For most of us, politics have been an inescapable fact of life this year. Between pandemics, elections, impeachments, and Rudy Giuliani publicly melting like a QAnon-spouting Wicked Witch of the West, fissures became canyons and once-avoidable conversations became the only thing our conservative grandparents wanted to Zoom about.
So it’s understandable really that Jordan Klepper, comedian and Daily Show correspondent who regularly ventures out into the wilderness of Middle America to quiz fascist cosplayers on their devotion to a fast food-gobbling megalomaniac, would finally land on your radar. Klepper, who we chatted with about his own show The Opposition earlier this year, has been doing these “on-the-street” bits for a while now but something odd happened in 2020 … he defied the odds to become the politically competent thirst trap we didn’t know we needed.
I first noticed this undeniable transformation when Klepper returned to The Daily Show to cover Donald Trump’s impeachment scandal late last year. Klepper was on his usual schtick – teaching basic math to Trump supporters and hunting for the ever-elusive “Trump That B*tch” graphic tee – when suddenly, it hit me. I wanted Klepper to quit interrogating these homophobic groupies and start interrogating me (i.e. my body). It was a life-changing epiphany, a Moses-coming-down-from-the-mountain-type moment. But once the acknowledgment nestled itself in my brain, there was no extracting it. Klepper was, in fact, hot.
That bell would toll plenty more throughout 2020. When Klepper attended the Iowa Caucus earlier this year, sporting a thick beard and disheveled hair, I was yet again confronted – as I’m sure we all were – with this surprising development. He walked confidently into a hostile space filled with uninformed, overconfident voters, openly mocking them to their faces, Trojan-horsing them with a friendly demeanor before humiliating them on national TV.
There’s a kind of danger in what Klepper does, an adrenaline rush that comes with the expectation he might be found out. Surely one of these Trump cronies will wise up to his gimmick and mark him as a threat to their hazardly-crafted ideologies? And yet, he forges on in the name of patriotism and rationality, doing the work behind enemy lines so that we, the people, can find some escapist humor in watching prejudice and racism beaten down with deadpan humor and sharp wit. Does something about Klepper shouting “It’s f*cking Caucaus time” get me excited? Yes, but once the thirst was recognized, the harder work of understanding why I was suddenly employing violently thirsty hyperbole to characterize a mostly average-looking white man began.
The investigation took me to New Jersey.
In the summer of 2020, Klepper stuffed his pasty, Gumby-like limbs into a pair of patriotic swim trunks to joke about man’s fixation concerning the size of their genitals with right-wing sea captains. I quizzed group chats on this new development during, what would’ve been, the peak of our collective quarantine. Perhaps, I thought, social isolation had warped my libido. I sent videos of Klepper facing off against Trump supporters on open water. “What do you think of this guy?” I’d ask.
“Why, does he want to date you?”
Clearly, none knew who Klepper was or where this fixation came from. But once they watched the man draw correlations between the number of Trump flags on certain vessels and the probability of mid-life sexual insecurities, it began to click. “He’s funny, but he’s not an asshole about it,” one offered. “He knows when to let people make idiots of themselves,” was another nugget of wisdom. “He’s tall and he can wear the hell out of a puffer jacket. Verrry difficult to pull off as a man,” was the scientific thesis from one friend who went down a bit of a rabbit hole of past videos purely for research purposes.
So yes, Klepper, like many normal-looking white men have benefited from the relaxed standards of quarantine and the time spent growing facial hair during the lockdown, but Hasan Minhaj already warned us about this phenomenon. It couldn’t just be Klepper’s looks that had more and more fans on Twitter wanting him to break them off like a damn Kit-Kat bar.
So I pressed on, watching Klepper eventually don masks when the pandemic surged and embed himself further in the chaos of the right-wing horde. He went to Million MAGA marches where he endured the insult of being called “broseph” by a Tea Party member wearing a mohawk helmet. He courageously waded through Coronavirus-riddled crowds to talk SCOTUS picks and mask mandates with tacky-shirt-wearing pretzel-munchers. I overlooked the caveman ramblings unexpectedly unearthed by Klepper’s brand of machismo, ignoring crude would-be thirst tweets like “Fold me like a beef taco you sardonic skyscraper,” and “He might be built like a Sequoia but he could split me in half like a lumberjack” that randomly popped into my brain during these viewings. Instead, I tried to figure out why Klepper and his brand of comedy might hold some appeal this year, an appeal that goes beyond Youtube hits and next-day shares and the disturbing collective need we all have for him to choke us with his favorite skinny tie.
Here’s what I got.
In a time when competence is an undervalued quality, when intelligence is something to be sneered at, when open-mindedness is cordoned to safe-spaces and unchecked hate floods the streets instead, Klepper chooses to disrupt the norm by interrogating it and dismantling it, by holding it up to the comedic light and asking people to defend it. He’s good at toeing the line between sarcastic apathy and mild amusement – able to suppress personal outrage in order to let his subjects do the easy work of embarrassing themselves for him. He’s charismatic – enough that even Trump supporters who probably know his gotcha-antics still want to talk to him – and that charisma is what disarms people whose ideologies he’s calling into question. If 2020 has proven anything it’s that what Klepper does isn’t easy – but it’s necessary and entertaining and maybe it’s making a difference.
Okay fine. That and he’s most definitely become one of the few white men we’d save from the purge. Godspeed you lighthouse-shaped beacon of humanity!