You think you’ve seen everything as far as comedy goes at this point I imagine. I mean, how is it possible that a medium and genre that has been around for hundreds of years can still find ways to break new grounds and tread uncharted territory? Is there anything more you can really find humor in?
The short answer is “Yes”. The long answer is “Watch the new Comedy Central show Klepper.”
Klepper is the newest venture for Jordan Klepper, fresh off his show The Opposition was ran on Comedy Central from 2017 to 2018. Klepper sees Jordan going right to the heart of issues today that he believes in, and provides a fresh and unique take on them. But don’t let the fact that it’s a docu-series on a comedy network hosted by someone with a background in comedy fool you. This show in itself is not to be taken as a joke. The most important thing to note is that it’s not a parody show or making fun of these issues. The show as a whole is treated very seriously. It’s only through these moments that organically funny moments occur, thanks to Jordan serving as a host.
Whether he is on a sinking aluminum boat on his way to go protest the pipelines in Louisiana or getting arrested for peacefully protesting in Georgia or traveling to Tijuana to visit deported vets, Jordan Klepper puts himself right in the middle of these situations in ways few other shows would. There’s a sense of danger that puts you right in the middle of what’s going on, which importantly allows you see the severity of the situations and why action is necessary.
We recently spoke to Jordan about all things Klepper, the movements he is most passionate about, getting arrested for what he knew was right, and sitting down with Bill and Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago to tape a video.
How did this come together? How did you want this to be different than what you had done previously?
Well, what happened was after The Opposition, basically what we realized was we are in a super interesting time period, what with the administration and sort of in entertainment. So as The Opposition wrapped up, the thing that I didn’t get to do with it was get out into the real world and do more field pieces. I always wanted to get out into the field. I always enjoyed doing that from The Daily Show to The Opposition. So we knew we wanted to build a show around going out and seeing the stories up close. And as we started to kind of build a show out of that, we also started to talk about character and what the tone of the show would be.
Listen, I loved The Opposition, I loved playing a character. It was really fun to kind of filter a show through the point of view of a far right internet troll type of perspective. But with this one, it was a good challenge for us to be like “Let’s drop the heavy irony and heavy sarcasm and go right at these important stories. I think that’s sort of what some people are really yearning for. Real stories with real people. We’ll find the humor in it, but let’s not just do it with an ironic point of view.” So that sort of set us out to try to figure out how we can tell these stories where they feel a little bit more documentary than they do just traditional field pieces.
Was that a different muscle for you, not having to revert to that character? Was that something you really had to learn how to do?
For sure. It was a learning process for us going out. I know there’s a specific skill set with Daily Show pieces and The Opposition, even the gun special that I did. I get to play a bigger broader version of myself and from that you’re kind of able to work through a story. And so with this one I was like “Let’s not just rely on me being a big dummy.” My dumminess shows through naturally if I’m being my authentic self. So you can’t get rid of that completely. But we wanted to pick stories that weren’t just funny because they were ironic and strange stories. We wanted to pick stories that you could live in and see. I would say that the episode we did about veteran’s that are deported, that was one of the first ones we shot. And we went down to Tijuana where the bunker is and the veterans are and they can’t come back to see their family. There’s a dozen veterans who have been stuck in Tijuana, away from their family, away from their loved ones. You walk into a room like that and you’re like “Oh, there’s no space for me to make dumb jokes to these guys or about this situation.” And I think that was a good learning process for us. Like if we’re really going to go right up into some of these stories, we’ll have to find a new way in which to find humor in this. Because it can’t just be me being a dummy in these situations. We have to give these situations some credence and find some new, fresh ways, hopefully, to contextualize this by a little bit of humor but also showcase these stories. It was a great challenge. Authenticity sort of a touchstone point for us to begin with. How do we have authentic experiences here and find comedy and build something out of that?
And did that ever make the people you were talking to not take you seriously or maybe think you’d be mocking them, because you are someone with a comedic background with Comedy Central?
