Klepper: Hello, everybody.
Capehart: Hi, everyone. I’m Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post. Opinion writer; I have to make that clear, and host of the Cape Up podcast. This is the second ever Cape Up podcast so thank you very much for being here. And the guest today, this fine young man sitting next to me—Daily Show alum.
Capehart: Second City alum.
Klepper: Also true.
Capehart: Upright Citizen’s Brigade alum.
Klepper: Also true. Get to the fake news. I know it’s coming. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: And host of The Opposition on Comedy Central, Jordan Klepper. [APPLAUSE]
Klepper: Yes, also true. All true things so far.
Capehart: Although I do have to admit that I always freak out before I say your last name and triple-check every time. Because of the segment you did on—I think it was a member of Congress who kept calling you “Kepler.”
Klepper: Yes, well—
Capehart: Who was that?
Klepper: It wasn’t a member of Congress, although probably eventually it could be. It was Alex Jones of Infowars.
Capehart: Oh, yeah. [LAUGHTER] Talk about fake news.
Klepper: Already, I see how it’s happening. That’s why you’re an opinion writer, right? That’s why you have—
Capehart: Right, fully formed—fully formed opinions.
Klepper: [LAUGHS] No, we did a piece on Alex Jones and when he went out in on crisis actors, we were not perhaps the most flattering when we approached him with that piece and he spent 30 minutes the next day just calling me “Jordan Kepler,” so he knew what he was doing. So we embraced that and we also became anti-Jordan Kepler as well. [LAUGHTER] So he, in both of our minds is a villain in this world.
Capehart: Well, before coming out, folks saw your sizzle reel and the sizzle real is a mashup of clips so that people get a sense of the show if they haven’t seen the show. You were in the slot that was occupied by Stephen Colbert, who channeled Bill O’Reilly and now, as we already let the cat out of the bag, you are channeling Alex Jones.
Klepper: Partially, yes.
Capehart: Well, who else are you channeling? Is there another conspiracy theorist out there?
Klepper: There are so many people inside of me, I’ve got to tell you. [LAUGHTER] There’s a lot of conspiracy theorists out there. There’s one in the Oval Office right now. [LAUGHTER] I think when we were creating the show, I was at The Daily Show and I was going on the road a lot to Trump rallies and talking to a lot of people about where they were getting their news from and their information, and a lot of it was coming from social media feeds. And not traditional sources like CNN or your Fox’s. There was some Fox, but there was also Infowars, Breitbart, and what have you. So we wanted to craft a show through a character’s point of view and Infowars, they kept referencing as like this conspiratorial mindset and so we wanted to take a dash of that conspiratorial sense, some far right focus, a little bit of Hannity and Tucker in there as well. So it’s a nice hodgepodge of some fringier beliefs.
Capehart: But isn’t that already comedy, from your perspective? [LAUGHTER] I mean, you watching—hearing all these things, how do you not laugh or cry?
Klepper: I think it’s a mixture of both. We were definitely surprised how fringy some of these points of view became, but seeing Alex Jones, seeing Steve Bannon, who seemed like a fringe character a year-and-a-half ago suddenly be in the ear of the president of the United States.
Klepper: Still, and then so I think for us, what did seem like—well, this doesn’t hold any sway and so it’s not something worth satirizing. It immediately started to hold sway, and so for us, it was like, “This might seem ridiculous, but so does 2018, so it’s live in that and try to heighten from it.”
Capehart: Okay, so you, as I mentioned, you’re an alum of The Daily Show, where the bent of that show is—it’s the exact opposite of what you’re doing now. How do you flip that switch from being sort of progressive in your comedy and satire to taking on this role of being a very serious, yet conspiratorial—character? Is that right?
Klepper: Character, yeah. I’d say character.
Capehart: Is that how you do it?
Klepper: Well, I think you filter it through character and point of view and for me, what was great about the position I had on The Daily Show—the role of a correspondent on The Daily Show, you have your name, you are who you are, but you are a dumber, more strident newsperson version of who you are. [LAUGHTER] And so the character that I was on The Daily Show was Jordan Klepper, but he was a dumber version of Jordan Klepper and he had a larger blind spot than Jordan Klepper had. And I think you could filter a character through that and attack stories. And so for me, that’s always actually how I’ve approached comedy because I come from the Upper Existence Brigade, Second City, which is a sketch. So you play a character, you satirize behavior. And so in creating the opposition, what I was most excited about wasn’t being just earnestly upset about stuff. It was like, “Let’s show some of those flaws. Let me widen my blind spot and be the characters that we’re seeing on television, as opposed to just talking about them.”
Capehart: Talk about the pressure you are under or that you might feel being in the slot at 11:30 that used to be the home of Stephen Colbert.
