Jordan Klepper, a man who has had a front row seat to the MAGA circus over the past few years, doesn’t often look surprised when he’s on the road – he’s heard all of the conspiracy theories and complaints.
But at a Donald Trump rally in June, he looked genuinely flabbergasted when a couple of young women seemingly had no knowledge of what happened on January 6, 2021 (see clip below).
“There’s definitely a surprise to be found at every Trump event,” Klepper tells Deadline. “I wish I could say that we went to these places, and we were fishing for people, but that’s not the case, we only talk to anybody who would like to talk to us. More often than not, people want to come in and talk to us. But the fact that they had never heard of January 6, even the terminology around insurrection was new to them was frankly shocking to me. I knew there was a rock a lot of people lived underneath, I just had no idea it was so encompassing.”
The Daily Show contributor calls it a “microcosm for the state that we’re in”.
Klepper was a correspondent on the Comedy Central late-night series between 2014 and 2017 before launching his own show The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, that ran for over 120 episodes after The Daily Show. When that show was canceled in 2018, he had another series Klepper, a weekly show that would see him get out in to the field and sow the seeds for his return to the Trevor Noah-hosted series as a gonzo MAGA chronicler.
His recent work has also gained him the attention of the TV Academy crowd, nabbing a couple of Emmy nominations – both for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special – for his Jordan Klepper Fingers The Pulse special last year and Jordan Klepper Fingers The Globe – Hungary For Democracy this year.
The latter saw him head to Hungary to see the similarities between Trump and the Eastern European country’s far-right autocratic leader Viktor Orbán and whether what’s going on over there will influence the future of U.S. conservatism.
“We caught wind that at CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] that there was going to be a CPAC in Budapest and the fact that Orbán kept being brought up was a curiosity to us, and a chance for us to learn a little bit about what it is about this small, Eastern European country that American conservatives hold up on a pedestal? Frankly, can we learn about the successes that the conservative movement has had over in Hungary? What does that say about what the folks here in power?,” he says.
“I didn’t know much about Hungary. I have an Atlantic subscription but I don’t always read all the way through,” he jokes. “It’s also hard to pay for flights and to travel, so I’ll take I’ll take any opportunity to get out and see the world. They just happen to send me to places where democracies are crumbling.”
Klepper is now plotting a balance between following more Trump rallies and getting out of the country. “What’s been really great with The Daily Show is I get a chance to go out and do these quick pieces to sort of follow the narrative of the moment, but we also get to do these specials where we can deep dive and go international,” he says. “We have a real curiosity [about] where are these movements elsewhere? Is it in Brazil? Is it in Italy? What’s happening in Europe. How do we how do we learn about what’s happening here through what’s happening on an international scale.”
He is also working towards the midterms, particularly Sarah Palin’s race in Alaska, and more CPAC events. “There is a political movement that’s happening, but it’s very different in Michigan than it is in Arizona. Can we start to tell wide ranging stories? With the midterms, you have a wave of people running for elected office who are also running on the idea that all of these elections can’t be trusted. That pulls at the credibility of American democracy.”
In one sense, Klepper is following in the footsteps of Hunter S. Thompson, who chronicled American politics in the 1970s with Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and via Rolling Stone, appealing to younger audiences with a sense of humor and absurdity.
“I’m a huge Hunter S. Thompson fan and I think Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is such an interesting read and captures that time through humor and through BS. There’s a lot of fabricated stories and when people talk about what satire can do and what comedians and characters can do, I think you are bringing your own perspective, your own bias, and your take on essentially a circus that is happening around you and Hunter spoke to it in that time period. In many ways, he got to the truth by coming at it through a lie, through fabrication and sometimes through inebriation. But he captured the feeling of that time where people felt the world starting to come apart. I literally traveled with that book on me,” he says.
One of the more curious elements of Klepper’s segments is why so many right-wing folk are willing to talk with him, given that he is essentially making fun of them. But he likens it to being a heel in wrestling, that Trump supporters see this as entertainment.
“I probably took 50 or 60 selfies with people who were excited to just see somebody involved in the narrative surrounding this Trump World,” he says. “There are even politicians at CPAC who would come up and ask if they could set up a time [to talk]. You become like a villain in the Trump universe. It’s always that the rallies are like a sporting event. There’s ideology, there’s pomp and circumstance, it is fun, it’s entertainment and that also speaks to why people talk to me.”
To their credit, the merchandise at many of these events is incredible with the parade of slogan t-shirts and flags such as the one of Trump riding a Velociraptor whilst holding a machine gun. “I think the left can take some lessons from the creativity of the right, at least from a marketing standpoint. Until you put Pete Buttigieg on a Velociraptor, you’re really not reaching out to the masses.”
Does Klepper ever miss sitting behind a desk on his own late-night show and can he see himself returning to that format at any point. “I love the environment of being in a late-night show, working with a team all day hustling, that kind of energy of that day has a vibrance and an energy to it. That is a blast. The skill set of being a host at a desk is really fun and the ability to have curious interesting people brought to you is just from a functional standpoint, a really nice way to say, I love sitting at a desk. Who knows; I can see myself sitting at the desk, sometime in the future as well as that’s a fun gig,” he says. “But there’s something to being out in the world and finding your way and getting the story at its source.”
I imagine, in the future, we’ll see plenty of both.
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