Jordan Klepper is about to have a moment. This Sunday, he’s hosting “Jordan Klepper Solves Guns,” an hourlong Comedy Central special. This fall, he’s making the move Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore did: From Daily Show correspondent to stepping behind the desk as host of a new late night show. That’s nothing but good news. Klepper is a lively presence and a rare truth teller in an age of fake news.
In person, Klepper is perhaps even more charming and vivacious than one might expect. He talks in great blocks of texts, barely pausing to take a breath before diving into another lengthy and engaging monologue. He also bucks the comedian trope of being a tough crowd. He laughs easily and often. You get the impression that, were he not a comedian, he would be the best audience member in the front row.
We spoke just after the Manchester attacks, the day after Trump posed with the orb (you know the one) and a few weeks before his upcoming guns special. “Jordan Klepper Solves Guns” at 10/9c. You’ll want to tune in.
Klepper and I talked about the function of satire, how Twitter is making comedy writing tougher and why he’s excited to pick out his own catering.
I feel like with Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation, people are always like, this is really going to get under Trump’s skin. And this is really going to somehow work. What do you think the end goal of satire is?
I mean I think satire is a tool, right? I’m a comedian. I’m not a journalist.
That’s what I got hired to do. I took improv classes. Let’s be clear. Sometimes, they’re like, “I get my news from you.” It’s like, okay, I went to the school of the Upright Citizens Brigade. So what I do is I try to find something humorous in it, right? And I think you look for what you think is bullshit. That’s what comedians do. When you think something is bullshit, great. How do you call that out? Try to stay true to what you think within that, right? And then to call out that bullshit through exaggeration or what have you; satirize it. For me, I think the purpose of that is to call out and articulate bullshit with the perspective that you bring. Now, is it—can it topple regimes? I don’t know. We have a regime right now that seems to withstand it pretty well. I don’t know if an impersonation is going to bring down Donald Trump. It might piss him off, sure. What I hope it does is we do a show each day about things that a lot of people I know care about or watch. I hope when you tune in, you see us satirize that. That gives it a perspective that either feels new or feels comforting because it’s like, “Oh, yeah. I saw that bullshit too.” And they were able to articulate it in a way that I enjoy, that I would’ve done as well. And to me, it should do that. Maybe that builds community. Maybe that highlights something somebody else didn’t see. And then, where it goes from there, I think that’s in other people’s hands. But I think our job is not—I think it’s dangerous to get too self-righteous about, like, I’m not a comedian, man. I’m going to burn it all down. I’m here to take him down. I think you’re here to take your skillset to look at what it happening and use that. Like, heighten that thing that you think is insane and do what you are good at, stay in that lane, and maybe from that, you can have an effect that wasn’t intended but is greater than you expected.
After Jessica Williams, you’re the first person to step off the Trevor Noah Daily Show. Do you feel the legacy of that transition—like, you’re making the same transition Colbert did, into the slot after the show—or do you feel like you’re just doing your own thing and fuck all that?
It’s interesting you put it that way. I’m fully aware of all that. I think I came to The Daily Show, first and foremost, a Daily Show fan, and so was a fan of Jon since I was in college, watching The Daily Show, a fan of The Colbert Report, and aware of John Oliver when he—I came on just after he left and was starting his show. And then, friends with Sam, and then Sam gets to do her show and so, like, I do not take it lightly, the ability to actually leave the show and to start your own show. I’m a fan of Larry’s show and what he’s able to do there. Like, so I’m definitely aware that this—it’s no small thing. Like, I think I would watch those people. And all of those are people I look up to and watch and saw what they did with it or was always impressed by it. And so to get that, I mean it really is a dream come true. And so yeah. I think about that. I think the goal is to—what can I find that feels new and not get bogged down in the legacy—but to, of course, be aware of it. You know, those are all guys I look up to. So—guys and gals.
I don’t know if an impersonation is going to bring down Donald Trump.
From the 9:15 meeting to 6:00 when you’re on tape or live or whatever it is, obviously, there’s seven hours of Twitter jokes. Is there a sense of dull terror that you feel? Be hitting a joke that’s then—just died on Twitter, and you wrote it at 2:00 P.M., and it died at 3:00.
