Within the first few minutes of Jordan Klepper Solves Guns, The Daily Show correspondent’s new hour-long Comedy Central special, the host seemingly beats the drum of leftist elites whose politics are boisterously anti-gun. “I’m enlightened, I’m progressive, and I feel like was put on this Earth to enact righteous change,” he quips while walking through the National Mall. “As a television personality, I’ve repeatedly reported on America’s obsession with guns. Despite my incredible efforts, guns are still a problem.”
Klepper, who’s set to get his own half-hour program later this year, debuted on the Jon Stewart-led program in 2014 and made a name for himself reporting on gun-related stories. With Trevor Noah at the helm, the native Michigander garnered praise for segments detailing Donald Trump rallies — for which, amazingly, interviewed attendees didn’t punch him in the face. In a previous interview with Uproxx, he credited his 6’4″ frame with avoiding said punches, but as Jordan Klepper Solves Guns proves, the comedian’s success (and pristine face) owes its longevity to his willingness to make satire personal.
As most Daily Show fans already know, the Jordan Klepper depicted throughout Solves Guns isn’t the real deal — especially when he touts his “righteous” resolve against guns. “I do lean left when it comes to the gun issue,” he tells me, “but if we’re being honest, there’s definitely a perspective on the right that assumes people on the left are all just like this character. They inundate gun owners and gun rights advocates with statistics. They want to rid the right, who they view as a bunch of hicks who live in the woods, of all of their guns. It’s an overblown character and doesn’t really exist among the people I know on the left, but I understand the fear.”
Yet before you begin typing your complaint below, consider what Klepper says less than two minutes after introducing his parody of a leftist anti-gun crusader. The otherwise impersonal character gets personal with a reference to Kalamazoo, Michigan, which made national headlines in February 2016 when Uber driver Jason Brian Dalton went on a shooting rampage and killed six people. “As we started building this, there was a shooting in my hometown,” Klepper explains. “I was already having these conversations with my family, who were seeing gun issues all over the news, and now it was happening right there. We needed to talk about it.”
“I’d been talking to Comedy Central about doing a longer special for a little bit,” he continues, noting what became Jordan Klepper Solves Guns was in the works long before the Kalamazoo shootings. “In all my Daily Show pieces about guns, I realized I was having the same conversation, over and over again, with people who were trying to make rational moves forward with gun issues and running into the same wall. That’s when it began to feel like something that was very personal to a lot of people. And I wanted to talk to them, especially those people who were trying to do something good, but who weren’t getting their voices heard. I really wanted to help them tell their story.”
The host set about trying to accomplish this in Jordan Klepper Solves Guns with three complementary approaches. First, he would parody the popular image of anti-gun progressive voices pro-gun conservatives feel are trying to squash their Second Amendment rights. Then he would give those “who were trying to do something good” a larger platform. As for the third and final touch, Klepper wanted to dig into his personal connections to enrich the discussion. All of which already sounds like a tall order — until you consider the moderate gun culture of Michigan Klepper calls home.
“Even before the Kalamazoo shootings,” he says, “I was already thinking about the gun issue, especially after doing the pieces I did for The Daily Show. But as somebody who grew up in Michigan, I came to realize that a lot of my friends out here on the East Coast didn’t necessarily get it. They weren’t these East Coast liberals who think guns are bad and should be deported, sent overseas and allowed to sink into the ocean. People like that do exist, both in real life and in satirical comedy shows, but my experiences in Michigan taught me guns weren’t necessarily a black-and-white issue.”
As a native Texan who relocated to the East Coast, I found myself nodding throughout Klepper’s explanations over the phone and in the special. I’ve never been a card-carrying member of the NRA, and when it came to state legislation allowing concealed carry on college campuses (which is now law), I wasn’t a fan. But I grew up in a culture that acknowledged the existence of guns, a moderate culture that, given the right circumstances, celebrated guns and our right as Americans to own and operate them for legal, functional ends. Like honing one’s aim by shooting at discarded car parts.