Klepper: It’s humbling. Comedy Central put a lot of faith in me giving me the 11:30 show. The Colbert Report was one of my favorite shows, watching what Steven did after The Daily Show. As a fan of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Larry Wilmore Show, The Nightly Show—like really strong, smart people have had that position. And so as somebody coming up as a fan of The Daily Show, being able to be in a position like that and host my own show was a dream that I had, and so getting that opportunity—yeah, it is a lot of pressure. And I think in 2018, as well as a comedian, as a citizen, you feel pressure to be a part of the conversation and say something that is worth hearing, and so for us, every day when we come into work, I think like—we try not to get bogged down by it, but we do take it seriously. It’s like, “We need to get this dick joke just right, otherwise, I just don’t know if America can stand.” [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Well, technically speaking, how do you put together a 30-minute television show in an age when people aren’t watching television? That they’re getting their comedy and their news and everything in bits and pieces?
Klepper: I think that’s something we’ve started to see the evolution of so quickly, since even three years ago when I started at The Daily Show. So many people I know are watching these clips on YouTube, are boiling things down to four minutes. I think for us, a benefit of starting a new show is you learn a lot of things quickly. You try a bunch of stuff and you see what sticks and you start to shave off things that don’t work. And so we even started doing in a more traditional Daily Show route, eight-minute acts that are focusing on one story and taking you through a more editorial process. Which was fun and nice to do, but we also saw people digesting smaller bits and pieces. Also, the news was happening so quickly, it felt like, “Are we going to do an entire eight minutes on the Pruitt hearings?” Like, if you did that yesterday, you would miss—
Capehart: Well, that lends itself to comedy.
Klepper: Yeah, who doesn’t want Pruitt jokes for eight straight minutes? Like yesterday was a great example of a day where like, oh, the day before we knew that Scott Pruitt was going to talk on Capitol Hill, so we were like, “Maybe we’re talking a little bit about this.” But in the morning, the president calls into Fox & Friends and talks for 30 minutes straight. Bill Cosby is convicted and is guilty by 3:00 that afternoon. And so for us a show like us, we decided to compartmentalize and make what we call “ice cube trays” so we can hit three different stories. And so an audience who might not be watching linear television can watch one of those little trays, one of those little three minutes so that it feels packaged so you can enjoy it as a whole but can also understand it when it’s broken up in smaller pieces.
Capehart: In television—and by that, in my role at MSNBC, sometimes, breaking news will just upend everything and you’ve got to change everything, you’ve got to do it on the fly. Do you have those same considerations and concerns doing your show? So let’s say if the president called into Fox & Friends in the morning, but then maybe he calls into the Fox show at 5:00 in the afternoon—what time do you tape?
Klepper: We tape at about 6:30.
Capehart: Okay, so perfect. The president calls at 5:00 in the afternoon and says some wacky stuff.
Capehart: Do you turn on a dime and change what you ‘re going to do 90 minutes before air?
Klepper: We have to be ready to or tape, I should say.. We have to be ready to do that. I think initially, as somebody who was new to hosting, the first few months, you feel the pressure, like, “We need to cover everything.” And it’s just constant anxiety because there is so much news and your job becomes more of being a curator than it is a creator. And I think we have to take a step back and be like, “All right. We are not a news program. We’re editorializing. We’re an opinion program. We don’t have to cover anything. Let’s cover the things we’re passionate about. Let’s also cover the things our show is built to cover and cover from a comedic point of view and what do we have something to say about?” And so when you let that go and you don’t have to feel completely pressured, but we do leave spots open.
Like, for example, yesterday, we had breaking news in a rewrite at 5:00 about Bill Cosby and it was like—we feel like we do need to address this. Now, literally, our show has graphics and a bunch of other elements that are already in place. And it’s like, “Great. We have 40 minutes to turn this thing around. Let’s scrap and cut two-and-a-half minutes from the script that we’ve already worked. Let’s write two minutes of content that we can slide in the beginning, and that’s why we’ve created kind of little spots where that can live, and then let’s put that out at 6:30.”
Capehart: Okay, so in the news realm, you’re just dealing with, “Here’s what happened. Here’s who said what. Here are the implications. Let’s go to this correspondent, that correspondent, and then you go to a commercial break, you come back, more breaking news.” But with your job, how do you—again, like yesterday, in like spinning on a dime; not only talk about the news, but then add the satire and the comedy. That’s an extra level of hurdle I don’t think—no, I can’t clear.
Klepper: No, like there’s journalists and there’s comedians. [LAUGHTER] I think you’ve articulated it beautifully. We are at the top of the hill. I will say what is interesting about is—you’re right. News does break, and for us, it’s not just good enough to say, “Well, we need to inform people.” The purpose of our show is not to inform people of the news. I hope they seek out news sources to do get that. We need to ask that second question of like, “Do we have something to say about this if we don’t have a spin on it?” And also through the point of view of our show, which is a little bit of a weird dance, because often, I can’t just say a funny thing about it. I’m usually saying a funny thing about it from the point of view of a character who would say the terrible thing about it. And that’s a difficult, difficult road to walk. And so we do the math, we run the calculations, and if we don’t have something to say, we move on and we focus on the thing that we can execute.
