Jordan Klepper may take on the posture of an “East Coast elitist” — his words — in his field pieces for The Daily Show. But as we learn in tonight’s hour-long special on Comedy Central, ironically titled Jordan Klepper Solves Guns, he actually grew up going on hunting trips with his grandfather in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
It was relatively early in his Daily Show correspondent tenure that Klepper broke through with a hilariously insightful field piece that aimed to debunk the “good guy with a gun” theory that became a prominent NRA talking point following the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012. Despite completing the written test and eight-hour course provided by the NRA to obtain a concealed-carry gun license, when faced with a simulated school shooting scenario, Klepper was “killed” before he was able to fire off one shot.
“Apparently five-minute segments are not enough to solve America’s gun crisis,” Klepper tells viewers near the beginning of his new special, premiering this Sunday night at 10 p.m. That’s why he says Comedy Central gave him a whole hour to do so.
The special centers on Klepper’s efforts to find common ground with reasonable gun owners. He even conducts a Bachelor-type reality show search for “The Moderate” who can help him understand why some “good guys” want to carry guns in the first place. The “winner” of that satirical competition ends up being his cousin Pete, a proud gun owner who still lives in Michigan.
While one hour may still not be enough time to “solve America’s gun crisis,” Klepper will have many more chances to fix the country’s problems when he takes over the 11:30 p.m. time slot following The Daily Show this September.
The comedian remains very tight-lipped about what that show will look like when we speak on the phone in late May, perhaps because he’s still trying to figure it out. But don’t be surprised if the “Jordan Klepper” we see on that show is a character in the same way “Stephen Colbert” was host of The Colbert Report. Because, really, who doesn’t want to see an out-of-touch “East Coast elitist” try to decipher the Trump era?
Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
The “Good Guy with a Gun” field piece kind of put you on the map at The Daily Show. Now you have this special about guns in America. What does this issue mean to you?
It means a lot of things to me. To me, the gun issue in America is sort of a microcosm of politics in America. With “Good Guy with a Gun” and the others pieces I’ve done on The Daily Show that have dealt with guns over the last couple of years, I’ve kind of gotten to go up close and see this issue from a bunch of different sides. I also got to do a piece about the CDC and the Dickey Amendment and the funding to study gun violence in America that’s been stopped by the NRA, and hear how frustrating that can be. So, I’ll tell you, after a couple of years of covering this issue, I got sick and tired of hearing the same conversation over and over again. There are a lot of really good people who are really frustrated that their voices were being drowned out by the much louder voices in the room, which tended to be the lobbyists and the NRA.
Last year, I was talking to my parents and there was a mass shooting that happened in my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. And I found myself having that conversation about gun violence and how it feels like it’s everywhere, it’s on the news and it’s literally a mile from my parents’ house. I felt like the stories of the moderates and the people that I knew growing up in Michigan and the people that I talked to across the country with The Daily Show, those are the stories that I’m not hearing about and would love to do a special that got to dig a little bit deeper than just the shorter Daily Show segments.
What was your relationship to guns before you set out to make these pieces?
[Laughs] Oh, my relationship to guns. I wasn’t a gun virgin, I did some hand stuff with guns early on. Kind of under the shirt, around the trigger, nothing too major. I didn’t get a gun pregnant or anything, but I fooled around. My grandfather was an NRA member and a hunter. And he had rifles in the house, so he would take me shooting when I was a kid. I was terrible at it, but we would go out. And a gun wasn’t something that necessarily scared me, it was just a part of my grandfather’s life and by extension my life. I came to New York and was somebody who would shoot occasionally, I’ve been to ranges here and there. But guns in Michigan mean something very different from guns in New York. That was another fascinating thing and part of what I tried to poke a little fun at in this special is coming at it as an East Coast elitist who thinks all guns are bad and terrible. You go back to Michigan, you go back to the Midwest and you realize that’s not really the relationship that people have with guns. They’re not that scary. They are part of both a hobby and for some people a safety measure. There’s some truth somewhere in between these hyperbolized versions of the gun world that we normally see.
We get to see you shoot some pretty big guns near the end of the special. What was that experience like for you?
I’ve got to tell you, shooting a big gun is pretty fun, I get it. They are scary, you can see how dangerous they can be, how powerful, just how large they are. I’m a big guy, but I weigh about 72 pounds so a large gun can throw me back pretty darn hard. But I was lucky enough that I got to shoot guns with some great trainers, some people who really know what they are doing. But you quickly realize, it’s one thing to shoot a gun, it’s another thing to be trained to shoot a gun, especially in a heightened situation. So I got to train with Pat McNamara, a guy who knows how to wield a gun, how to use it safely and who you feel safe around. When he handed the gun to me, he was incredibly safe with it, he made sure I was safe. But I could immediately understand that it was [going to] take some serious time to know how to do anything with it other than frightfully pull the trigger.
Despite the NRA’s support for Trump, the gun issue has really taken a backseat since he took office. Why do you think that is?
I think there’s a couple of things going on. I think we know Donald Trump is a big NRA supporter and the first sitting president to go speak to the NRA since Ronald Reagan. There’s already been legislation that’s being talked about in Congress for a concealed-carry reciprocity, which would be a really big deal. It’s not getting a lot of the press right now because of “covfefe” and whatever Donald Trump has done in the last 10 minutes. I don’t think it’s necessarily getting the press all up in arms yet, but I know that is on the table right now. And if he follows through with some of the commitments that he’s made, I think this is a big, important time for the gun issue in America. And what is so scary is, there are 33,000 people who die every year [from guns], and for people not to pay attention to this — it’s a health crisis. For it to just get swept under the rug without people paying attention, I think, could be a real tragedy.
So, I also want to ask you about the new show you have coming out later this year on Comedy Central. Where are you right now in the process of developing that show?
We’re early on in the development, we’re putting together the team. I think post-special we’ll start letting the world know a little bit more about what we’re working on. We’re just really excited to get this thing up and going.
Does the special give any hints in terms of what the show will be like or feel like?
The guy that you see in the special will be the guy that you see on the show, that is true. At least that’s what I’m being told by the network. Hopefully they follow through. That guy being Jordan Klepper, I would say. As far as how I’m going to be on the show, that is something that we’re going to talk a little bit more about in the upcoming months. We wanted to treat the special as its own thing. We thought this topic was big enough that the way we approached it [with] the character that I played, thinking he had the audacity to “solve guns,” was the best way to approach the special. But as far as the show goes, that’s going to be its own thing.
You mentioned that you do sort of play a character, both in the special and on The Daily Show. Is that character who we are going to see on your show? Or is it someone closer to you in real life?
That’s going to be a little bit of a secret, something I’ll let you know a little bit more about. I will say, both with The Daily Show and the gun special, I do think those are fun filters that you can attack a story with. I think that’s a really fun toy to play around with.
Obviously there are so many late-night shows on the air right now, many hosted by former Daily Show correspondents. What do you hope will set yours apart?
Well, America is ready for a white late-night host. It’s about time that a white guy gets a late-night talk show. So hopefully, Americans are ready and eager to see that. So fingers-crossed, I think that will be a big part.
And American, which is rare now, too.
I know! [Laughs]
For comedy’s sake, do you hope Trump is still in office when your show premieres this fall?
For the country’s sake, I hope we are a little bit more stable. I just hope whoever’s in office knows how to finish a sentence. So, that’s what I’m rooting for right now. I’m just hoping for a complete sentence on Twitter.