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Monday, 15 January 2024 10:41

Roy Wood Jr. & Jordan Klepper: Daily Show Duo's Townhall Tour

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Roy Wood Jr. & Jordan Klepper. Roy Wood Jr. & Jordan Klepper. Photo by Navier Grimes

Right from their first days working together on “The Daily Show,” Roy Wood Jr. and Jordan Klepper haven’t pulled any punches when finding punchlines in the news. 

The two joined forces for Wood Jr.s’ very first field piece for the show back in 2015, tackling the subject of police bias, and establishing a banter between the two correspondents that continues to this day. Both have since gone on to Emmy-nominated acclaim, with Wood Jr. expanding on his longtime standup work with three Comedy Central specials, as well as his hosting of the high-profile White House Correspondents dinner, in addition to his acting roles and documentary filmmaking. 

Klepper, meanwhile, has made a name for himself with his viral field pieces at Trump Rallies, and Jan. 6th, in addition to his work as a podcaster, essayist, and voice actor. Re-teaming this month for what they describe as “a comedic town hall that digs into the issues that matter, and many of the ones that don’t,” the duo answered a few of Revue’s questions before their stop at GLC Live at 20 Monroe on Jan. 25.

Editorial Note: This is an extended version of the interview from the January 2024 issue.

When did you come up with the idea to team up for a tour like this?

Jordan Klepper: I think Roy and I, we’ve always had a blast performing with each other, riffing with each other on the road together. And I think, you know, the strike happens and everybody gets to reevaluate what life looks like, ways in which they can connect with an audience and, also an opportunity to do stuff you’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the time or the space to do. And I think this kind of popped up when we were like, ‘Hey, you know what would be fun?’ I mean, I get very lonely on the road. Within minutes I am a sad sack. And so the ability to rope Roy into this, to help me be a little less sad on the road was an exciting one to jump at.

Roy Wood Jr.: Yeah, I really think what Jordan and I were trying to figure out was what are some ways – and keep in mind the inception of this was before I made the decision to leave Daily Show – we were talking about what are some other ways where we can engage with Americans about what’s happening, but make it fun and make it a little more jovial and not so much as a funeral type atmosphere. I’ve toured this year immensely as a stand up because of the strike. And Klepper’s gone out and done his dates. I didn’t want to go out another year and just do comedy again, especially during a pivotal election year. I was like, ‘Oh, what’s a fun live show that feels interactive?’ And also it was during that run of terrible town halls that were happening on CNN at the time. Like there was there was one town hall that was especially trash over the summer, in the early fall. And I was like, 'I could do a better townhall! Klepper and I could do a better townhall! Let me call Klepper. 'Are you thinking what I’m thinking? And he's like, 'I have been thinking what you've been thinking. Because really, what we want to do, most of it is just what Klepper does one by one for the last, what, five, six years now, bro? How long?

Jordan Klepper: 1500 years.

REVUE: I did want to ask about approaching a town hall as a format that, post COVID school board meetings and all that chaotic divisiveness, how do you think you guys are going to approach a town hall in a way that will be better?

Jordan Klepper: Well, I hope we get some of that COVID school board energy! I want people coming angry. I want them standing up and grandstanding like that. I think by all means, bring any pent up energy you have, bring it! Bring it to the stage. Let’s get it out. Now is the chance.

Roy Wood Jr.: I think my biggest issue with town halls as a whole and this entire show, it’s not necessarily a send up of the town hall format. I just think that town halls, in my opinion, feel like one way dialogue. We already know the questions are pre-screened. We already know that these people were chosen probably two weeks before. ‘You’re going to get to ask your question to Vivek Ramaswamy. Make sure it’s a good question!’ And they’re probably, you know, grooving a lot of pitches to the politicians. I think that our show is an opportunity for Americans to ask the real questions to people who don’t have the answers.

Jordan Klepper: Yeah, we have the confidence of people with the answers. But we are more than happy giving our half thought out ideas to people. So this is a chance for us to not think through ideas completely, but yet deliver them with the confidence of someone who has.

REVUE: Clearly you guys are going to welcome the other side. But what has been the challenge or what will be the challenge of actually reaching the other side? Jordan, you go out and speak to Trump supporters and others in person  do you feel like comedy helps break down that barrier at all?

Jordan Klepper: I think comedy goes at the bullshit. And so, I don’t think Roy or I either see ourselves as partisan comedians. I mean, clearly a lot of the stuff I do is pointed in one direction. But that tends to be where the majority of the BS lies. However, I do think comedy, if you’re in a room where people laugh, you’re all sharing some perspective. And the anxiety of the moment is lifted for at least that brief second. So I think it’s a wonderful thing if you can get a group of people into a building laughing together. And I think that you can’t shy away from how cathartic that can be, how empowering that can be. And I think for us, we’re going to give each other shit up there.

We’re going to laugh at each other’s foibles. We’re going to make fun of politics, but make fun of each other in a really playful way. And I hope the audience feels open and I think we don’t even really know what we’re going to get. I think we’re going to get people who want to come here and want to play. We’re going to get people who have perhaps more serious questions. And I think that’s sort of on us to find what is humorous and what is thoughtful within that. And hopefully, I don’t know if it’s going to reach across any proverbial aisles, but I think there’ll be a communal atmosphere there. That in and of itself will be hopefully cathartic and fun for folks.

Roy Wood Jr.: And I think also it’s an opportunity, like the show is also a chance for us to kind of tell a story and peel back the layers, not just on The Daily Show, but like the process and approach to how the job of correspondent and contributor, and how we do those things. Like I won’t say who did it, but Jordan was sitting right beside me when someone we were interviewing said the N word to me. He did not call me an N word, but he said it, and I immediately saw red, and Jordan the entire time is trying to keep the interview on track. And in hindsight, it was the most hilarious thing because you understand even in that moment that this deviation into why you use that word, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to have a different conversation that points to a bigger blah, blah, blah. If we came back to New York City and all we had was footage, and Trevor goes, ‘Hey, did you guys get the story?’ ‘No, he called me an N word. So we just argued with him about that. Sorry about that, bro, but good luck with whatever B-roll we got. Thanks.’ You didn’t do the job. So a lot of it is about the ways and whys of how we stay on task sometimes in this job, because it is not easy.

Jordan Klepper: And I think, you know, that having done The Daily Show job or just being in the world of entertainment and politics for the last decade. For Roy and I we get asked a lot of stuff about the process, about the ways in which we tell stories, the ways and what happens behind the scenes. And I think this is also an opportunity for folks to hear some of these weird tales of how the stories get told, how you find humor in strange spots, and how chaotic it is. You’re going to hear, like I was there on January 6th. What’s a comedian doing on January 6th? Roy is telling jokes to Joe Biden, three feet away. And I think that we live in weird apocalyptic times. And so we’d like to open up some of the conversation around that and share some of the weirdness of this journey we’ve been on.

Roy Wood Jr.: Ron Jeremy was in a field piece I did. He’s currently in prison for being a piece of shit, and I can now look back on that field piece in between camera setups and go, ‘Oh my God, I think I saw a piece of shit being a piece of shit in real time.' ... Just the weirdest shit you’ve ever seen on the field shoot, and at the time, you thought for sure you were going to die. I’m sure you have more of those stories than me. I have one.

Jordan Klepper: We have like a list. We’re compiling stories and perspectives and stuff. We’re like, all right, talk to me about Ron Jeremy. Uh, I’ll raise you a Bill Clinton and then give me, an Ammon Bundy to wrap the whole thing up.

Roy Wood Jr.: Yo, Ammon Bundy was kind of a charismatic ass dude. He is.

Jordan Klepper: You’re wondering where, like, the common ground of it all is. It’s like when you spend time with them, everybody’s a three-dimensional character. Even Ammon Bundy is going to have a lot of charisma that you don’t necessarily read in your two-paragraph long article.

Roy Wood Jr.: Two of the best campaign snack situations. Ammon Bundy and Tom Steyer. Tom Steyer hands down an immaculate fried chicken spread in South Carolina, with fruit, because he wanted you to have a balanced meal. You only got one wing, but still. It was better than what we got… What did we get at Elizabeth Warren's event earlier that day? Nothing.

Jordan Klepper: Oh yeah, you’re lucky if you’re rolling into a Warren event and getting water. She’s all about redistributing the wealth, but good luck redistributing any of the food for the people who’ve been waiting for two hours.

REVUE: The Daily Show bills itself as a fake news program, but what you guys do is real journalism in its own way. Roy, I know your father was a journalist, and I know you take a lot of pride in continuing that in what you do with your comedy. How much do you feel like you guys really are taking journalism in a different direction in the new media environment that we’re in now?

Roy Wood Jr.: Ooh. I think the day we think of ourselves as journalists first, we lose the ability to do the thing that journalists can’t, which is make fun of it. Before working at The Daily Show. I did not like when people go, ‘Oh, it’s a comedy show first,’ and I’m going, ‘No, I get news and information from you. You complete me. Stop denying what you are.’ Then you get inside the machine and you realize the only reason people come to us, or one of the main reasons people come to us for the information, is because it’s not so drab and dead and doomsday. Because we are able to use humor a little bit to spruce things up. I’m thrilled if people get their get information from us. But I would say, please don’t only get your information from one source ever.

Jordan Klepper: I think that’s what people also respond to, is there’s bias in all media and all news. And I think you understand up front what The Daily Show is. It's going to be focused on comedy. And I also point out we have nothing but fact checkers and smart folks. Like, we take it very seriously, what is out there. We’re not cutting corners when it comes to the veracity of stories. But you understand that we’re attacking the bullshit and the comedy first. And I think that oftentimes can seem more authentic than some other news stations, which pretend to be unbiased. But I completely agree with Roy, I think it’s our role to approach any of that stuff as comedians and open about it. And that’s frankly, when I’m out on the road. The reason I can get some things is because I can do what other journalists can’t do, which is I can ask follow ups, I can take emotional stances in a way that can elicit more responses. And I think in some ways, it may be more revealing than what traditional news can get, but it’s always important for people to kind of have an understanding of the context with which we give our material.

Roy Wood Jr.: Do you feel like separate and apart—sorry for interviewing my co-host here—do you feel like though, bro, like traditional news needs to become less traditional? Like, some of the most humanizing reports that have come out of the Middle East have been from reporters who have allowed emotion to enter into their broadcast. And when you look at what was happening on January 6th and the incredulousness with which reporters were going, "I cannot believe this,"  it made it feel, to me, more real and connected. How much of a responsibility does news have, traditional news have now, to maybe actually connect and go, ‘Yeah, this is also fucked up,’ instead of just being an information drone?

Jordan Klepper: Yeah, I think there needs to be definite reevaluation with a lot of these places. You know, there’s a fine line, but it doesn’t all feel fair and balanced when you’re not following up on inherent bullshit that Donald Trump is shoveling like we’ve seen. I think the most impressive interviews with people like that, like Jonathan Swan, folks who sit down and put feet to the fire and won’t let go of something that a traditional media would be like, ‘Well, I asked the question, I’m going to move on.’ No, you ask that question seven more times because it’s getting evaded. And you know how these things get edited. I think bringing your own emotion and experience to reporting is super important. Now, that can be corrupted. And I think we see where it can be corrupted. But I do think the old ways of journalism can be reevaluated and updated in certain aspects that attack some of the savviness that the people who are trying to manipulate the news, use and wield on the poor saps who are trying to both sider something that might not actually need some both sider-ism.

REVUE: Speaking of media, I wanted to ask about the state of late night TV. Roy you’ve spoken on this before, but how much do you feel like late night TV and late night comedy has completely changed since either of you joined The Daily Show?

Jordan Klepper: I think everything has changed. There’s been so much change in the last decade. It’s kind of bonkers. I think The Daily Show in and of itself went from the days of Jon Stewart and a very clear perspective of what that looked like, being sort of the only thing on late night covering the news, to Trevor, to a litany of hosts, to authenticity becoming more important than ever, and perhaps irony and satire, taking on different forms and other voices coming into the late night landscape. Combine that with like the fact that most people are getting our information out of context on the Internet with short little clips makes the conversation totally different as well. I think I’m constantly waking up looking at my phone, just to try to catch up with the industry that we’re in.

Roy Wood Jr.: I think that Mike Birbiglia had a quote that comedy only works if everybody agrees on the premise. And so, we’re now in a world where facts are being questioned, which means that the premise of a joke can be questioned, which means that if you’re going to gravitate towards particular media for confirmation bias, then news satire might eventually start becoming that as well. And so, when you also look at the fact that like, there was something I learned about the history of the lottery—and I hate that I don’t have the woman's name saved—but I learned about the history of the lottery from somebody on TikTok who did it on their bed, laying sideways. They didn’t even sit upright to give me the information, and I was perfectly fine with it. So I think Americans are starting to care a little less about who gives them their news. And then therein lies the challenge of how do you parody the news if the news itself is inherently fished from multiple different ponds now? We used to all get our news from a shiny desk with a green screen and chopper seven live or whatever. And now you can also get news from a person laying sideways on their couch, dropping fucking knowledge about the history of the lottery and why it’s a poor tax.

Jordan Klepper: See, I got to tell you, that’s where I draw the line. If you can’t sit up straight to give me the news, then I’m swiping right or left or up. I don’t know the direction anymore...

Roy Wood Jr.: You know that feels like more honest journalism to me. Because you don’t even feel like saying this shit to me. I don’t feel like working half the day. So it’s exciting when you see someone half doing their job, you’re like, that’s an authentic person.

REVUE: After this tour, do you have anything else planned? Have you thought about doing a late night show together?

Roy Wood Jr.: I’m open to it. But I also know that Jordan Klepper is an important piece of an important puzzle during an important election year. We’re doing good if we get these dates done without there being calamity. There’s also an Iowa caucus that I don’t think either of us considered before we scheduled these dates.

Jordan Klepper: There is an Iowa caucus in there. But we shall persevere through that caucus because I think that’s actually not going to be a very competitive caucus is what it’s looking like. I will tell you this. I love working with Roy Wood Jr. So if you have any opportunities for us, I think we are accepting any and all offers. So please pitch them our way.

Roy Wood Jr. and Jordan Klepper: America: For the Last Time
GLC Live at 20 Monroe, 11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Jan. 25, 6:30 p.m. $53-103
(616) 482-2027, glcliveat20monroe.com, roywoodjr.com, officialjordanklepper.com

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