Capehart: How many horrible things have you guys come up with that have never made air, internet, anything?
Klepper: 1,024 was the last count. [LAUGHTER] In a creative process, you have to push those boundaries and I think we are—I am this character who lives fringe, who plays in the conspiratorial world. When we are looking at those sources, sometimes it goes so dark and we try to push the character that I play—because I think this character is selfish, he’s privileged, he’s a little bit dangerous. I don’t think he is a terrible person, but I do think he is a bit of an a-hole in a way that like—if we can push show of those flaws that you see happening in America, if you can see somebody who is oblivious on race, who is oblivious on sexuality, then hopefully, we can get something that is really interesting and insightful, but you’ve got to be very careful. Because then if you don’t thread that needle, you run the risk of just being offensive. And so I think that’s where sometimes we will do that.
We’ll be like, “Great. We attacked that idea. I don’t think we nailed it or I don’t think this show was built to talk about that.” Again, Bill Cosby, that night was a great example of like, “This is a really difficult situation. You have real victims here. There is a sense of urgency and victory on a day like yesterday. I can’t just be a bad guy here. I have to let the audience know what my real point of view is, so let’s make sure we get it right.”
Capehart: So, before you go the show The Opposition, where you play this right-wing, fringe conspiracy theorist, you had a special on Comedy Central. This was last year.
Capehart: “Jordan Keppler Solves Guns.”
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] Oh, what did I say? What did I say?
Klepper: Unbelievable, unbelievable. They’ve gotten to you, haven’t they, Jon? [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: They have. I’m sorry. All right, well, then you solve guns.
Klepper: I solve, yes. Jordan Klepper Solves Guns.
Capehart: You solve guns. It was an hour-long special and talk about what you were trying to do with that special.
Klepper: Well, an amazing thing about my job at The Daily Show is you get to cover a lot of stories. You get to go out into America and meet people. I started covering stories about gun violence. I did a story where I followed this idea of the good guy with a gun is the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun and I did active shooter training down in Texas and got to talk to people on both sides of the argument and saw a lot of middle ground in that conversation.
Capehart: And with the militia, the training that you did was with a militia.
Klepper: Well, that was a Daily Show thing, but when I did the Solves Guns thing—so from The Daily Show thing, I was like, “I want to basically explore this even further and so let’s see where the middle ground is and talk to both sides.” So with Jordan Klepper Solves Guns, I wanted to talk to people who are far fringe and went to the Georgia militia.
Capehart: The Georgia militia. That’s where the camouflage suit—
Klepper: Yes, that’s where—
Capehart: Well, keep going. I didn’t mean to interrupt. But we’re going to get to that camouflage suit in a second.
Klepper: [LAUGHS] Well, in the end, you create comedy so that you get a cool suit to wear and I think you’ve stumbled on what it is. It is like, “I’m going to deal with the intricate elements of the gun control debate, but I am going to put on a camouflage suit and walk into the Georgia woods and confront a militia who are taking target practice.” And again, that’s why comedians are here and journalists are just down here. Because they don’t have the guts to take a sartorial choice and put themselves in the line of fire.
Capehart: Well, literally in the line of fire, but clearly, you’ve never seen me. [LAUGHTER] But I bring up the camouflage suit—so you see Jordan’s suit right now. He walks out into the Georgia woods with camouflage-clad militiamen in the woods with big guns and he comes out in a suit cut like this in camouflage. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: With a matching camouflage tie. [LAUGHTER] And as I’m watching this, I’m thinking, “Okay, he’s already in sort of a dangerous place, talking to people about a serious situation, and he comes walking out into the woods like this.” Walk me through the process of how you are not also wearing a Depends undergarment? [LAUGHTER]
Klepper: It was a scary day. We rolled up on this Georgia militia, which is a fringe militia group. It has some fringe beliefs, but they were very eager to talk about the 2nd Amendment and talk about defending America. And every month, they have this training ground where they come, they shoot guns, they run exercises. We were scared coming up. We roll up—and I will say we roll up and what we realize is there’s two other news crews there that same day. And you quickly realize, it was like, “Oh, these people love attention.” The two other news crews left and then we kind of started to embed with them. We ran through training, we did all of these things. They were fairly extreme and I knew in my back pocket, it was like, “Our job here is to”—in that situation, I’m playing more of a leftist character who was confronting these guys on their points of view. I’m like, “I am going to put on one of these camouflage suits and I don’t know how this is going to go with these guys.”
I put it on, I walk, walk in, they’re shocked. I look at their eyes and then immediately ingratiated myself to them. All of them wanted one of these suits. [LAUGHTER] They literally did.
Capehart: Some of those guys can’t fit into those suits.
