'Daily Show' correspondent Jordan Klepper talks MAGA rallies
If anyone’s keeping tabs on the most number of Donald Trump events attended, Jordan Klepper has to at least be on the scorecard. That’s not a boast — for Klepper, anyway.
“As my therapist will tell you, I’ve been to a ton of Trump rallies,” the longtime Daily Show correspondent cracks to an interviewee in Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe:Hungary for Democracy, a 23-minute Daily Show special that earned the 43-year-old comedian his first Emmy nomination.
The episode, which finds the quick-witted Klepper traveling to Budapest to explore Hungary’s rising support for its right-wing nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán (or “Trump before Trump,” as Steve Bannon once called him), is an extension of the satirical journalist’s Fingering the Pulse series. Those regularly go viral for the absurd interactions an exasperated Klepper has with members of Trump’s MAGA base as the ex-president’s supporters defend outrageous statements (“So what if he wants to grab p***y? I want to grab p***y!”), espouse outrageous conspiracy theories (Osama Bin Laden was/is actually a CIA agent named “Tim”) and appear ignorant to their own rhetoric (vehemently opposing Critical Race Theory, yet not actually being able to explain what CRT actually is).
In a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Klepper doubles down on the fact that his popular man-at-the-rally segments take a toll on him.
“It’s hard to to keep the faith in a country that I love the more and more I’m exposed to some of the thoughts and some of the places it’s going,” he says. “The rhetoric is more extreme than I’ve ever heard before. And it’s also more absurd. I’m hearing grandmas from Wisconsin talk about [John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999] like it’s a known fact that he’s going to be the vice president. I’m talking to a father and his son about how Donald Trump is in charge of the military right now. And these fringe ideas are being codified by a guy like Donald Trump and a bunch of cowards who don’t have the guts to stand up to him. He speaks to Americans and then he sends them away from sources that could maybe give them a broader perspective and just into the cesspool of the internet … It’s melting [their] brains. That to me has me coming home, talking to my wife and discussing property in Toronto.”
Klepper, a 6-foot-4 Kalamazoo, Mich. native who began his career as part of Chicago’s Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupes, first started traveling to MAGA events in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.
“I’ve always loved being out on the road, talking to people, getting to see American politics up close, and frankly being a big, lanky white guy allowed a lot of people at some of these rallies to get more open with me than they might with other folks,” he says. “It’s always been so revealing to see what people find in the MAGA movement and where their headspace is at, at any given time. And frankly, it keeps getting weirder and stranger. … This movement is dictating the voice of good old Donald Trump, and he’s dictating the voice of the [Republican] party. So it feels more and more important to be there to hear what actual conversations are happening out in the middle of America that we might not get reading the New York Times.”
The conversation got particularly ugly and violent on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol after weeks of baseless claims from the outgoing president that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. Klepper was there.
“It was such a strange, harrowing day,” he says. “At the time it felt like it was just an exercise in futility and absurdity. I’m interviewing a man with a pitchfork, getting yelled at by another man with a bullhorn. And then people were dressed for war wearing fanny packs. People were screaming about going to grab their guns. Seeing Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, them all amass. I mean, it was such a sad day for America, but also such an absurd day. Then they pushed up and broke down the first fences and went up to the Capitol … I was just like, ‘How have we gotten here? You know, I’d laugh if I wasn’t crying and then I’d laugh again because it is completely absurd and completely heartbreaking to see this happen to our Capitol.”
Klepper decided to venture to Hungary after seeing America’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) hold a summit there. He sees what’s happening in the central European country — where state-sponsored media has taken over the airwaves, LBGTQ rights have been diminished, more and more Hungarians believe people shouldn’t mix races, and Orbán maintains a cozy relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin — as a cautionary tale for U.S. politics.
“It’s harrowing being on the ground in Budapest, talking to people who live there,” he says. “You see this shift away from democracy towards authoritarianism, and it doesn’t look like tanks in the street. It looks like small erosions of civil liberties and codifying things into the constitution, into laws that make it harder and harder for people to affect change. And frankly you start to see stuff like that happen in places like Florida. It almost took going to Hungary to see it that much further down the road as to how something like that could happen back here at home.”
Klepper was rewarded with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special that he shares with Ian Berger, Devin Delliquanti, Jennifer Flanz, Zhubin Parang and Scott Sherman.
“I believe I got a respectable kind of drunk,” says Klepper, who has a 2-year-old with Laura Grey, about his first Emmy nom. “I’m sure it was a couple of whiskeys, some gloating to my wife, and then passing out by like 9:45 because being a new father makes me exhausted.”
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