The 2016 election has been a tumultuous cycle of highs and lows, a fact that few know as keenly as Daily Show correspondents Jordan Klepper and Roy Wood Jr. They’ve been on the front lines at Trump rallies, political conventions, and protest marches, and they’ve faced down everyone from the alt-right to undecided voters. With the election a mere day away, The A.V. Club talked to Klepper and Wood about what they’ve learned, what they’ve seen, and where they think this country will be come Wednesday and into 2017. Their answers should both reaffirm your faith in humanity and scare the living shit out of you.
The A.V. Club: We talked earlier this year on the eve of the Republican National Convention, but we thought it might be interesting to catch up and see what you’ve learned since.
Jordan Klepper: Ahh! You think there’s something to learn from this chaos?
AVC: Well, that’s the first question. Have you learned anything? Has anything become increasingly clear as time has gone on?
Roy Wood Jr.: If there was doubt of the partisan nature of this great country, we have removed that doubt. There are two pretty clear camps, and they love to beat each other up.
AVC: And it’s bigger than you might think. Donald Trump says some crazy things, and people are still behind him. They don’t care. That’s some divide.
RW: I think we learned more about what Trump’s end game is, which I still believe is to just have a television network.
JK: I think the problem with that is in doing all of this, he unleashed the kraken. The kraken being a bunch of people in this country.
RW: The bigoted kraken.
JK: The bigoted kraken apparently lives inside of a lot of people. It was lying dormant for a while, or at least understood that culturally that was unacceptable. And that lid has been blown off.
RW: He has unleashed the krackering. I don’t know how you spell that, but he’s definitely awoken this dark underbelly of people that definitely have some misguided hate in their hearts for country and people, and if anything, this election has probably left us more split as a country than any of the others. Even more so than Gore/Bush and the whole stolen 2000 election.
JK: It feels like the bar has officially been lowered. So, congratulations, America.
AVC: Do you think that can be fixed? Do you think come November 10th, 12th, that we are going to get over it?
RW: No, because Trump’s already set the table as win-win for himself. In that regard, he’s brilliant. Because it’s either: “I won. I’m president” or “They stole it from me,” and then people can always feel bad. It’s like the football team that didn’t get the call at the end of the game. You feel a little more sorry for them than if they just straight-up got outplayed: “Oh, well, there was a pass interference call they should have gotten. They got robbed. Trump got robbed. I’m still with Trump. I still hold to these beliefs.” That’s the dangerous part of all of this.
JK: I have some optimism that with a little bit of time and effort we can pull some of these things together.
I do think we really have lowered that bar and opened up the carcass of America, and we’re seeing that it’s a little more diseased than we thought. That doesn’t mean we’re dead. We’re one of those living carcasses that can be brought back to life. But it’s like, “Oh, I thought we were a little farther along when it came to race relations or when it came to the way in which we handled immigration.” But hearing this rhetoric, I do think we took a few steps back.
On the upside, I think it’s good to know that. I think there’s more out in the open and with more Wikileaks, there’s only going to be more out in the open. But with that comes a little bit of pain. It’s going to be a climb to get us back.
AVC: At The Daily Show, you are seeing some of the worst members of society and some of the best, I suppose.
RW: Jordan gets it worse than me. Jordan goes to all the Trump rallies now. He’s covering most of the stuff that’s on the ground, so he sees the lunacy at point-blank range.
JK: That’s why I feel like I’m coming off as pessimistic here. I will say the last one I went to, it was a real shift from the event I’d been to six months earlier. The rhetoric had ratcheted up to a point that really was shocking. As somebody who was perceived as part of the media, I was constantly being harassed. Homophobic slurs were being launched at me left and right. It had a very different feel. I left and wanted to take a big cleansing shower. And by that, I mean whiskey.
As we come up to the finish line now, it is a marathon, but one of those marathons where you don’t necessarily feel good that you ran it. You’re just sort of like, “I should have stayed home. Why have I been training for this for so long? This is exhausting. Humanity. Oh, god. And now my nipples are bleeding.”
RW: Man, nipples do bleed when you run.
JK: We’re at that phase of the election. Our nipples are bleeding.
AVC: Has anything from the left surprised you?
JK: I think the partisan nature has really solidified. In talking to people on both sides, people are ready to vote. Minds are made up. And I understand. Trump is such a unique candidate. He’s incredibly polarizing. But I see the same kind of blinders on the left. There’s perhaps a little less anger, but there is nothing that Hillary Clinton can do to stop most of this nation from voting for her. You do see people who are just buying into the narrative they want to hear, and they are pushing out the narrative they don’t. The echo chamber is ringing loudly.