Klepper: Well, that may be true. Well, there happened to be some tailoring. But it was amazing how like—because it was like, “We have this joke in our back pocket. It’s been a tense day so far. I’ve already interviewed a handful of people and they were very skeptical about what I had to say.” So we didn’t know how it was going to play, but I was happily surprised to see that everybody wanted to take a picture with the suit, touch the suit.
Capehart: Oh, touch the suit.
Klepper: Like I think if you go back into the Georgia woods now, you’re going to just see a bunch of men in camouflage suits. [LAUGHTER] Or if they do it right, you won’t see them. But no, if you look into the woods. [LAUGHTER] If you look into the Georgia woods, there are well-tailored militia men hidden in the trees.
Capehart: Hidden amongst the trees.
Klepper: Amongst the trees.
Capehart: I should tell the audience that you can tweet me your questions for Jordan using the #CapeUp, as it says in large print behind me. So in Jordan Klepper—well, the Solves Guns, you’re coming at it from the left perspective. In the opposition, you’re coming at guns from the opposite position.
Capehart: And you came to Washington for the March for Our Lives.
Klepper: I did.
Capehart: And talked to people. Let’s take a look.
Klepper: This weekend, the kids from the George Soros-funded Never Again movement took their childish message of living to adulthood to D.C. The turnout for the March for Our Lives rally was sure to be as small as the activists themselves. Not a lot of people here. The energy is surprisingly low. They say the camera adds 20 to 30 people. I would definitely agree with that. “Think you guys could be quiet?” [MUSIC] I mean, half the people here are here for the cherry blossoms. Mother nature is putting on a hell of a show right here. [APPLAUSE] More than a million people are participating in the March for Our Lives across the country.
M: Welcome to the revolution.
Klepper: Misinformation was everywhere, from MSNBC, to ABC, to The Daily Show. And, of course, the mainstream media is here sprouting their liberal lies.
Lydic: [BLEEP], Jordan.
Klepper: Yeah, screw you, Desi. Drinks at 5:00?
Lydic: Yeah, 5:15.
Klepper: Hard Rock Café, got to get that popcorn shrimp. I’m going to earn each delicious morsel of shrimp by exposing some of these kids, who don’t know the first thing about guns in America.
F: We spend 35 hours a week in the classroom and if anything, students are on the frontline of this battle.
Klepper: Here’s the problem. You guys don’t have perspective. You’re in it. These things affect you directly.
Klepper: Okay, okay. You’re out of your lanes.
Capehart: [LAUGHTER] So it’s the complete opposite of you solving guns. But I’ve always wondered and I’m glad to have someone who is the craft of comedy versus journalism to ask this question: When you go up to people, as you did with the militia, but then you go up to people in March for Our Lives and you say things like that, how do they—I saw what we saw on camera, but how do they take it? Are they taking you seriously or are they really—
Klepper: Ideally, I mean, yes, they are taking me seriously.
Capehart: But you don’t give them any, “Hey, I’m from the show and I’m going to do this.”
Klepper: Some people will recognize me but still want to engage in the conversation, for sure. We are very open about who we are and we’re like, “We’re from The Opposition. Can I ask you questions?” What we want in ideal moments are we don’t want somebody in on a joke playing along with us. What we want is I can be the buffoon here, but hopefully, I’m highlighting real people with real beliefs and that’s where the comedy comes from and that’s where the point of view comes from. We actually had a few students from Parkland on The Opposition a few months back and what was amazing—they knew the conceit of the show, but it was like, “I need you to be on here to talk about this issue and how it affects you.” They knew that I was going to be somebody who was going to push back, who was going to be this far-right perspective. At that time, the narrative was, “Don’t trust these kids, they’re just kids.”
There was the crisis actor idea that was getting bandied about, and so I pushed them a little bit and it was a delicate balance, but I asked the students afterwards like how that was for them, and their response was really interesting to me. They were like, “Oh, I enjoyed it. It was like talking to the internet.” [LAUGHTER] And you realize these are students who had been getting trolled. They’re like, “Oh, yeah. The stuff that you’re saying back to me is the stuff that just becomes a public person in the last week, this is the hate that I’ve been getting.” And so for them, it was refreshing to actually be able to push back against that. And I think at its best, we’re providing a platform and an opportunity to hear that voice.
Capehart: Can you talk more about the Parkland—as I call them, “Parkland kids,” and not in a derogatory way, but in a laudatory way, because they’re so remarkable for being so young in what they’re doing. What do you think of them?
Klepper: I would say as a generation, I’m incredibly impressed and they’ve been an optimistic ray of hope in a debate that hasn’t had that for a while. Having them on the show, they were very articulate, they have lived through this, and they were impatient, and I think that was something that I was so excited to see and then able to go to the rally, I talked to other Parkland students. But I also talked to other students, other 17-year-olds randomly off of the street and people were passionate and they wanted change. And I think we saw that CNN debate where Rubio got pushed and Dana Loesch got cut off and I think it was rowdy. It was political theater like I haven’t seen. But there was an element of that that was so refreshing because it was like, “They’re not going to stand on ceremony. They are living a life day-to-day where they have to consider—or they have actual drills in case somebody comes in with a gun.”
