

I went to CPAC recently expecting people to hate me, not talk to me… that I would be public enemy number one. And I took a remarkable amount of selfies there. And I think that spoke to a lot of things. One, it spoke to how, for some people, this is just a game. And there were some higher-up assistants to important people in the Republican party who came up and were quoting Daily Show pieces back at me in a way that I was like, “but you are supporting somebody who we are making fun of and it was a detriment to our democracy.” And yet they’re still like, “but I still love what all these pieces are.” So maybe you don’t get the joke, or maybe you just don’t care about the messages and the things that you are supporting along with other people who just were excited by the show. The fact that I was somebody on television, a part of this media ecosystem, was more exciting than what perspective I might bring or the pieces that I created. Because you had a lot of thirsty, young conservative potential politicians.

CPAC is jam-packed full of Republican primary candidates who are trying to get their foot in the door. And I talked to a lot of them and they were moderate and they wanted to talk about ideas and they weren’t as extreme as Donald Trump. But what I saw in their eyes and what they started to notice is that’s not getting them any attention. That’s not getting them any money. And they’re there at CPAC and they’re watching other folks who are more extreme get that attention, get that money. And I fear for those folks. They don’t see or have a path in moderation and they will start to cling to these things where they don’t want to talk to you anymore because they just want to play it to their more extreme base.

Did you do anything else in Orlando? I hear they’ve got a good Medieval Times there. Did you go to Disney World?

[Laughs] I think I got enough fantasy land at CPAC. Enough people living in an alternate reality. Yeah, I got my fix.

So the international focus of this special is really great. Does this scratch an itch for you to expand the idea of what these specials are and take these more international going forward?

For sure. I get folks reaching out from all sorts of countries, like, “Ooh, do us please.” So I think there’s a curiosity. I love getting out there talking to people. It’s so eye-opening, so fun, so interesting. And following this movement, there is a global movement. There’s a global conservative movement happening right now. And I think there was a real curiosity about Hungary. It started to become part of the cultural conversation. It was at CPAC. There’s going to be a CPAC in Budapest. And I think for us at The Daily Show, we’ve talked about doing these specials where I think Fingers The Pulse can live doing a handful of pieces out and about talking to people in America. But we’d like to have more expanded specials that we get to do a few times a year where we travel.

We go to big places, take bigger swings, talk to people that you wouldn’t normally get to see in a regular Daily Show piece. And hopefully, bring to the forefront a story that our audience doesn’t know much about. And again, Hungary was definitely that for us. I knew so little other than Tucker Carlson couldn’t get off of Viktor Orban’s nuts. His overly tanned nuts, as we know now, Tucker Carlson’s into. But that was the goal for us of, well, let’s see what this is. Why is this a conservative wonderland?

How much does the language barrier pose a challenge to you? Specifically with your style, when you’re talking to people you’re trying to let them indict themselves to a certain extent.

It’s a challenge. I think it was interesting. That was one of the experiments we had over here. I was traveling with a translator and we talked to people who spoke English. It turns out, most Americans like myself, speak barely one language. And you go to other countries and they usually have got a couple in their back pocket. So I was able to talk to a fair amount of people in English. And that was very similar to the conversations we could have back home talking to people and hearing them talk through it. When it came to people who were speaking Hungarian, it was difficult. I’m working through a translator who’s real-time translating. Harder to improvise and play off of some of the things that people are dropping in that moment.

How do you modulate your tone when you’re in a room with Orban’s spokesperson in a country that isn’t known for its friendliness with journalists?

Well, you leave your phones in the car. So you don’t bring any electronic equipment into the rooms just to make sure any of the tapping they did of other journalists’ phones doesn’t happen to you. You’re respectful. I think with any of these things, especially they were kind enough to invite us in and sit down with it. I will give him credit for that. We were not expecting to talk to essentially the Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Viktor Orban. But he sat down with us. We were respectful of that office and the invite there. But I don’t think we wanted to pull any punches. We wanted to push him and bring these questions that we had. This seemingly hypocritical take on the way they treated Syrians compared to the way they’re treating Ukrainian refugees. The way they talk about the LGBTQ community.

I’d spent a week in Budapest talking to people who were affected by the policies of Viktor Orban. I talked to members of the LGBTQ community who are harassed daily. A man who was trying to adopt a child and that all got stopped. And now he’s going to move away because of that. They’re affected by this person. So I walk in there respectfully, but also with the responsibility to the people that I’ve talked to, who don’t get to chat to people like that who are in positions of power.

I have a conspiracy theory that I worked up last night that I’d like to share. Tucker has the Swanson connection. And Swanson did the Hungry Man TV dinner. Hungary man. Tucker is the Hungary Man. It all connects. Now we know.

Let me tell you, get yourself to a rally, put it on a t-shirt and you could be hanging out with JFK Jr. before you know it.

The t-shirt merch is really where the money is. And now we might see Trump-branded ball tanning machines coming to a rally near you real soon.

God bless. I was going to say, “Hey, you know what? Go ahead guys, fry your balls. If that makes you feel more like a man.”

‘Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe – Hungary for Democracy’ airs Thursday, April 21 at 11:30PM EST on Comedy Central