The Kennedy Political Union and the American University Student Government offered AU students a well-deserved study break before finals: “An Evening with Jordan Klepper” on Thursday.
Klepper’s appearance marks another highly anticipated guest speaker event in KPU’s political lecture series. The comedian and political commentator’s event garnered lots of attention due to many AU students’ familiarity with his popular work on Comedy Central programs like “The Daily Show,” “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper” and “Klepper.”
The event took place in Constitution Hall, where Klepper sat down for a conversation with Scott Talan, an assistant professor of Public Relations & Strategic Communication. Throughout the event, Talan posed questions to Klepper about his career and approach to political comedy. Both Talan and Klepper added humor to the conversation, eliciting laughter from the full crowd of students. Klepper spoke about how his roots in improv comedy informs his current work on television and comedy in general.
“I got into improv comedy, and what I was immediately drawn to in that world was not only comedy, but social satire, which involves not only talking about politics but commenting on the world around you, whether that’s relationships, people or big institutions,” Klepper said. “There’s so much shared experience that we all have. It’s ripe for humor and commentary.”
Currently a correspondent for “The Daily Show,” Klepper made his comedic debut in 2014. The Kalamazoo, Michigan native is known for conducting on-camera interviews at political rallies and events, many of which involve supporters of former President Donald Trump. Klepper brings both humor and tact to his coverage of the Make America Great Again movement , especially through his current segment, “Jordan Klepper Fingers the Pulse.”
Klepper’s comedy and interview skills led to his 2019 docuseries, “Klepper,” where he traveled across the United States covering a diverse range of topics such as military veterans, environmental activism and the lives of undocumented immigrants. Klepper was excited by the opportunity to take his “Daily Show” segment formula to a new level.
“That was a chance to dive into issues and really expand the storytelling,” Klepper said. “I think documentaries are such a wonderful format for engaging with people and telling more robust stories and Klepper was an example of diving in and learning about activists, going along with them on their journey and really telling more about the complete story of people beyond just those four minutes.”
Klepper discussed his path into comedy and the world of television. Klepper was a math and theater major at Kalamazoo College, where he joined an improv group and found his love for the art form. After graduating, Klepper honed his improv and sketch writing skills with The Second City in Chicago, where he had comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key as a coach.
Klepper also provided advice for young people who want to pursue a career in comedy.
“I think it starts with one, finding your voice. If you’re a comedian, you do that through getting up on stage and improvisation,” Klepper said. “Find your people who you can collaborate with, write with, and create with.”
Klepper suggested that staying informed and building chemistry with other comedians can be useful for aspiring comedians.
“Become educated and become opinionated, so that when you’re given the opportunity to use whatever skills you acquired through honing your voice and comedy through collaborating with other people, you then are able to utilize that to its most effective way and you're also able to speak to something that matters to you,” he said.
Klepper emphasized that the rise of social media means aspiring comedians today will have a different path than his. Young comedians can gain an audience by posting their content to platforms like Instagram and YouTube, something Klepper feels they should take advantage of.
Klepper also detailed his experience covering the Jan. 6 insurrection. Klepper interviewed Trump supporters near the Capitol building and left with his camera crew once the violence escalated. Klepper encountered members of extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Klepper also covered the Nov. 14, 2020 “Million MAGA March,” a protest of President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 Presidential Election. Through these two events, Klepper said that he gained firsthand experience of the influence that former President Trump has.
Joy Schleicher, a sophomore in School of International Service and the School of Education, appreciated the advice Klepper gave to the young crowd.
“I think that this was one of the best events that I’ve ever been to,” Schleicher said. “Not only was it engaging and active within the community, there was also a lot of advice to apply to our futures.”
Genevieve Loveland, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, liked Klepper’s approach to political comedy.
“He uses comedy to challenge that echo chamber,” Loveland said. “You can see that when seeing his comedy sketches, but to hear him talk about it and how instead of necessarily debating we can instead kind of come from a more empathetic view with politics. I think that’s something we often forget to do, and I appreciate that he brought that to the table.”
Klepper’s career has taken him to stages all across the country, but he also enjoys speaking at smaller events like those hosted by KPU.
“Whether it’s comedy or not, I love having conversations with people. Like coming out here to hear what you guys are interested in, what questions you have,” Klepper said. It’s so easy to just create an idea of what the world looks like from your phone and back in your home, so to be able to come to a campus and talk to people about that is always just invigorating for me.”
This article was edited by Kate Corliss, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Sarah Clayton and Luna Jinks.