And that’s unacceptable and I think we have grown complement and to watch kids not want to wait is something that I think is a little bit of a wakeup call for everybody else.
Capehart: Is it their youth that gives them sort of the wow-factor or the awe-factor for us? Or is it youth plus their media savvy?
Klepper: I think their media savvy is a big part of it. They were able to own the news cycle in a way that only our president has been able to do for the last year. But that’s important now. The gun debate, it happens, we all roll our eyes, we make jokes, we get frustrated by the fact that something terrible happens and within four days, we’re talking about something else because the media gets gobbled up because the commander-in-chief goes on Fox & Friends—
Capehart: Within four days? Four hours?
Klepper: Four hours, yes. Four days, if we’re lucky we’re still talking about this. And I think what was incredible about Parkland is afterward, they were able to own that narrative, keep it going, organize. Organize a walkout and then overall, a march later on. And so I think that’s where people of perhaps people of our generation are looking at that. It’s like, “Oh, you know how to communicate in 2018. You’re using that and you also have like a moral clarity that perhaps other people don’t have.”
Capehart: When I interviewed Congressman Jon Lewis for the podcast a couple of weeks ago, I asked him why did he think greatness jumped five decades? Because the Parkland students are the age that Jon Lewis and the Birmingham kids when they were marching—they’re the same age, and yet, I think in an interview, you talked about how when you were in high school, you weren’t doing anything like that. And I know I sure wasn’t doing anything like this.
Capehart: What happened to us?
Klepper: [LAUGHTER] I know.
Capehart: These things were happening when we were kids.
Klepper: It is true. When I was 17 and 18, I wasn’t politically engaged. I wasn’t as curious. I didn’t feel like I had a place where my voice could be heard or would be heard. If I’m being totally honest, I don’t know if like—if that wasn’t me. I wasn’t sitting on the sidelines like, “Why won’t somebody invite me in?” I don’t think I had the awareness. I think what we have now is perhaps it is our climate. We are energized right now. I think America is energized on both sides. It’s a political atmosphere where people feel like America is changing; some for the better, some for the worse. And I think you have the youth that sees that and now they actually have the tools to communicate with them.
Capehart: So Eric on Twitter asks, “You showed remarkable restraint. How do you and your correspondents manage to keep a straight face or not scream at the fringe people you encounter?” [LAUGHS] And that’s a great question, Eric. Thanks. Oh, there he is right there in the front row. He wants to make sure he gets credit for that question. Thank you, Eric.
Klepper: I love that we’re completely devoid of human interaction right now. [LAUGHTER] Eric is four feet away, was forced to tweet that question through the internet into Jonathan’s iPad. All right, Eric from somewhere wants to communicate with us. [LAUGHTER] Well, Eric, great question. Tweet that that at Eric, if don’t you mind. [LAUGHTER] I do think like it’s important for us to hold character whenever we’re interacting with people on any side. And so I think like that’s where you go in with a clear point of view, you know what your character’s point of view is, you anticipate what might come from that other side, and you try to stay in it. Because I think like, if like I said earlier, if it feels like we’re all just chumming it up and laughing with one another, then it doesn’t have any satirical bite and so for us, it’s part acting challenge, but it’s also research, knowing like what is the point of view that you’re reflecting and what is the point of view that you are responding to?
Capehart: So to these fringe characters, the people that you’re talking to, do they know what your show is? Why would they want to come on a show that’s going to set them up to be the butt of a joke?
Klepper: Well, this would happen at The Daily Show as well and you talk to people and people would say, “Why did that person come on the show?” And I think it’s two things: People love to be on television. A camera is something that human beings are drawn towards. And two, people think they can win. And so people would recognize me and they might completely disagree and they’re like, “But I want my point of view to get across, I want to be on TV, and I think I can beat you at that.” And so they engage in those conversations. So I would go to Trump rallies and some people wouldn’t know who I was. Some people would. It would be like, “Yes, I want to talk to you. I want to get that point across.” And I was surprised—it would happen at The Daily Show, where like we would do a field piece, where from perhaps many people’s point of view, you would be like, “That person, they said the craziest thing. They said that babies should all have machetes.”
You’re like, “That’s crazy. Why would that person say that on TV?” And you’d hear a response from that person. It was like, “Oh, I thought that interview went well. I said babies should have machetes.” And you’re like, “Oh, right. That is your point of view. So you don’t necessarily see it as like a gotcha moment or that you were made to look foolish. You see it as like your point of view is out there and the person asking the question was the foolish one.”
