As anyone who read our Trevor Noah interview yesterday knows, The Daily Show is sending its entire show to cover both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. The cameramen are going. The writers are going. The interns are going. And, yes, the correspondents are going.
While on the ground in Philadelphia and Cleveland, correspondents like Jordan Klepper, Roy Wood Jr., Hasan Minhaj, and Ronny Chieng will be investigating everything from gun violence to local pizza and bringing their findings to the show. With the RNC kicking off next Monday, July 18, The A.V. Club thought it pertinent to talk to Klepper, Wood, Minhaj, and Chieng about what their goals are for the conventions, pizza and all, as well as the perspective they’ve gained on the election cycle as a whole.
The A.V. Club: What’s the most interesting thing about covering the conventions, and why is it important that you’re there?
Roy Wood Jr.: It’s important because this only comes once every four years, and Trump has created a very interesting set of circumstances. This is one of the first conventions that I can think of where it will probably be as interesting outside the building as it is inside the building. So it’s definitely a unique set of circumstances, and I’m excited to be in that mix.
Jordan Klepper: It really feels like so many ideas, people, conflicts, and energies will be converging onto two cities over the course of a two-week period. With this show we get to travel around for field pieces, but we rarely get to go to events like these. To actually be there and talk to people and get the feel on the ground is going to be fascinating on a personal level, but as satirists, comedians, and people who are interested in the political world, there’s no better place to see how American politics is doing. We’re going to gauge the temperature. Basically we’re going to take the thermometer, stick it up the convention’s ass, and see if it sticks. I think that’s how you do it.
Ronny Chieng: First of all, I’ve never been to Cleveland or Philadelphia, so I’m excited to go to both cities for the first time, and second of all, as Roy said, you only get presidential elections once every four years—
Klepper: We’re going to fact-check that.
Chieng: —and also, this is what this show covers. The presidential election is one of the main events. It’s exciting to be covering a main event like that. On top of that, it is a crazier-than-usual election period because of the characters involved. Specifically with the Republican side, there’s a very interesting, controversial figure who, unfortunately, attracts a lot of eyeballs.
AVC: What do you expect to happen?
Klepper: I think if the Earth doesn’t open up and we all don’t fall down into the depths of hell, it’s going to go better than we expect.
Wood: You really think that?
Klepper: It’s a tumultuous time right now, politically speaking, and you watched the news this week. I think the country feels more on edge than I’ve felt it has been in quite some time. So I don’t know what to expect, but I do expect people to be engaged and passionate, which could turn into something very positive, but there are also a lot of people out there who think it could become, perhaps, more contentious, maybe even violent. Those things are a little bit scary. [Monday’s] New York Times talked about open carry in Cleveland and how that’s now scaring the police, and they don’t know how to deal with it. That’s not the most fun article to read as you pack your suit to go to Cleveland.
Hasan Minhaj: I also think with the backdrop of what’s happening in regards to race relations and police brutality, it’s going to be really interesting that we’re going to the RNC first, and the GOP is the whitest party. We’re going to see how they’re going to respond to bridging a nation that is now divided.
AVC: What kind of local stories are you working on for Cleveland and Philadelphia?
Wood: I know that when it comes to reaching out to the locals and getting the temperature of the city from a local perspective—I’m still waiting for the producers to sign off on this, but I want to go to Slyman’s, because that place is quintessential Cleveland. That and I think it’s Mike’s Pizza on Ontario? It’s a dump of a place. Great pizza but it’s the most honest people that I’ve ever interacted with in Cleveland.
Klepper: How do you know about these places?
Wood: I’m a fat bitch, man! A pizza place and a fuckin’ corned beef shop.
Minhaj: Roy is channeling his inner John Kasich. [All laugh.]
Chieng: For Philly, we’re working on a mandatory Rocky parody but still working out the logistics. So don’t tell anybody about that.
Minhaj: Why would you say that in an interview, Ronny?
Chieng: It was a joke, Hasan.
AVC: Have you developed any sort of perspective on the election cycle yet?
Chieng: I don’t have much of a perspective because this is the first election I’ve covered.
Minhaj: Yeah, we’re actually really confused as to why Ronny is here.
Minhaj: What I find to be really fascinating is I did a field piece in Canada and talking to Canadian locals. Their entire election cycle is less than 100 days. To juxtapose that with America—where our election cycle and the countdown to the 2016 election is almost 600 days—is absolutely insane. Couple that with us being inundated with 24-hour news coverage, and it’s hard to gain any perspective because things are happening so fast. With social media and 24-hour news, it feels like we’re in this constant whirlwind, and it’s really tough to gain some perspective.
