Daily Show correspondent and Trump rally explorer Jordan Klepper was “curious and interested” in politics as a kid but didn’t get ensnared by the trap of it all until college and his days in the Chicago improv scene. He leveled up even further when he found himself in his present gig. That was the first time Klepper signed up to be a part of The Daily Show. That experience and further, solo endeavors into the dark heart of politics with the satirical The Opposition and activism with the experiential with Klepper have continued his evolution on-screen and off.
Now, back on The Daily Show, Klepper has been navigating a relatable kind of dread. He’s still working, but it’s not the same while stuck in his apartment (though it absolutely packs a punch). He’s already tussled with a months-long lockdown in New York City, the feeling of watching parts of the world come undone, and the experience of getting COVID. Now, he’s eager to get back out there to rallies and into a conversation that, he believes, is aided by allowing people every opportunity to hear themselves talk and have their truth be seen. Even if what we see is scary as hell.
Are you regretting that you weren’t at the rally in Arizona?
I looked at the weather and was a balmy 111. My body doesn’t do very well in temperatures above 70 or below 68. So on that side of it all, no. Although I’m fascinated by the show and I’m eager to get out there.
How does that work as far as what you guys are actually doing to make sure that you are safe? And not just from COVID, but from people wanting to rip your mask off and give you a little COVID kiss.
Well, that’s a traditional greeting at a Trump rally, to spit in someone else’s mouth. I want to support the customs of a Trump rally, so I get it. I have a camera crew with me, I deserve to be spat into my own mouth. You have to read the fine print. You came to see Donald Trump, and you’re going to spit in the face of the fake news media. They put it right in the fine print.
That’s why all the TikTok kids didn’t go. They read the fine print and they were like, “Whoa. Hold on.”
They think those TikTok kids have short attention spans, but they’re the only ones who read Apple agreements. And the Constitution. They’re going to win in the end.
The end’s a long way away though, unfortunately.
That’s very true. No, we’re eager to get out there again, though. Basically it all comes down to what we’re allowed to do. But the machines over at Viacom have put into place very specific protocols that are honestly changing day to day as each local government changes day to day. We’re just waiting to get the green light so we can get on the road and see all this up close. Or as close as six feet… You can see a lot from six feet.
In terms of security, are you ramping up beyond what you’ve done before?
We try to keep a low profile, but we go out there with a security guard. Traditionally going to any kind of rally or event, especially if there are competing protestors to the rally, we go out with a security guard. The last few we went to we bumped that up to two just to be safe. We haven’t talked about what we’re going to need for these future ones.
It might be double digits. [Laughs] To be fair, we have very professional security guards who are great at keeping a low profile. And for the most part, people get angry, but I haven’t run into any physical altercations. I do think people are really redlining right now in a way that they feel backed into a corner. So when we go back out there we’re going to have to basically take that into account. We’re not out there to provoke. We’re out there to question, to follow up, and discuss the logic of the arguments that are out there. And more often than not, people are getting tied into knots more than they’re throwing punches.
There’s a skill — you’re able to get in a jab at someone but keep the conversation rolling. Almost like they don’t realize that you’ve cut them off at the knees. How do you do that?
If you have a big, dumb Midwestern face, people will trust you, and therefore they see the big smile on your face and they don’t listen to the words that come out of your mouth. Which tends to be the case with a lot of people there. You realize that they’re reading body language, but they’re not listening. You’d be surprised how far you can get listening to what people say and realize that more often than not, they’re not really paying attention to the things that you’re saying as well. I think the skill of going to a rally like these is truly listening to the argument that is there. And more often than not, the humor comes from me just parroting back the ideas that are already just being thrown in my face.
Obviously, The Daily Show has a long tradition of that style of using people’s statements to highlight their hypocrisy. You’re doing that still, and it’s good fun. But does it make an impact?
Well, I think I changed the world. I definitely put that on my business cards.
[Laughs] You’re a comedian! That’s the job!
[Laughs] Get ready. I’m going to fix it all with a clever retort! For me, I do think contradiction is often the most revealing trait of any human. And watching somebody understand the hypocrisy, but still fight against that, I think you get to see the duality of most human beings. So I think it’s often very revealing of people holding onto these ideas that are being sold. [They’re] fighting something that is against their own interests, or against even the logic that they’ve laid out. It shows you tribalism, it shows you how people need to believe this thing they’ve already bought tickets to. And I think baseline: it’s very revealing of these types of mindsets that we hear about.
I also think that for an audience, I think oftentimes I’m having the conversation or the arguments that the audience might be having back at home or at Thanksgiving. Or at least the conversation that they wish they were having. So at the very least, I think there’s some catharsis that you might get in confronting some of these ideas right to the face of the people who actually hold them and the people who are connected to the person who has the most power in our country right now.
Yeah, I think that’s definitely a fair read on it, specifically the catharsis part and using you as an avatar to have those conversations. Is it hard to be restrained and not really clap back at someone when they make a ridiculous statement? How do you not make real-life Twitter, essentially?
[Laughs] Oh boy. I genuinely like engaging with people. I like going out there, I really like being up close at campaigns and seeing what people actually believe. So at a baseline I really like having some of these conversations. Most of them become incredibly frustrating because it does feel like you’re talking past one another. I think, yeah, there are times that I’ve… I don’t think I’ve lost it, but I lose some of my hope that we’re going to get anywhere with it. Especially as we got closer to the election four years ago.