Capehart: So this is like a conversation between Earth 1 and Earth 2. [LAUGHS] Will the two worlds ever meet up again? Like, how is it possible that we are living among other people who we both look at the same sky, I see a clear sky, the other one sees helium balloons.
Klepper: Well, I do think we’re seeing that spread becoming even more and wider. Not to put it on what has been happening as of late, but I think we’re seeing these basic institutions getting tore down and the idea of like shared facts, shared realities, this is what this character traffics in is like alternative facts, anti-mainstream, anti-elitist, anti-academia. When you can choose your own facts and it feels like you can choose your own narrative, you can live in your own echo chamber. So yeah, so that little piece that you see right now, I think it’s different than seeing it five years ago because we aren’t even agreeing if climate change is real or not or if Barack Obama was born in America or Kenya. Like those are still disputed by two very different realities in a way that makes watching entertainment or a comedy show, it makes people watch from very different eyes.
Capehart: Natalie on Twitter asks—
Klepper: Natalie, where are you?
Capehart: Is Natalie actually in the room? Oh, she is here. She’s right there. Bing, bing. [LAUGHTER] Well, Natalie asked, “To what extent do you think late night TV has the power to affect people’s opinions and/or government action?”
Klepper: I think late night has shifted dramatically in the last few years. People used to turn to the late-night TV as like a way to escape. I think now it’s sort of a way to synthesize the chaos of the day. Politics didn’t used to be on late-night TV. Now it feels like it’s all over late-night television. And so for us, we approach it from—we are passionate people. We are a writer’s room full of comedians, researchers who have worked in government and worked in non-profits, have worked in academia, but we know that what we do is we have to approach it with our skillset, which is like, “Let’s see it through an angle of comedy.” I don’t want to approach this like an activist; I want to approach this as somebody who can editorialize and use the skillset that I have.
I think what I hope to do with the show is I hope like if you see a reflection of something you see in the world and that makes you laugh because you’re like, “I’m frustrated by that, too. You pointed that out.” Hopefully, that laughter is showing that you’re not alone in your frustration or your excitement. And so I think that is a step to make us feel like there is a community and that we’re all frustrated at similar things or many of us are. And from there, I think it’s on us to see if that can turn into change.
Capehart: That search for laughter reminds me of a bit that you did on the show, on your show The Opposition, where you were talking about the election of Vladimir Putin, the reelection of Vladimir Putin to another term as president of Russia. And you had a good take, and particularly at the end of the clip that you’re going to see, I burst out laughing because, well, it was clever. Let’s take a look.
Klepper: Russia, it’s a tricky place. Some people say they’re the bad guys. But for me, I’m not so sure. On one hand, they have gulags, which is a hard thing to stomach. But on the other hand, they have goulash, which is a very easy thing to stomach. [LAUGHTER] One thing’s for sure, though: They know how to pick a winner.
F: Vladimir Putin will lead Russia for another six years. He cruised to an expected victory in yesterday’s presidential election, winning nearly 77% of the vote. It’s his biggest mandate yet for what will be his fourth term.
Klepper: Whoa, that’s a hell of a win. [LAUGHTER] Put got 77% of the vote and it would have been higher if it weren’t for all of the illegal votes in New Hampshire. [LAUGHTER] America, take note; this is how a nation can come together beneath the rule of a strong leader. This one is huge, no question. But leave it to the MSM to ask those very questions where there are none.
F: Critics suggest opposing candidates were hand-picked by Putin himself and these videos verified by the AP appear to show voters depositing multiple ballots. Critics say the entire election was a sham.
Klepper: Whoa, they see a sham, I see a wow. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: See, that got a hearty laugh also from Eric. [LAUGHTER] I did the same thing. Thank you, Eric. I just used that as an excuse because I wanted to show clip, but it does tie into a question that Kelsey asked on Twitter. Kelsey, are you here? Someone who is not here is asking a question. Well, thank you, Kelsey. She asks, “Who are your biggest inspirations in the world of comedy?”
Klepper: Well, I would say when I got interested in comedy, I was interested in sketch comedy and so Monty Python was a big inspiration right off the bat in the world of absurdism and got me into kind of like Second City and what have you. Mike Nichols, Nichols, and May. When I started doing comedy, a little bit more political comedy, Jon Stewart was obviously a huge one. Give it up for, Jon, yeah. [APPLAUSE] Yeah, so somebody who was both articulate and funny and powerful and so I had the luxury to get to work for Jon and work under Jon, and work under Trevor as well. And so like now, as somebody who gets to run my own show, I definitely look at not only Jon and Trevor as people who are inspiring because they’re able to grapple with the news of the day. But beyond that, it’s like my comedy inspirations are also boss inspirations, and so that’s what I’m trying to pull from it.
How was Jon able to balance the chaos of the world and 80 people underneath him to make something work? And how was Trevor able to like take something that already existed and make it new?