RW: I think the scary thing that’s happening on the left is now the left knows what they can get away with and still be able to get power. Because if they find all the emails, you see all the emails, and you still don’t get in trouble for it… well then, the escalation for that level of corruption to the next level, to the next tier… it’s there. It’s possible. It’s not definite but in terms of, “Wow. We did all that and still people didn’t give a shit? Okay, well, let’s fucking ratchet it up this time.” Or you hope that it’s the opposite, and they go, “Phew. We almost got caught. Maybe we should start tightening up the ship.”
AVC: Are we any closer to having more than two parties?
JK: We were just watching the news a few minutes ago and seeing that Utah could go to an independent candidate, which is pretty shocking. Nobody is talking about the fact that a popular Republican or Democrat might not win Utah. Who knows if that pans out, though.
I think the nation is fairly ripe for it. I don’t know what it’s going to take to make that a legitimate reality, but if we’re ever going to take a good look at it, that could happen in the next few months.
RW: The media and the people who run the debates have to just invite the third parties. Regardless of, “Oh, you didn’t poll high enough so you’re not relevant and you’re bad for ratings.” It’s bad for ratings, but it’s still good for the country. You know, that’s probably the one thing Republicans and Democrats do agree on, that they don’t want to expand and have to split votes between more parties.
JK: Do you think Americans can really hold three separate ideas in their head at one time? That’s quite the ask.
RW: No, we can’t. We’re pretty much a two-choice country. That’s what we are. We’re Coke or Pepsi. You’re Apple or you’re Android.
JK: I don’t know if Mr. Pibb is ever really going to become president.
RW: RC Cola never really had a chance.
AVC: As a nation, we’re also basically forgetting about the House and the Senate. There are a lot of races this year besides just Clinton versus Trump.
JK: Oh, yeah, that giant thing that has gotten in the way of progress in the last eight years.
RW: Paul Ryan already said he’s going to focus his attention on making sure the Republicans don’t lose the House. At this point, the Republicans know that their best defense of a Clinton presidency is to make life a living hell for her on the floor the same way they’ve stopped Obama for the past two to four years.
JK: It’s interesting to see how Hillary appears to be pushing forward to work on those down-ballot races. It is fascinating. If you can look beyond the main event, these other events are going to dictate or not whether we get to do anything in the next eight years. That’s the unreported major phenomenon that is happening. There could be a big shift towards a Democratic Senate and maybe even a House. That would be pretty gigantic.
RW: You have a Republican governor in North Carolina that’s fighting to keep a discriminatory law on the books. You have the same type of lunacy happening in Alabama and Texas, and so a lot of these gubernatorial races and the Senate races… it all matters.
AVC: Do you consider yourselves journalists or members of the media? Do you feel like you have a responsibility to educate the public?
JK: I think we’re pretty open about who we are here. We’re comedians and a diverse group of people who come together to make this show. I think we are constantly asked day in and day out to find the things that we find frustrating or inspiring or that we’re passionate about, and attack it from that angle. I don’t like being lumped into the idea of being media, or liberal media for that point of view. I am not trained as a journalist.
What is interesting about comedy shows like this is you understand our point of view, hopefully. You understand where we’re coming from, what biases we may have, and the way in which we are attempting to satirize the news and the topics of the day. So I think people often respond to shows like ours because they understand what we are attempting to do. Then they can sift through that information, understanding the bias. Whereas with some of these other outlets, it may feel like you’re being sold something different from what they’re telling you.
RW: We’re an entertainment show, man. Our first job is to joke. You can make jokes about the current events. And if you happen to not watch any of the channels other than ours, and that’s how you get current events, great. That’s good.
That wasn’t the goal, though. The goal was to get you to laugh at the current event, because whether it’s us or John Oliver or Sam Bee or Seth Meyers or whoever, the first criticism will always be, “That show is not funny” or “It wasn’t funny tonight. They didn’t make me laugh.” It’s never going to be, “I don’t feel informed.” Not feeling informed will never be the first criticism of any entertainment news show that exists. It’s always judged on funny first, then the facts, and the realism, and the points that you’re trying to make.