Sure. I think it’s a show without a track record. They’ve seen me do stuff on The Daily Show and they’ve seen other stuff as well. We were going to places that we wouldn’t normally go on other traditional comedy shows. And we were going to protest groups like the pipeline protesters for example were very renascent. They’re like “We’re at undisclosed locations, we are doing things that are direct actions that could get us in trouble. We’re really cautious about bringing somebody from a comedy network to tell this story. So people are nervous, and I think there people we reached out to who were definitely curious but not sure they wanted their story filtered through like a comedic lens. And that is something that I totally understand. And what I assure them is “Our goal is to do something that is a docu-series for Comedy Central, not something they normally do. So we do really want to dig into your topic. We’re going to find hopefully some humor, and that will come from this fish-out-of-water me going down there. But people, rightfully so, these were important issues to the people there and a lot of them were trusting but still skeptical.
Was the network on board with doing something so different for them?
Honestly, I give them credit. We talked to them right off the bat about this and they were really interested in it. We had seen other shows before, we know that ironic distance, we know what types of field shows exist out there. And they were like “Hey, we have the ability to do something that might have some gray area, that can feel different. Let’s push the boundaries of this so it doesn’t just feel like an extension of like a field show from The Daily Show. And some of these early edits that we brought back had a different rhythm. And by design, too. It was like “I know the rhythm of these traditional shows of ‘Let’s go heavy irony. Let’s say this one thing, punch it with a joke, keep going.’” I was like “Oh, these have a rhythm that feels more like a documentary or what have you.” There was even a time when we were like “What if we do what some of these other shows do? You have your field pieces and then you cut to like a stand up at a stand up show talking reflectively about the situation.” And we filmed something that was reflectively looking back on all of this. And we put it in there as a way to add jokes that were told from a distance and it broke the flow. Because it took away from what was special about this, all living out in the field. And the network was like “No. We like the humor that comes out of you actually having this experience. Let’s not try to make it a stand up, joke a second kind of show. Let’s try to make it experiential in that way. So they were behind it from the get-go.
Was there a moment when you felt the most uncomfortable out of your skin when doing the show?
There were a lot of those moments I must say. The first one was when we were doing the episode with the pipeline protesters. We were staying overnight, the whole crew was pitching tents, and we were making food with everybody, getting attacked by mosquitoes. And they’re talking about this direct action that’s happening in the morning. And there’s confusion about who were going out in what boats, and some things we were told, some things we can’t. And then literally that next morning we’re driving to this boat launch an hour from where our camp was. It was definitely a situation where I was like “I’ve never been in this situation before. I’m uncomfortable. I’m a supporter of this cause, but I’m also questioning some of the ways we’re going about this. We’re jumping into these boats but the plans shifted in a way like a lot of times with this whole series.
Back in New York, you’re planning like “I think these are how these days are going to go.” And those completely got thrown out. Everything is shifted, we’re going into these boats, and that really was a moment where you’re like “Oh, this is us along for an experience.” And usually with these types of things you have a slightly more controlled environment that you’re walking into. And the boat ended up sinking and we spent a lot of time on land, dodging police if they’re coming through, trying to wait for somebody to come and rescue us, which is not at all what we planned. And I think the moments there of me being grumpy are pretty earnest moments of me being very grumpy and scared and nervous. And I think that was one of “This is so far from what we were doing a year ago. This is exactly what we want this show to be. We came out here thinking we knew how this episode was going to end. We had a comedic-like bit we were going to do out there. That all got thrown out when it’s like… Guess what it’s like on the bayou. It’s hard, it’s tough, things go wrong, get confusing, spirits get beaten down, spirits also stay high. And you see an interloper such as myself try to drop in, and I don’t do super well. I think that’s a testament to some of the other people who are there and really in it all the way. And so that is definitely one of those moments when you go “I think this show lives more than that.” And that’s the new DNA that we have to chase.
And as much as it may suck in the moment, I can only imagine how rewarding it is after.
Yeah. It is an exhausting day and I will bitch and moan about it because that’s what I do as I get older, but I’m very fortunate in that I got to be confronted by some really inspiring, thoughtful people and to see a lot of these people attempting to make change close up. And you can’t help but be moved by it. And there’s a lot of really compelling stories out there, something you’d be cynical of back home. And like it or not, I was someone who was behind a desk in New York City, like a lot of people often are, commenting on what else is happening in the world. And it’s eye-opening to get out there and see the people who are actually taking action day in and day out, putting their bodies on the line. I wish everybody could see that. And I hope this show is a chance for some people to get a glimpse of some of those stories.