I think of all those moments that say so much more about this moment than I ever could. I think back to one of the last ones I went to where I was talking to somebody about whether or not John Bolton should testify and the fact that Trump was trying to keep witnesses from testifying at his impeachment. And so I was talking to a woman about it who, we got so deep into this idea, and she was like, “He has nothing to hide. He has absolutely nothing to hide. He’s an open book.” Then I pointed out, well, he is keeping people from testifying. She took a long beat, and her response was, “I don’t care.” To me it was like, that’s it. That’s all of it in a nutshell.
In that moment I wasn’t angry, I was almost relieved because it was boiled down to its purest sense. We’re having all these fights, this fight is just foreplay. The reality is it doesn’t matter. All of these ideas that he’s given you are just tools that you use to fight people off and you just want the feeling of camaraderie of going to these rallies and feeling like your team wins.
That is, yeah, the essence of the truth. But I don’t know how someone doesn’t honestly lay down where they stand and have a nap after that. Because that is really heavy and really depressing to realize. And also, I’m sure, not unique to that one person.
I don’t know if I mentioned, I also then drink heavily after all of these rallies. Because it’s sad. Yeah, I think I’ve watched the American dream crumble, although I think the realization was, oh, perhaps it had crumbled decades ago, I’m just realizing it now in 2020.
I remember talking to you for an interview days before the election in 2016, and it sticks in my mind because you sounded hopeful about the idea of talking about things that weren’t related to Trump, and it was the last time I remember someone being hopeful. Do you have that hope going into this next one? Is this going to be another Lucy football where they get you thinking that you’re going to be able to do stuff that isn’t about Trump again?
You know what, I do have that hope. Perhaps it’s naïve, and I think deep down I am an optimist. I’m wanting this thing to turn out aces. Oddly enough, I listened to a podcast, Ezra Klein and Ta-Nehisi Coates a few weeks ago, and Ta-Nehisi Coates was hopeful and optimistic. And he was even surprised by that perspective. But he spoke to this moment, specifically the protests, and these examples of people actually taking action. A diverse coalition of people speaking up and saying no more. And I think he spoke to the idea that this has happened before, but what we’re seeing is collective action. Collective action is good. It’s not as if these things haven’t existed, but what we’re seeing now is resistance to them is so much more widespread in a way that it’s actually positive and worthy of hope.
I think I do gain some strength in those images and seeing people really feel like now is the time to take that action. As scary as these times are, and as broken as I see the American system [is.] I think there are revelations that a lot of people on all sides and a lot of liberals are also realizing, “oh, I guess I didn’t look closely enough at how broken the system was.” And I’d like to think that in that is a real desire for change. Now it’s going to be applied to a political system that might be a binary choice between what we already had and somebody who might not be as exciting as some people would want, but I do think there is still an option for change. And I think there’s also an option for other forms of political action that we’re starting to see take hold. And I do have to hold onto that. And maybe I hold onto it to keep from crying and throwing in the towel completely, but we’re not going to be caught unaware.
At some point, you just hope a survival instinct kicks in.
[Laughs] My fear is, I’d like the American survival instinct to be “let’s take care of this democracy that we have tattooed across our chests for eons,” but I’ve also seen the survival instincts of people like Ted Cruz, who’s like, “All right, what do I need to do? Let me grovel to the person who made fun of my dad and my wife just because I want to hold onto power.” That’s weasel instinct. I’d like to think our survival instincts are a little bit more pure and true.
I should say, I don’t have a lot of faith in our survival instincts considering the amount of people who walk out without a mask right now.
I think that’s a good point, yeah. I think that statistically, we have the worst survival instincts on the entire globe. That should be taken into account.
Is another season of Klepper in the cards still?
As of right now, no. As of right now, we were told we’re not getting another season of Klepper, and that’s part of the reason I was like, well, I want to get out there on the road. And I was like, Daily Show, get me out there again. I would love to get out there and do another season. It was one of the most rewarding times of my life, and also following these movements really did instill in me this desire to be a part of good trouble, as John Lewis would call it. And also just seeing what it looks like on the front lines of American activism. It’s messy, but it’s really rewarding. So as of right now, there’s no Klepper on Comedy Central, but I sure would love to find Klepper somewhere else in the near-ish future. Whenever that is. A show on the road is a little bit tough when I’ve lived in my apartment for the last three months.
Just do it with little dolls, like Marwencol, and you could set it up and go on little adventures.
That could be it, yeah. There we go. Sell it.
I was such a huge fan of that show, and I really do hope you get to go back out and do that. How do you think the experiences of Klepper informed the stuff you do on The Daily Show now?
Well, I think Klepper very much reinforced to me that it is a great honor to be able to tell stories, and so make sure you pick wisely. And also it reinforced that I like… as an artist, as a comedian, I like to be out there. I like to craft things out of being out in the field. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying to find other avenues and ways to be creative, but I think what I brought to The Daily Show from there was I want to be out there, I want to talk to people. I like responding to people, I like trying to find the story out in the actual places where it’s happening.
But also what I took from the [show] mostly is just give a shit. Show up. Be a part of these conversations. I watch the news right now and I see the conversation is around what it takes to be a good ally. I think I was able to get a crash course in that with Klepper. So whether or not I bring that to my work, I’d like to think I bring it through my interests and my perspective at The Daily Show, but I also think more so I bring into my life and the way I approach just being a good citizen.
Alright, man, it’s always an extreme pleasure to talk with you, and I’m sure we will get a chance to connect again before this whole civil war breaks out.
It breaks my heart a little bit, the memories of us talking optimistically right before 2016. Maybe we’ll talk a little bit before the 2020 election and check-in and see how we’re feeling about the next four years.
Yeah, that, or just maybe strategize on combat maneuvers and things like that.
That sounds good too. Yeah, survival. [Laughs]