Capehart: So then, speaking of your comedic inspirations, so you have these people who inspire you in your comedy and you’re doing a show that is on the news and folks are wondering and including Jenna. Are you here, Jenna?
Jenna: Yes. [LAUGHTER]
Klepper: Are you with Eric?
Capehart: No, Jenna is sitting next to Eric, but she was asking for you to walk through your day and talk about your news consumption habits. What do you wake up watching and reading? What’s your team’s process during the day as you get closer to showtime?
Klepper: Well, for me, I usually wake up—I wake up around 5:00. If it’s mid-week, I look over some of the pitches that came in late last night. We’re pitching throughout a day, but I kind of hit a—after like 4:00, I’m in rewrite, so I’m not seeing the new stuff that came in, so I catch up. I also catch up on the news. So I try to read The Post, I try to read The Times, and then around 6:00—between 6 and 7, 7:30, I do the Trump diet. I watch Fox & Friends, some New Day, and some Morning Joe, and then head into work. And when I get into work, I check the fringier pages of the Breitbart and the Infowars, just to see the narrative of like, “What do they care about today?” I’m seeing what the left is maybe caring about, I’m seeing what cable news is caring about, but what are these fringier sites, what are their headlines?
We then go into a morning meeting with an idea of the stuff we’re going to talk about, watch some clips for what happened throughout the day or what happened last night, kind of piece together what we think our show is going to look like, and then we start writing. And so from that point, we get first drafts done. The writers on my show are incredible. We break out what we think the story is going to be, but then they have about an hour-and-a-half to write that story. We get it back. We give notes, we rewrite, and we’re also keeping an eye on the news. People who aren’t writing are pitching on what could be later in the day, what could be tomorrow. Wherever we can get ahead, it’s all a time game and things change so quickly, so you’re constantly looking at stuff like, “Is this more of an evergreen story that not everybody is going to bite off? Great, let’s get this thing going because maybe—if we can have two days to work on this, it’s going to be that much better.” If this is something that we need to do now, let’s work on that. Decisions like that are being made all the way up until rehearsal at 3:00, and then rewrite at like 3:45, all the way up until our show.
And so I kind of go into that bubble where I’m not getting news. We have people. We’ve had to add people coming in with like updates every hour-and-a-half of like, “Is there anything we need to know to change the story we have or to throw something out?” So that continues to happen throughout the day.
Capehart: And give us an idea of the layout. Where is all of this happening? Are you all in a giant open mosh pit with you at the center? [LAUGHTER] Or are you sequestered in a corner office? Walled or glass, so people can see you?
Klepper: No, I don’t let people see me. [LAUGHTER] We have a big office where we all get into one big room. Coming from the world of improv, it’s really important for me to set up like a really open place for brainstorming. So we have one big room where for that morning media, we’re just saying yes to ideas to try to get as many ideas out as we can. Then people kind of go off into one big open area. I go into my office and kind of try to get my head on stuff. So basically, I have meetings throughout the day where I’m getting field pieces going, and then I come back into—basically, you keep going into smaller rooms. The big room in the big part of the day, smaller room, and then when we get into rewrite, it’s something The Daily Show did and something we do as well.
It’s like you’re trying to make the rewrite as small as it can be, where it’s like, me, a couple of writers the head writer, and a couple production people, and then we just go line-by-line and do it. So you start with many ideas and you just narrow it down people-wise and idea-wise until you get that final show.
Capehart: So you are in town because it’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner time.
Capehart: Nerd Prom.
Klepper: Nerd Prom, as it’s called.
Capehart: As it’s called. This is going to be your first one. What are you looking for? What are your expectations, first?
Klepper: Well, I’ve heard rumblings that this is a unique and wild and strange weekend. And so getting invited to go here, I was very excited. I wanted to see it. My former office mate, Hasan Minhaj was here last year and had a wonderful time and did an incredible job. So I heard great stuff. I got a list of what people do here. It was like, “Oh, great. It’s going to be a lot of talk about politics. It’s going to be one big dinner.” It was like, “Oh, no. It’s all cocktail parties and people just getting drunk for three days, it looks like.” [LAUGHTER] So I guess my expectation is I think I want to see Chris Hayes vomiting into a garbage pail somewhere. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Well, there is the MSNBC after party. You might get your wish.
Klepper: I guess that’s where I’m setting the bar.
Capehart: That’s pretty low.
Klepper: [LAUGHTER] Is that like I’m going to see that tonight?
Capehart: Things get started. The first time I went to Nerd Prom, it was just Tammy’s brunch and then the dinner. So that when you saw people at the dinner, they were dressed up, they were refined. Now, because it’s like, four days of just, as you said, cocktail parties. By the time you get to the dinner, people are drunk, messy, buy dressed up. [LAUGHTER] So who are you—now that you’re going to be in Washington, in Nerd Prom, who do you most want to meet?