JK: It’s an honor to be able to make television and content and have so many people watch it. I think we are aware of that, and we don’t take that lightly. Even Jon Stewart’s last show brought up the idea of the war on bullshit. All comedians fight that war. If you are frustrated about the things you see, no matter what medium, you owe it to yourself and the people you work with to call out some of that bullshit wherever you see it.
AVC: In that sense, is Donald Trump a gift or a curse to you?
JK: A lot of people talk about Donald Trump: “Oh, what a gift. He’s such an amazing character to make fun of.” And we all understand the humor that is in Donald Trump.
I, for one, can’t wait for this election to be over, because the curse of Donald Trump in a satirical comedy way is that, one, he’s such a large character; it’s hard to satirize at times. Two, he’s sucking all the air out of every room he walks into so every attempt leads to covering only him. You can’t turn a corner in New York City without people talking about Donald Trump, without talking about the same things about Donald Trump.
I, for one, am excited about talking about other things that are happening in this world. Being able to choose other things to comment on or to be frustrated by. It gets tiring to knock down the same bullshit that you hear every single day because it is the only thing people are focused on.
RW: It’s like if you love pizza but then someone goes, “You can only eat pizza for the next eight months.” And you go, “Oh, my god. I fucking hate pizza.” Trump was this great thing. It was perfect, because he’s the perfect type of guy that runs. But he was running with a group of other fairly sane GOP candidates. They all had their own weird views on stuff, but you thought, “Trump is just a wack job who won’t make it out of the first round. Oh, my god he made it to the semis. Oh, my god…” It’s like the NCAA March Madness tournament, and now Trump is the Cinderella team that nobody can stop talking about.
To the converse though, I feel like Trump has made people more active in this election. I know people who went to go register to vote solely because of Trump. They want to vote against him. It’s that type of galvanization of a country, and I don’t think that would have happened if it was just some GOP dude versus Hillary and they just yammered about policy, if nobody would have called someone a puppet or a nasty woman. That type of stuff has awakened voters to take some more serious looks at our political process and our policies.
So, if that conversation can be sustained post-Trump, then it probably was a good thing. But if it all just goes back to normal and he goes off to start hosting The Apprentice, then it was all for nothing.
AVC: I’d like to think that the campaign has galvanized the women’s movement a little. Hopefully all of this is a push toward not just keeping quiet anymore.
JK: I think you’re right. Hearing that tape and how some people respond to that tape has brought up some ugliness in American culture. But people are talking about it. You can’t deny that it’s there.
I’d like to think I’m pretty open and aware of the things happening around me, and I hear some of those things. Beyond that, I hear or see on my Facebook feed or out on the streets, other people echoing those things that I thought we’d maybe moved beyond. Like, “Oh, this is good. We need to talk about this. We’re not as far as we thought, so let’s deal with that.” And some people are dealing with that head-on. So that is inspiring to see.
AVC: Do you have any advice as to how we can heal as a country once this election is over?
RW: I think time is healing. The good thing about this election is it shows you which friends you should delete from Facebook. You’ll definitely get a good Facebook friend purge on November 9th, when you start seeing who starts yammering about whether or not the election was stolen.
JK: After the election, Thanksgiving is going to be right around the corner. You’re going to go home, and you’re going to meet people you love who are good people but may believe in things that you don’t believe in. That will be your first chance to talk about the Lions, the weather, about how the turkey is dry. Start there, with people who believe in different things than you. They may not be monsters. They might just have been bullied and tricked by monsters for a little while. There are good people out there. We just need to divorce them from some of the people they’ve been bullied into supporting.
RW: You know who’s really screwed? All the people who supported Trump and now have to go back to their regular lives post-campaign. If you’re Chris Christie, how do you go back to your regular life after being Trump’s doughboy? Everyone that supports Trump has to come back tail-tucked. It’s like if you dated the person everyone told you not to date, and you would say, “No, we’re in love.” Then they cheat on you for three years, and you have to go, “You were right. That was crazy. Why did I do that? Why didn’t you smack me?”
AVC: I’m still afraid, to be honest. I won’t be satisfied until probably inauguration day.
JK: Or until we see those results come in. I don’t think he’s ever going to admit that he loses. We’ve never seen an election like this. People need to vote, even people who are decided, because everyone is being fed the information they want to hear or the polls they want to hear. We’re not going to know until Election Day. For everyone out there, get out and vote. Don’t get complacent.
RW: The Cubs and Indians were in the World Series. It is the year of the underdog. Definitely go vote.