Jordan Klepper, the newest addition to "The Daily Show," doesn't mind risking a little poison ingestion if it is in the name of comedy. And if that doesn't bode well for his future as a correspondent on the show, I don't know what does. More on that mildly unsafe incident in the Q&A below.
Hired earlier this spring to fill the opening left vacant when John Oliver migrated over to HBO (where he headlines his own show), Klepper has brought a buoyant energy to his segments. That spirit was evident early on during his years as a contributor on the Big Ten Network's "Friday Night Tailgate" (where he played a perfectly ill-informed correspondent), as well as his performances on stage in Chicago, where he was a regular presence at iO for almost a decade before moving to New York.
I remember seeing Klepper in a show back in 2008, one he wrote and performed with current Second City mainstager Steve Waltien, and it stood out as one of the best sketch shows of the year. Klepper often has a sly, Will Ferrell-like dopey good-naturedness that allows him to be deeply vulnerable in a comedic context. As a performer, his facial expression hovers somewhere between supreme self-confidence and a man about to suffer a nervous breakdown, and that tension can be extremely funny.
"What have you learned so far today?" Stewart asked Klepper in his debut appearance, in which he "reports" from Crimea: "Well, you have to dial 9 to get an outside line. Um, lunch is at 1. And if I keep my head down here for a couple of years, I've got a real shot on my own sitcom on NBC. Oh, you were talking about Crimea…."
This month he traveled to West Virginia, where he interviewed a Republican legislator who voted in favor of environmental regulations after the local water supply became contaminated. "You ingested a chemical and it turned you into a Democrat?" he asks, and though she shakes her head no, Klepper is oblivious: "I love origin stories!" he says, throwing on a pair of 3-D glasses and munching popcorn.
With three months on the job under his belt, Klepper and I talked on Memorial Day, before he and wife Laura Grey (a Second City alum and a very funny performer in her own right) departed on a road trip to Nashville. "We're going to see a little bit of America, listen to some great music, eat some barbecue."
Klepper and Grey have performed together over the years, including early on in a Second City touring company. One of their more recent collaborations is a knowingly satiric web series called "Engaged," which Klepper described thusly: "Instead of spending time planning a wedding, we thought, let's spend our time making a Web series about planning our wedding, and put off planning our own wedding." They got married in September, but that video (produced by the Upright Citizens Brigade) played a small role in landing Klepper his current job.
"I found out afterwards that people at 'The Daily Show' saw 'Engaged' and liked it and I think that was part of the reason I got called in to audition originally."
After a one-week break, "The Daily Show" returns with new episodes Monday.
Q: How did you get the job on "The Daily Show?"
A: They asked for me to send in a videotaped audition. And then I heard back that they wanted me to test for the show a few weeks later. So that meant a live audition where I would do a correspondent piece with Jon (Stewart), to see how that felt. I ended up doing that on a Thursday, and I got the call later that day to come in on Monday to start. As soon as the "go" came, we were in "Daily Show" mode. It was pretty quick.
Q: That is quick! They obviously really liked you.
A: They, well, uhhhhh, yeah, I think…. You know what, that's what I tell myself when I'm scared at night.
Q: Well, they put you on the air that very first day.
A: They told me to come in on Monday and bring my suit just in case. And I arrived, was sort of meeting people, getting a lay of the land, was getting a tour of the place and introductions. And mid-getting acclimated, they decided I was going to be a part of one of the pieces that night. So it shifted from "get comfortable" to "get working." So I hit the ground running.
Q: Some news organizations will ask potential hires take a test to gauge their knowledge about current events and newsmakers. Did they have you take a test?
A: They did not. Thank God. I think my test was: Day 1, we're going to do a piece on Crimea. And I'm like: Great, I'll get back to you in 10 minutes right after I Google where the (expletive) Crimea is.
Q: You were a longtime performer in "Whirled News Tonight" at iO, which is an improv show that riffs on news of the day (8 p.m. Saturdays). I wonder if that informed anything you do with "The Daily Show"?
A: When I started "Whirled News," it inspired me at that time to really start becoming more aware of the world around me. Reading the newspaper. Knowing what is happening.
Q: Before that you were just vaguely aware of what was going on in the world?