When Jordan Klepper signed on for a day embedded with a Georgia militia group, he was expecting to find answers to solving the problem of gun violence in America. What he got — at least at first — was a quick workout.
“It’s a fascinating experience to be a fly on the wall of a day of militia training. Something that we didn’t realize is that you forget how long a day it is. We arrived and did calisthenics for the first 30 minutes and it was just guys getting their heart rate going,” Klepper said in an interview with IndieWire.
It’s just one example of how Klepper and a team of writers uncovered some unexpected results over the six months that spent researching America’s complicated relationship to firearms. The result is “Jordan Klepper Solves Guns,” a one-hour special premiering Sunday night on Comedy Central.
“Guns are such a wide-ranging topic,” Klepper said. “Are you talking about mass shooting? Are you talking about guns used in domestic violence? Are you talking about guns used by sportsmen? Are you talking about urban violence? I think what we kept coming back to was the debate around guns is the thing that gets so muddy and confusing.”
That search for one policy answer that unites all sides of this issue is the natural evolution of the kind of field pieces that Klepper’s routinely done on “The Daily Show.” But Klepper explained that the extra time meant that he could really work to fashion a character-based version of himself that examined the way that people enter this debate as much as what happens when it starts.
“With this, we wanted to have fun with this blowhard who sees himself as this righteous lefty, but who doesn’t know quite everything that he’s playing with. You feel this guy who really wants to solve the world’s problems, but doesn’t have all the tools. I love playing around with that kind of comedy,” Klepper said.
Aside from the show’s runtime, Klepper explained how filming a portion of the special in his home state of Michigan led to recruiting some help from an unlikely source: his own cousin, Pete.
“We started talking about these people who are in our families who might have different political leanings Is it possible to change their mind about some of these topics? Well, mine’s Pete. Pete is my cousin, who I love and who’s a Republican and posts pictures of himself hunting and will talk about Trump. We thought, ‘Theoretically, what would it take for a guy like me to change somebody like Pete’s mind when you talk about guns?’” Klepper said.
Eventually, that theoretical scenario led to the special’s most surreal, unconventional segment: a faithfully reconstructed parody of “The Bachelor,” with Klepper on a pursuit for a moderate that might help him find a solution to curbing gun-related deaths in America.
“We needed to come up with a functional way to show moderate thoughtful points of view, but to sensationalize those where the joke is on us. That’s what ‘The Bachelor’ does. They functionally take people from the middle of the country, they add this layer of competition onto it and they sensationalize it so America eats it up on television. We were like, ‘Bingo! That’s exactly what we need to do here,’” Klepper said.
What began as a comedic way to get an audience to better understand the mindset of those stuck in the middle of an ongoing political tug-of-war ended up having just as much effect on those people making the special as it did its subjects.
“What we started to find in our research phase and as we talked to people is — lo and behold — it was our minds that really started to soften and become much more moderate and even at times, farther to the right than we expected. We’ll take this character and lead him headfirst, thinking it’s going to be an easy answer, but in real life it’s a little bit more complicated.” Klepper said.
In a gun debate painted in media and entertainment as an impossibly divisive issue, “Jordan Klepper Solves Guns” shows that there’s far more common ground than many viewers might assume. Part of that uniting force is the work being done by organizations working to provide a peaceful, productive alternative to violence happening in communities across the country. The special has a companion website highlighting the groups working to provide pragmatic solutions nationwide.
“After being in the weeds for six months talking about the gun issue, it really was heartwarming to see people who were like, ‘Yeah, fuck the politics of it all. It’s messed up. But I’m doing something.’ I think as we stumbled on these people who really were doing something and making a dent, even if they weren’t solving the whole issue, they were at least moving forward. There’s a little ray of hope that’s out there,” Klepper said.
As for his future plans, when talking about his impending solo show that will serve as the nightly follow-up to “The Daily Show” when it premieres in the fall, Klepper’s character side slipped out one last time.
“What becomes very clear is that I’m good at solving things,” Klepper said. “I promised Comedy Central, ‘If you give me a show, I’m going to solve all the world’s problems.’ So as long as they keep me on the air for six months, I think that’s a sure thing.”
“Jordan Klepper Solves Guns” premieres Sunday, June 11 at 10:00 p.m.