“My grandfather used to take me out shooting at hubcaps. He was a hunter and a member of the National Rifle Association,” Klepper continues. “Guns mean something different to people in the Midwest than than to New Yorkers who hop on the subway every day. So I understand why America is constantly in an uproar about guns, because there are a lot of them, but it’s also an identity issue. People redefine themselves because of it.” It’s an identity issue that, when confronted by something like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, struggles to find common ground with the region’s typically liberal residents.
Such was the case, I tell Klepper, when I brought my Queens-born, Connecticut-raised girlfriend to rural Texas for the first time. Coyotes were pestering my parents’ chickens, so my father kept a pistol loaded with snake shot close at hand. As a result, I found myself bumbling through an explanation-cum-defense of the situation to my girlfriend, who’d known people at Sandy Hook. “In a way, it feels like a microcosm of the American political system,” the Daily Show correspondent remarks. “Everyone picks a side, which ultimately makes it less about the issue and more about identity. Which is something to consider, but I wanted to make sure we focused on the issue, to try to see what it’s really all about.”
Acknowledging the identity gun owners feel gun control measures threaten, while also tackling real-world horrors like Sandy Hook, is no small feat. And Klepper knows all too well that his extreme caricature of anti-gun progressives for a Comedy Central special won’t actually “solve” guns, title notwithstanding. Even so, what helps Jordan Klepper Solves Guns stand out is the host’s determination to acknowledge the personal while confronting policy. Sure, he uses the platform to interview Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and briefly attend the NRA convention, but Klepper’s doubling down on his own connection to gun culture is what makes it work. This is especially true of segments featuring Klepper’s cousin Pete, whom the comic introduces in a Bachelor spoof titled The Moderate.
“We were working on the special as the election was taking place, and we were talking about how everyone’s Facebook feeds were confirming their own biases,” he recalls. “Everyone had that one family member outside their own political spectrum who was posting things that would cause an uproar. My family member was Pete, a gun owner in Michigan. He was posting pictures of hunting and fishing, mostly, but he occasionally posted political pieces that would pop up in my feed. He was the outlier, and to me, it felt like everybody had that outlier. But I know Pete. He’s great, but in this divided time, everything he was posting made it feel like he was a world away. I thought that was worth investigating, and I’d never seen someone like Pete on TV before.”
For the latter half of Jordan Klepper Solves Guns, the correspondent’s exaggerated anti-gun crusader tries to convince his straight-man cousin to give up his guns. Both sides play up the stereotypes of the issue’s assumed sides, with the show throwing statistics and lobbyists at Pete, and the latter calmly refusing to abandon the Second Amendment. “Pete’s not this bad guy on the other side,” Klepper insists. “He’s taken me hunting and ice fishing. We’d hang out on the ice. I wanted to explore these things a little bit through our relationship and see what he had to say. So I emailed him and said, ‘Pete, I have never asked you about guns and your relationship with guns. I’ve got a bunch pieces for The Daily Show about gun ownership, but we’ve never talked about it. How do you feel about these things? What do you think?'”
Pete responded with “such nuance and thought” about the current system for background checks, how and why people should be vetted before purchasing firearms, and more. “I quickly realized I’d been making Pete out to be something he wasn’t, and that we shared so much common ground. Just because he hunts, owns guns and is in the NRA, I assumed he would be against my position. He’s not, and that’s a voice I feel we haven’t heard from enough — the moderate gun owner. It quickly became something I wanted to investigate, so I asked Pete if he would be a part of the special and he agreed, even when I warned him I’d be doing some weird stuff.”
Weird for Pete, that is. As for regular Daily Show viewers, they already know Klepper’s lanky self-deprecation is part and parcel to his strategy. So when he flies a gun control lobbyist up to Michigan to try and sway his cousin against the NRA (while driving a race car plastered with statistics and slogans), Pete will probably be the only person who looks surprised. “People in Michigan are savvy, and Pete understood what I was trying to do. It didn’t spook him,” Klepper concludes. “If my approach, as this satirical character the left who wants to rip people’s guns away, works, then why not poke some fun at the left while exposing some of the right’s more problematic notions as well? I don’t want this to be just me yelling at people on the right about guns.”
Jordan Klepper Solves Guns premieres Sunday, June 11th at 10pm ET/PT on Comedy Central.