The thing that I’m looking forward to is being at the conventions and then looking back to see what has happened leading up to the conventions, and then in November when we see who wins the election, looking back at the conventions and seeing how things shaped up and came from there.
Chieng: To add onto that coverage thing, I can say that when I lived in Singapore, I lived in Australia, I lived in Malaysia, we all followed U.S. elections, so it’s a really global thing as well.
Klepper: We’ve had the opportunity to go to some campaign events, talk to supporters, and gauge the temperature where people are standing, and I think it’s really easy to simplify this election and the types of people who support the different candidates. In a very general sense, people are angry and frustrated. I think it’s too easy to paint with broad strokes and say, “Well, it’s because of racism” or “It’s because of anti-immigration policies.” We want to put everybody into one camp, and this country is full of many, many different camps. Most of them frustrated, some—from an outside perspective—rightfully so, and some are completely biased based on the input that they’re getting both from the news media and their Facebook feeds. It’s a complicated gathering of Americans. This convention will be a good place to talk to some of them to see what’s the word on the ground and not just what the media outlets are telling us.
Minhaj: God, Jordan, stop talking about politics with nuance and depth! We just want easy answers. I want my answers to political questions like CNN headlines: all caps, 108-point font, with multiple exclamation points at the end.
Klepper: It’s just too easy to stay all bad or all good.
Minhaj: Tell me who to hate, Jordan.
Klepper: We have weeks of programming. We may need to go into nuance, which scares Ronny because he knows nothing about this political process.
Chieng: Republicans are bad. Democrats are good. Right?
Klepper: Ronny, watch The West Wing. That’s how I know about politics.
AVC: Normally with the conventions, there are no surprises. We know who the nominee is, we know they speak the last night, and everything’s rote. With the RNC, at least, it seems like things could get a bit hinky.
Minhaj: Well, same with the DNC. We didn’t know if a contested convention was going to happen, and then Bernie endorsed Hillary.
Klepper: But we don’t know who’s going to speak at the RNC. We’ve heard nothing but a laundry list of sports stars from 30 to 60 years ago who might show up, so it may just turn into a baseball card convention.
Chieng: Pitbull might be there for the Republicans.
Minhaj: [Mike] Tyson. Tyson!
Wood: Like Hasan, I’m awaiting Tyson, and Pitbull’s performance, at halftime.
Klepper: I’m actually awaiting their nomination as a vice president.
Wood: I think it’s going to be Christie.
Klepper: Pitbull is more likable and could actually move the country farther along than Chris Christie could, to be honest with you.
Wood: Really, you would take Pitbull over Chris Christie?
Minhaj: You know what’s crazy? The way we’re throwing out names right now, it sounds like it’s not a Republican National Convention. It sounds like it’s the dais of a Comedy Central roast.
Klepper: No, it sounds like we’re a college programming committee and we’re on our second page of choices.
Minhaj: Yeah, we’re like, “Wait, wait. These are our choices: Chris Christie, Snoop Dogg, Mike Tyson, Charlie Sheen, or Pitbull.”
Klepper: It’s not even the first page though. These aren’t even first choices. It’s like, “All right, John Mayer said no…”
AVC: “Dave Matthews Band is a no.”
Minhaj: [Laughs.] “We can get the drummer from Dave Matthews Band, or we can get two of the eyes from Third Eye Blind. That’s all the yeses we’ve gotten.”
AVC: With the RNC, what’s the best thing that could come out of the convention?
Wood: The best thing that could come out of the RNC is Trump speaking every night. That was a rumor, and I don’t know if it’s still circulating now, but if Trump spoke every night, how awesome would the gems of stupidity be?
Klepper: From their perspective, I think if Trump can come across as mildly put together and a little bit hopeful, you’re going to have more eyes on the moderate middle of the country than he’s ever had. The bar is so low for him to act like an adult in public that he could actually have a really successful RNC by just not having an unsuccessful RNC. I’m fascinated to see if he can resist the temptation to be outlandish, but if he does that, I think Republicans are going to be pretty happy.
Minhaj: Donald Trump’s big key to the game would be not being insane. That could be a huge win for him.
Chieng: I would love to see Charlie Sheen speak at the RNC.
Wood: This is the worst-case or best-case scenario?
Chieng: Well, both.
Wood: I think worst case is that it could get ugly outside. You don’t know which way the wind’s going to blow with that. You just want peaceful protesting, but everybody’s on edge, so that’s the most volatile part.