“A sense of dull terror.” I think that’s probably exactly what it is. I mean I don’t know if we’re constantly thinking, “Was this joke on Twitter?” I mean we are rushing to tell those jokes. Were they on Twitter most of the day? But it is a giant shift into how jokes have been told, like, now, compared to three years ago. We were at the convention, the Republican National Convention, and I remember coming back to my hotel—
It feels like it was five years ago.
I know, right? Yeah, that was, what, six months ago, if that? There was—do you remember when it broke that Melania plagiarized Michelle Obama’s speech? And so that happened—that news broke at—it was maybe after midnight. And, like, immediately, people on The Daily Show pitch sheet, we started pitching out—oh, here’s an idea. Oh, my God. What else would she plagiarize? Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. And so we wake up that day to start thinking about the show at 9:00. And that joke would burn. It was like, holy shit. We’re actually going to be the first show that can talk about this news. And 9:00 on that morning, that joke is done. It was like, wow. And four years ago, The Daily Show was the only show that would get a chance to actually take a swing at that in a public forum. Now, we got to figure out what that next thing is. So I think it’s a challenge to figure out what that next joke is, what that next take is. ‘Cause you can’t beat the internet. The internet’s going to be faster. They’re going to be quicker. It’s going to have more volume. I think we don’t wallow in it, but it is the reality—is people are going to get a chance to pepper around ideas right off the bat.
Do you feel like that’s almost pushed you to be better in that you no longer get to pick up the gold off the ground, and you have to go mine for it?
I’d like to think so, yeah. I mean it makes it tougher. So, hopefully, you figure out ways in which to get at a story that’s more interesting or find something that other people aren’t talking about or make a larger point. Like, what we do have is we have more than 140 characters, so use that. Because, yeah, just having the funny joke that night, that’s no longer a novelty.
What are you most excited about? What freedom are you going to have with having your own show that you most look forward to from—
I get to pick my own catering. Right now, I get to have what I want to eat. Have it—craft service. Oh, my God. I think I’m most excited about building a team. Working with people that I’ve worked with in the past or wanting to work with, who I’ve come up with. Like, it’s humbling and intimidating. Like, you got to start a business, and so we’re starting to hire, you know, upwards of almost 100 people. And that’s where I’m at right now, and I think that is the really exciting thing, to be like, “Oh, my God. We can use—what are your talents? What do we need here? What am I not good at? What is that person great at? Okay, maybe the show can bend around that because we got this person who’s good at that. Oh, there’s a blind spot there.” Like, it’s a really fun puzzle to put together. But I will say I was not fully—you get the show, and you’re like, “Great. We get to do it. I’m going to talk about the news. Awesome.” It’s like, “What does it mean?” I was like, “You have to start a business.” It’s like, “Oh, shit. Really? A business? I’m not a businessman.”
Do you feel like your UCB background is, in a way, super-helpful now that the news so fast-breaking that you almost have to “yes, and” it?
That’s interesting. Yes.
And—I would say UCB and also my Chicago stuff, what I’ve found—the skills that I got from doing improv that are most applicable to my work on The Daily Show is in improv, you can’t be precious with any ideas. There’s an idea of let’s make it work. Like, it might not be the best idea, but we said we’re in a bank and that I’m guy who’s got a chicken in his arms. Shit. All right, I wish I had a better idea. But that’s the reality. Let’s figure out how to make this thing work. And then sweep, and let’s start a new scene, and then figure out how to make this one work. Like, that’s the mentality. The Daily Show has a good element of that. You can’t be precious with your own idea, your own joke because the news changes too quick. You’ve got to get that show on the air, and you might only have 30 minutes to write that script with three other people. And so if you’re somebody who’s just like, “No. I’m going to fight you until I get this idea,” it’s, like, you’re not going to last. You have to lose that battle and fight again tomorrow and tomorrow. Like, and so that is definitely something—it’s part of what I love about this atmosphere is, like, it’s super-quick, and you have to be adaptive, but you can’t be precious. That’s definitely a big part of improv.