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‘Daily Show’ correspondent sees Hungary as ‘cautionary tale’ for US

Jordan Klepper says look no further than one Central European country for a “cautionary tale” about the decline of democracy that can serve as a glimpse into America’s future.

“It seems as if Americans have a lack of imagination when we talk about things like the degradation of democratic norms and values. I think people jump to hyperbolic images of a civil war or militarized police taking over parts of the country,” the comedian and “Daily Show” correspondent tells ITK.

“When you talk about that kind of chaos, you’re like, ‘Well, that’s never gonna happen in America — that feels hyperbolic.’ And I agree with that to some degree.”

But, in filming his new Comedy Central special, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Presents: Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe — Hungary for Democracy,” the comic says he found that the loss of rights are more gradual, happening as a “democratic slide towards authoritarianism.”

Klepper, 43, says he was inspired to document the political situation in Hungary under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán after years of covering pro-Trump Republicans and the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for his recurring “Fingers the Pulse” segment on “The Daily Show.” CPAC organizers are planning a conference in Budapest poised to be held next month.

“It felt like Hungary was taking on sort of an outsized role in the conservative movement and people were sort of pointing to it as a prime example of what conservativism could look like,” Klepper says he found while at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., in February. “And so we figured, let’s go there. Let’s get a sense of what’s happening on the ground. And what is it about Hungary that is so compelling to conservatives here in America?”

What he found in talking to Hungarians, Klepper says, is that anti-democratic policies are being “codified behind the scenes in a way that makes it harder for the minority party to get a voice, makes it harder to change laws, the Constitution gets shifted, the language gets shaped in a way where suddenly gender norms [and] the idea of a trans person doesn’t exist legally in the country.”

“I think for us, we’re starting to right now in Florida, see people police what you can say, and use homosexuality and the LGBTQ community as scapegoats for political points,” Klepper says. 

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education legislation — which critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — into law. The law restricts classroom instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s primary schools and prohibits educators of all grade levels from engaging in instruction on those topics in a manner that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for children.

“I think looking towards Hungary and see where that can go and how it can be utilized is a place to go for insight into what could be America’s future and what perhaps a smarter, more competent version of Donald Trump would look like in office,” says Klepper.

Asked what he’d tell critics, who might argue that Klepper is just another liberal comedian using his platform to attack the GOP, he replies, “I think we were just following the story of CPAC… The whole point of a place like that is to garner the troops and see which way they’re poking. What is the future of the conservative movements look like? And there is all this talk [at CPAC] about Hungary.”

“For that to be put on a pedestal at the forefront of conservative movement, I think I’m not inventing something out of thin air,” says Klepper.

But Klepper acknowledges the degradation of democracy — particularly amid the emerging refugee crisis as residents in Hungary’s neighboring Ukraine flee the Russian invasion that began in February — doesn’t exactly scream laugh-out-loud humor.

“I am a comedian who approaches the stories that are most compelling. We want to bring our sense of humor to it, but we take these stories very seriously,” he says, noting that a research team is also behind the half-hour TV special.

Going to places “where there’s tension,” Klepper argues, is “always good.”

“I find for man-on-the-street stuff, it comes from pointing out BS and logical fallacies — and so we find a lot of humor in that. What you’ll find at a Trump rally is finding hyperbole: Find the hypocritical statements that folks have, and try to ask them that one extra question that kind of knocks the air out of any of those arguments.”

“Comedy has gotten weird in the last 10 years,” he says. “I started at ‘The Daily Show’ where we played goofball, heightened versions of correspondents in front of a green screen. And over the course of a handful of years, I played out in the field talking to people face-to-face and involved in the stories and so I think we are seeing an evolution of what comedy is nowadays.”

Approaching a complicated topic with wisecracks and one-liners, Klepper says, makes the issues more accessible to audiences.

“I think people want to see the real stories and not just hear people at a desk talk about what’s happening thousands of miles away. I think it’s more compelling for us to go to those places, bring the stories back to our viewers and try to find a way into the story through comedy.”

“Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe — Hungary for Democracy” premieres Thursday at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Tags Daily Show hungary Jordan Klepper Trevor Noah

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