Klepper: And honestly, speaking from an American citizen and a voter’s point of view, Roy is completely correct. Outside there are so many issues taking place, and there are people who are upset and they’re looking for a way forward, and we joke, but what’s happening inside is that you have four days where a party that could be put into power in the next few months could talk about ways in which to make those people outside feel safer, and if they don’t do that, I think that is a crime, and I think it’s despicable—on both sides. This country needs these people to be adults and to think about the country over themselves. And so that pressure will be more present than it ever has been, and if they don’t take that opportunity to be clear about what they could do, I think that’s a real shame.
AVC: That’s hard, because at the RNC, for instance, they might think the best way they can make people feel safer is to arm everyone, and the people outside might disagree with them.
Klepper: I think it’s easy to play into people’s fears, and that only goes sour. We’re at a time where our better angels should sweep on down and try to pull this country together. We’re better than this.
AVC: Do you think things are objectively worse than they’ve ever been or are we just more aware of inequality and injustice because of shows like yours and Fox News and social media?
Wood: I don’t think we’re in a state of increased violence, but I do think we’re in a state of increased recording and capturing of said acts. There are more ways to see the wrongdoing, and there are more ways to speak out against wrongdoing. As a result, both things have been magnified to levels that you can’t ignore now. You can’t sweep it under the rug. It’s not hearsay. Especially with the 24-hour news cycle where they’re dying for content, they’re more likely to run stuff that. Years ago, Headline News used to only run on an eight-hour loop, as in every eight hours they updated the stories. And now, CNN will literally update right before your eyes. You’ll see something in the rundown, and it’ll get deleted and something else will get slotted in.
Minhaj: To add onto what Roy was saying, we saw this past week in regards to police violence and in regards to the shooting and killing that happened on Facebook live. Now that citizens can watch civilians getting murdered in real time—and I know this is very, very dark to say—we’ve all now become witnesses to the atrocities of our country in real time. That’s never happened in history before. In terms of the legal, evidentiary value of that footage, it’s undeniable. We are now, literally, all witnesses. In the past, [e.g.] Arab Spring, you would have things being recorded, and then they would be presented to people. It would be hours after the fact or days after the fact, and that would raise the question of, “Is this evidence doctored or was it changed? Did it really happen? Was it Photoshopped?”
Facebook Live is a true game changer. There’s something so palpable, real, and unshakeable about watching someone die in real time. We as a society are now all witnesses. That being said, these horrible things have all happened before, but we live in a Minority Report world where now we’re just seeing it in real time. The only way it can get more real is if the Precogs allow us to see murder and violence and injustice before it actually happens. But that’s not going to happen. So it’s the realest it’s ever been, I think. Sorry, there’s no joke there.
AVC: Do you think a show like The Daily Show has the potential to bring about social change? When you’re doing stories, how much of a journalist are you and how much of a comedian are you?
Klepper: We’re pushed to follow the things that we care about and engage with people, and so you’re hopefully speaking toward stories that you have an opinion on and that upset you or inspire you. From that angle, those are the stories that we engage most in.
As far as a rule within comedy and/or journalism, we are a comedy show, but hopefully by approaching it from a different angle, it becomes clear that we’re trying to do with it.
I feel great when I hear people have become more engaged with the news or with the events around them because of our show. I hope those people who become engaged check out other news sources as well. Part of what we are satirizing are the ways in which the news is processed and delivered, and that is something that needs scrutiny. It needs support, as well. But a more engaged public makes it better for all of us.
Wood: I was told when I was hired here that we’re a comedy show first, and that was always the mantra, but we do handle subjects that are important to people. Any opportunity that you can get to shine light on new information or present a fair point of view to an issue while also being funny, that’s a great added bonus to any story. Any time we can marry the two, it’s definitely a victory.
Chieng: We are definitely a comedy show first, but what separates this show from a YouTube channel is that we are awesome, and also when we do comedy we try to have a point to it. To answer your question, we are a comedy show first, but we try to make everything have a broader point.
Wood: It’s two totally different approaches creatively when you go, “Argh, I’m angry! Now how can I make this funny?” versus, “How can I make this funny? Now where in the midst of all this funny can I plug in the important things that I think you should know or that are interesting to the story?”
Klepper: Acting from a place of frustration, it forces you to look a little bit closer at “what am I frustrated about, and how do I get this point across, and is there a more unique way to do it? Also, can I find some levity in the darkness?” Oof. [Laughs.]
AVC: That seems like a good and dark place to wrap up.
Klepper: Where’s a funny place to put a dick joke? That’s pretty huge. There’s got to be a funny place to put a dick joke. Does somebody’s head look more like a dick than somebody else’s head? Does something rhyme with dick? That would be a fun story to follow. Really, our first path probably has to do with that.