There is a moment when you’re down in Georgia and you wind up getting arrested while peacefully protesting. You mentioned on the show you had a feeling you could get arrested as well when protesting the pipeline. So at that point, what is going on in your mind? Do you think “Maybe I went too far”? Or “This is what needs to happen”?
I think you hit the nail on the head right there. If you see throughout this series, it doesn’t necessarily air in the order we shot it, but you’re right. I was confronted with that idea with the pipeline protest and a couple others. The phrase “weaponizing your privilege” when I met a lot of people, they would talk about that. The purpose of this show is not to be an activist show. It’s to show people who are active and to go up front to some of these movements and try to tell their story and get up close and show how they’re approaching all of that. So I was careful not to cross that line. Like “This is your story. I don’t want to take away from your story, but I will show how hard this thing is and what you guys are doing day in and day out.” With the story in Atlanta, Georgia, it became pretty clear through the amount of time I spent with the students, I went back for multiple weekends and the civil rights history and the way they approached some of these direct actions, it felt like the right time. If you give a shit, you do a shit. And I think that was the moment. I think that was probably the most inarticulate way for me to say you’re standing up for the voiceless. There was that moment of “You know what? The moment presented itself and I’m here documenting these students who don’t have a voice and I’m kind of inspired by these students and the teachers who show up here, who through a peaceful protest are trying to elevate those voices.” It was a very moving moment and it was like “If I can amplify this in any way, I would be ashamed if I didn’t take advantage of that.” It really came out in an organic way and I was happy to do it.
It’s a really fascinating moment to watch, when they inform you you’re about to be arrested, because you don’t really have a look of second thought or looking around to see what everyone else is doing. You are 100% committed to what you’re there to do.
It’s a very earnest moment with me and all the other protesters there. They make it very clear that if you stay in this moment, they will arrest you. And I think everyone who was there was ready for that possibility and the point was to draw attention. I think I was lucky that I was surrounded by people with such a steel backbone. (Laughs). With them there is power in those numbers. Now is the time. I’ve got cameras here, I’ve got pastors here. I’d really look like a fool if I took off running.
How did the video you did with Hillary and Bill Clinton come about? That seems like it must have been pretty surreal to be apart of.
(Laughs). That was a very surreal situation to say the least. I was asked to moderate a discussion with the Clinton’s where I could talk to them about a lot of issues about political issues today, talk about gun control, a lot of big topics. But they also threw out there the idea of potentially doing a video of some sort as a way to play at this event. So I kind of pitched this idea to them based out of the news of that week of how Hillary Clinton and other journalists and other folks retweeted this story of raising money for the 3 historically black churches that burned down in Louisiana. And they were able to raise millions of dollars to rebuild those churches. It was a feel good story. So I pitched to the secretary and the President “Hey would you guys kind of counsel me spending some money on the internet to help a few special causes? And they were game. They said “That sounds like fun. We’ll totally do that.” And so we sat down and I picked 10 or so causes that ran the gamut and they were remarkably game at jumping in and offering their advice on everything, including reading the audiobook on the Mueller report, which we happened to have right there. Secretary Clinton wasn’t shy about picking it up and reading some choice portions.
Were you worried about asking her to do something like that? Did you think she’d actually do it?
Sure. It’s a weird situation for a guy who was teaching improv 7 years ago to be like “Alright I’m going to sit down with the President and former Secretary of State and we’re going to talk about a whole bunch of stuff.” I knew I wanted to bring up a few of the GoFundMe pages that had to do with impeachment and the Mueller report. I had no idea how they would respond if that was the sort of thing they would engage with or want to do at all. So there was some trepidation with it, but as soon as I brought it up they were willing to play games and go right at it. So that was an exciting moment for sure.
I do hope Bill winds up getting his portable saxophone.
(Laughs) Let me tell ya, we edited it down but we talked about the portable saxophone for quite some time. He was really taken by it.
Klepper premieres tonight at 10:30 EST on Comedy Central