Comedy Central star Jordan Klepper explains why he got arrested in Atlanta earlier this year

The ‘Klepper’ episode airs May 23

Originally posted Friday, May 17, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Jordan Klepper has been a Comedy Central staple, first as a correspondent for “The Daily Show,” then briefly with his own mock talk show “The Opposition” where he played an Alex Jones conspiracy-type buff. 

But he realized while doing “The Opposition” that he missed getting out on the road and interacting with the people. That’s where he thrived. 

So once Comedy Central dropped “The Opposition” last  year, he was able to segue into an on-the-road show called “Klepper” where he embedded himself in various sub-cultures to see their worlds through his comedic, self-deprecating eyes.

In the span of the first three episodes, he gets body-slammed, nearly drowns and in an episode airing May 23, he gets arrested and thrown in Fulton County jail for 12 hours.
Yes, the 40-year-old comic now has an official police record. In February, he joined several supporters of “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents as young kids but cannot receive in-state tuition and cannot attend the top public Georgia universities at all.

Unlike Lisa Ling on her more serious show on CNN in which she reports on similar subcultures, Klepper is not a journalist and doesn’t pretend to be. 

In Atlanta, he met students and volunteer organizers of Freedom University, an underground operation to teach undocumented students who can’t get into college. At a Feb. 12 protest of a Georgia Board of Regents meeting, Klepper stood up with other supporters and spoke, however awkwardly, as an “atheist surrounded by faith leaders.” Cops escorted him and the others out. When the protesters refused to leave the premises, the police arrested all of them, including Klepper. 

It wasn’t necessarily what he had envisioned but he found the whole concept of Freedom University fascinating.

“With so much focus on immigration, how do you tell one that hasn’t been told?” Klepper said. “This grabbed our attention. And they literally are underground because of hate groups going after them.”

Laura Emiko Soltisa volunteer educator for the university, guided Klepper around.  Many of the students were brave enough to be shown on camera. “They felt it was important to get the story out and be seen,” Klepper said. 

As he spent more time with the students, “I felt more inspired to be part of it and ended up in that Board of Regents meeting,” he said. 

“I come from a position of privilege,” he continued. “I have a TV show. I have a camera crew. It draws attention to stuff. I was able to weaponize my privilege. They were studying the civil rights movement and it became a no brainer. The right thing to do was stand there and be passive.”

But this was clearly outside his comfort zone. “I spent 40 years of my life desperately trying to run from anything that crossed lines. It was a very odd situation. I was tempted to go back in the meeting and apologize.”

The cops, he said, were very nice about the situation. They didn’t rough him up or anything. 

After being arrested and given the classic mug shot and fingerprints, he was also surprised to learn they did look in all his, um, orifices as well. 

“You drop’ em and cough,” he said. “They check everything. I hadn’t mentally thought through all of this but it is what it is. I find myself in a jail cell, a cramped room with a toilet everyone prays nobody will have to use.” 

And given that food consumption might force him to use the toilet, he passed on meals: “I added fasting to my protest.”

For a brief moment, when the jail officials found out he was part of a TV show, they placed him in his own cell. But that lasted only 35 to 40 minutes and he was soon placed back in general population. “They probably Googled some of my work and realized I wasn’t famous enough,” Klepper said. “The pastors were getting more attention than I was. Even in jail, I get upstaged!” 

And when others who had been arrested asked him why he was in jail and Klepper said he was in for disturbing the peace as a protester, “they broke out into laughter and said, ‘Keep that to yourself!’”

“They were not impressed,” he said. “As self righteous as I felt, it’s hard to explain the intricacies of the Georgia Board of Regents to people at 11 p.m. in Fulton County jail.” 

Despite the seriousness of the situation, this is Comedy Central. And this is Jordan Klepper. 

“I am super proud of this episode,” he said. “A lot of the humor comes with a guy like me as an interloper. In some ways, I’m an avatar for the audience. I’m uncomfortable. The students make fun of me a lot.”

On TV

“Klepper,” 10:30 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy Central

ON TV

“Klepper,” 10:30  p.m. Thursday, May 23

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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