Klepper: Well, Kellyanne’s going to be there, right? I’m sure I’m going to hang out with Kellyanne. I think that will be really fun. [LAUGHTER] That’s going to be easy. Can you introduce me? [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Okay. [LAUGHTER] Okay, anybody else?
Klepper: Well, if I don’t get to see Kelly? I’d love to see anybody from my Trump morning. I love my morning cruise, so give me a Chris Cuomo. I’d love to be grilled by Chris Cuomo over a beer. He seems like he’d be fun. Give me a Joe and Mika. I’d love to watch that from afar. [LAUGHTER] And Fox & Friends, oh, I’d love a good Doocy hang, you know? Just me and Doocy drinking white wine at the end of the night. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Which members of Congress would you most like to roll up on, buttonhole?
Klepper: [LAUGHS] Are those negative things or positive things? Rolling up and—
Capehart: Hey, however you want to take it. Earth 1, Earth 2.
Klepper: Oh, wow. Jesus, yeah, Earth 1 or Earth 2. I think we’ve had Cory Booker on the show, who I really think is a thoughtful, interesting guy.
Capehart: You guys are throwing computers—
Klepper: If he came back on the show, we’d make him work for it. He’s a tough guy. He used to play football, so he can whip computers. I’d love to check in with Cory Booker. I’d love to check in with Ted Lieu, who was interesting yesterday with the Diamond and Silk in Congress, which that is fascinating for me.
Capehart: Which? Ted Lieu or Diamond and Silk?
Klepper: All of it. [LAUGHS] I think Diamond and Silk is a fascinating character in this new world who have now been thrust onto this stage here. We covered them on the show recently. And I think in the end—I think everybody, there’s one person you want to hang out with, talk with, pick their brain, and see them do Simpson’s impressions. I think we all want to hang out with Ted Cruz, right? [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: That is so not where I thought you were going.
Klepper: No, I think we were dancing around it, but that’s the bell of the ball. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.
Capehart: Well, in all seriousness, if you were to see Ted Cruz and you went, “Oh, Senator.” What would you ask him?
Klepper: I would ask him, “Why did you write for Time 100? Why did you write a glowing review of Donald Trump for the way in which he treated you during the primary season? Like, does tribalism really trump any kind of self-respect?” I would love to know. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE]
Capehart: Now, the president is not going to be there for the second year in a row, but if he were to be there and you got a chance to talk to him, what would you say?
Klepper: I would say, “When’s it going to end? Are we close? Are you done yet? Just, please. I’m exhausted.” I don’t think he wants to do it anymore. I think he’s over it. We talked about this on the show a little bit and it was so fascinating with all of this Ronny Jackson hullabaloo. His breakdown of Ronny Jackson and how like he’s a good guy, but you know what? “What’s he even doing this for? They’re just going to roll him through the mud. He doesn’t need this. He’s better off.” Like it’s Donald Trump talking to Donald Trump. [LAUGHTER] I really think that’s where he’s at right now and so I’d like to look him in the eyes and see if I see that. From a distance. I don’t want to get too close to that guy. [LAUGHTER] The owners, you know his diet. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Anyone else? Anyone else?
Klepper: I think if I hit those guys, I’m going to feel pretty good, you know? That feels like a good weekend. Is there a lot of interaction with the politicians or does it feel most media? Does the media connect with the politicians? Is this a chance for there to be some harmony or are there two different cliques?
Capehart: I think you have the wrong expectations. It’s not about harmony.
Klepper: No, it’s not?
Capehart: There’s a lot of interaction, there’s a lot of talking. You can walk up to anybody, talk to them about anything; media, politicians, whatever. That’s the beauty of the event. That’s also one of the things that a lot of media critics have a problem with, that there’s all this coziness. But for you, being your first time, you get to see it in action.
Klepper: I am fascinated by it. First, it feels weird that I would be there. That’s a bad move on everybody’s part. [LAUGHTER] It doesn’t make anybody look good on either side. But the idea of like how does the media interact with the politicians on Capitol Hill? What does socializing look? When the lights go off and the drinks get poured, is there some bipartisanship? Is there some love between both news sources and the people who are creating the news? I think that to me, I am very curious to be a little bit of a fly on the wall for all of this and this weekend. Because it’s one thing to ingest the news at home and in a comedy studio watching it. Like, the more I’ve been able to come down to Washington and get more of a feel for how the news and the policy is made, like the more fascinating it is.
Capehart: Jordan Klepper—I got it right. Host of Comedy Central’s The Opposition. Thank you very much for being here. [APPLAUSE]
Klepper: Jonathan, thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Capehart: And thank you all very much for being here. You can watch clips of this maybe in a just a few minutes. They’re very quick in the video department on WashingtonPost.com/video. Thank you very much. Again, Jordan, thank.
Klepper: Thank you, Jonathan. [APPLAUSE]