Seemingly everywhere I went in New York in the week leading up to the premiere of his new Comedy Central docuseries, I saw Jordan Klepper’s mugshot.
The photo, which the network had plastered all over the city to promote his new show—simply titled Klepper—was taken by the Atlanta police department a few months earlier while Klepper, a former Daily Show correspondent and host of the short-lived, brilliantly satirical series The Opposition, was filming an episode in Georgia and got arrested along with a group of immigration activists.
When I asked him during this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast what was going through his head when he was being handcuffed and put in the back of a police cruiser, he joked, “I’d like to say that I’m always thinking about the cause. But no, I’m mostly hollow inside and it’s just about, can I get retweets out of it?”
The Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade alum is quick to turn almost anything into a laugh line, but on the new show he has left irony behind almost entirely and is instead finding humor in the inspiring stories of regular people trying to make a difference in America. It’s not an easy task, but for the most part, it’s working.
During our sit-down at a studio in midtown Manhattan earlier this month, Klepper discussed making that transition from playing an Alex Jones-inspired madman on The Opposition to revealing his true self on screen. “It’s as much me as I’ve ever been out there,” he says.
Why he decided to ‘weaponize’ his privilege
“I was covering the students at Freedom University, which is for undocumented students who are trying to go to public colleges in Georgia, but cannot because Georgia is one of the most punitive states as far as rights go for undocumented people. I was really taken by their cause and they were protesting to go to public college, like most other students with DACA can do in other states. And faith leaders came forward, teachers came forward, other members of the community stood up and I decided to stand up with them and when you do that in Georgia you can get arrested. So I spent 12 righteous hours in the clink. But I was glad to do it. I’ve been consistently told to weaponize your privilege and be aware of the fact that you can’t divorce the idea of having a television show from doing a television show so this was a situation where these kids needed a voice, a voice that they don’t have, and I had an opportunity to do it... and to get publicity for the show.”
On how to take the perfect celebrity mugshot
“It’s my Sinatra moment, I have to be ready for it. It’s Johnny Cash, it’s Sinatra, it’s Tim Allen at the Kalamazoo airport. You have to prep for that face. So much of jail is downtime where they move you around from cell to cell but I know there’s a mugshot coming and I’m almost looking forward to it. It’s a thing to do. Get me in front of that camera! I was promised a camera! But it’s funny when you get sent over there to do it. I got my fingerprints taken and the woman doing it was lovely. And she called me ‘baby.’ And she immediately caught herself and realized that she can’t call people who have been arrested ‘baby.’ Then I knew it was my moment and they won’t let you smile. They say do not smile, this is not funny, this is not a bit, this is not a joke. So I gave my best fierce look. I think at that point I had been in jail for eight hours, I was fairly hungry. My mind was consistently doing battle, thinking how do you continue to not defecate for yet another potentially four hours? I can’t do that in public with all of these people around here. So I’m dealing with some stuff in that photo.”
On getting Hillary Clinton to read the ‘audiobook’ of the Mueller report
“We didn’t really know how it would all play out. I had never done essentially a bit-meets-activism with a president and secretary of state before. And they walked right in and jumped into this exercise and I think found some catharsis in reading the Mueller Report and talking about tiny saxophones. It ended up being quite wonderful. It put everyone at ease in a situation that can be full of tension. I’m sure for them sitting down with a comedian and a camera crew comes with a certain amount of anxiety. For me sitting down with a president and secretary of state also comes with anxiety. But she was game from the jump. I floated that idea out there and she jumped on it, enjoyed it, wanted to read more. Even as we left, she was like, let me know if you hear more about the audiobook, I’d totally do it.”
On Comedy Central’s decision to cancel ‘The Opposition’
“The network was a big supporter of The Opposition and they were sort of like here’s the deal: ‘We think 11:30 is crowded, we like the work that’s going on here, we feel there’s a lot of people focusing on Trump. We’d love to switch this to a weekly and put you back out in the field.’ I had really dual emotions at that moment. I was really proud of The Opposition and loved the team that we put together. It’s really fun to be part of a show that day in and day out is trying to make sense of the news. And getting to play a character like that, it’s really fun to filter comedy through it. You can be bigger and stranger in ways that maybe I normally wouldn’t. At the same time, I also got it. It was exhausting feeling like we were consistently chasing the Trump train in a market that’s so full. Trying to do it from [the point of view of] a more satirical character was our swing at standing out, but every day felt like we were constantly behind the eight ball. And if we were reading the tea leaves, people are less excited about that irony. They want authenticity. They want people being people. We have a lot of fakeness out there, where is that reality?”
How ‘The Daily Show’ changed from Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah
“I think Trevor coming to The Daily Show was a shift. The Daily Show continued to evolve as I was there, the role of correspondents, the style of the show, and even the role of Jon had kind of evolved over the 15 years that he was there. But there was still a formality to it and an archness that was satirizing news institutions and the media. And Trevor comes in and Trevor has a new take on things, and he doesn’t want to live in the world of faux news bravado. What people respond to with him is that he’s this guy who’s pretty open about his points of view. So it was interesting seeing that happen. Even while I was there I was seeing people responding to less of this mask that comedians wear and more to who they are underneath.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Creator and star of Showtime’s Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen.