On Sunday, June 11th, Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show will debut a new special called Jordan Klepper Solves Guns. When I first heard that he was doing an hour-long special, I pictured a stand-up devoted entirely to lampooning the gun issue, and I genuinely feared for Klepper’s safety. However, this is not a stand up set, but is basically a field piece that you would see on The Daily Show, except stretched out into an hour.
Klepper, ever the funny man, produced a serious piece of journalism filled with hard facts and relatable experiences for gun owners and anti-gun activists alike. It’s a special that doesn’t preach to us how similar we are, but it shows us. It is a feat of investigative journalism that is complemented by Klepper’s unique brand of humor. He launched a companion website for the special to help direct people towards organizations that can help end America’s scourge of gun violence, and he sells it with an unassailable tagline:
The 33 thousand Americans who die every year from gun violence means less America. Let’s make more America.
Paste spoke with Klepper about what he learned about the gun debate, about himself, and any plans for future specials like this one.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you come up with the idea to do an hour-long special on guns?
Jordan Klepper: With The Daily Show I’ve been able to cover the gun issue from a few different angles, and have done multiple stories on that. I found that I was having the same kind of conversations with people who were involved in this gun debate—people who are trying to make some sort of progress but they kept getting stymied at every turn. And then after watching this be a consistent narrative, there was a shooting that took place in my home town and I found myself having the same conversation with my parents in their own backyard.
And I felt like this was such a hot button topic—an issue that frankly, I don’t think was getting enough attention. And I thought this was a great opportunity to do something that’s a much deeper dive than we get to do on The Daily Show, and really try to see a little bit more about this gun topic, and also a chance to talk to people you don’t get to see—the more moderate people who share some common ground on the gun topic. That was kind of our goal: let’s go a little bit towards the middle and see what the other America—what they think of this whole gun issue.
Has this topic always been a passion of yours, or is that something that came about from your work on The Daily Show?
Klepper: Well, I grew up in the Midwest and my grandfather was an NRA member, and he taught me how to fire a rifle, so I wasn’t into guns—I can’t say that I was a gun aficionado—but it was something that means something different coming from Michigan than it does say out of the east coast. So I was very curious about America’s relationship with guns and the topic surrounding it, but getting a chance to talk to some of the main figures in that debate with The Daily Show really brought it into the forefront for me. I’m pretty inspired by all these people I talk to.
From Mark Rosenberg, who used to be in charge of the CDC and he got stymied by the NRA when he was pushing for more funds for gun violence research. He’s a really inspiring person who brought to life the frustration that people were having just bringing science to the gun debate. And even down to active shooter trainers in the heart of Texas, who are very conservative guys who teach police officers how to deal with an active shooting situation. Getting to talk to them about how they see the gun issue and also what training means to people who actually have guns for self-protection, it was really eye opening to me. And it quickly became a passion of mine to find out more about them and talk a little bit more in depth.
When you were doing that brain scan at Emory designed to reveal your biases, did you learn anything new about yourself while they were showing you all those images?
Klepper: Well I learned that I have a harrier ass than I expected, so that was one thing. You have to be careful when you show your ass on national television.
I was surprised. I sat down with Dr. Hammond who did the brain scan and really walked us through it. And he pointed out that I was reacting more positively to the things that fit my own line of thought. My brain would quickly shift past the things that disturbed me to something that I actually found more positive. So I would almost go beyond outrage to try to find optimism in another picture. He basically walked me through this dance my brain did whenever these images came up. It was like “oh you can see your brain is jumping to other things that you don’t want to confront, that don’t fit your narrative.”
And that was shocking. Because up until that point, I thought that basically the world bent around my own will, and apparently scientifically that’s not true.
Yeah that was definitely the most eye-opening segment for me, seeing that we don’t really have much of a choice over what we choose to believe in a certain sense.
Klepper: Yeah I could do an entire special just based around how our brains are conditioned to respond the way that we train them to. And what was most eye-opening and depressing was just how difficult it really is for us to find any kind of opening in to changing our mind and believing something outside of what we have convinced ourselves to believe in for such a long period of time. Again, it was fascinating and depressing all at the same time.
I can definitely understand that. What was the craziest new thing that you learned doing this special?
Klepper: Well I’ll tell you that doing charades with a Georgia militia was a new experience for me. The situation at the tracing center was mind-blowing to me: that segment about how they are unable to use computers and searchable databases to find guns that are used in homicides. What was fascinating was that we drove out to the tracing center to drop off a computer for them as a little gift to try to bump them up into the 21st century and within two days our producer was tracked down by a license plate number because we had gone on to government property and dropped off sort of a gift.
So we quickly realized that if you need to find a comedy producer by a van that they drove, you can find that with a computer in a day and a half. If you want to find a gun used in a homicide, that’s gonna take you a couple weeks. So you start to see the priorities of our government there.
Yeah it definitely got my blood boiling watching that segment.
Klepper: Yeah I think we felt like the images out of that tracing center and talking to David Chipman, the ATF agent, really it was just so sad and frustrating. You’re literally looking at bureaucracy. And we just all shed a little tear that day.
Do you have plans to do any more specials like this in the future?
Klepper: We really enjoyed the ability to go in-depth with this topic right now, so there are no plans for more specials but we would love to take on another topic like this where we can really dig in. I think it was a nice challenge for us, to try find a way to find a narrative through a larger topic and the ability to go a little farther into the field than we normally do with The Daily Show.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.