Inside John Kasich and Jordan Klepper’s Unlikely Marriage

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

John Kasich is the straight-talking, stone-faced ex-governor of Ohio (and presidential candidate) known for breaking with the GOP to denounce Donald Trump. Jordan Klepper is a sarcastic, fresh-faced comic known for his tense stand-offs with conspiracy theorists and MAGA cultists on The Daily Show. On paper, they seem the strangest of bedfellows, but the 69-year-old conservative and 42-year-old lefty have a lot more in common than you think.

“We’re not trying to be didactic about ‘This is how we’re trying to get on the same page, people,’” offers Klepper. “I think we just get on the same page about things and organically find interesting conversations.”

Their new podcast, Kasich & Klepper, sees the odd couple engage in frank, in-depth discussions with a variety of personalities, from sports broadcasting legend Bob Costas to Grammy-nominated country star Margo Price. It’s not a left-right cafeteria fight, like so many cable-news shows these days, or an incendiary culture-war gabfest, like The Joe Rogan Experience. As Klepper puts it, it’s as though you’ve sidled up to the bar with a glass of whiskey in hand and are listening in on an enlightening talk.

“We don’t want to have another political battle. It’s so boring,” says Kasich. “But to have something where people can kind of breathe and think, OK, I’m not going to be driving my car and there’s going to be some fight and I’m going to crash into a snowbank, but think, OK, this is fun, this is eye-opening.”

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It’s evident through the first batch of Kasich & Klepper episodes that the pair have intriguing chemistry, whether it’s throwing potshots each other’s way over their Ohio vs. Michigan sports rivalry (Klepper hails from Kalamazoo), or the comic needling the politician over how he loves to name-drop the time he hung out with Bono (for the record, Kasich is “on a personal mission to get Dave Grohl” for the pod).

And so, we got Kasich and Klepper together to discuss their new podcast and much more.

How did you two hook up for this? Did one of you answer a Craiglist ad or something?

Klepper: That’s right—the governor is all over Craigslist posting for podcasting. There’s gotta be better formats for it! No, I was asked. Somebody said, “There might be an interesting podcast to do with Governor Kasich.” I was also taken aback by that idea. The first step was, OK, why don’t you guys get in a room together—it was a Zoom room, since this was the Zoom era—and just kind of chat a little bit about your interests and what have you. And the governor will tell you, I don’t think either of us was interested in doing a left-versus-right, let’s-argue-over-these-things conversation. That’s happening all over the internet right now, and all over the world.

We spent most of our time talking about music and cultural passions. And when we did come around to other political topics, we came around with an open ear because we met on this other fun plane. We laughed and it almost felt like Thanksgiving dinner, where you’re with an old family member chatting about these things far away from the political spectrum. We thought that would be an interesting place to start these kinds of conversations. They’re always started at the point of conflict and politics, and for the two of us, we thought we’d start it at the point of interest and curiosity.

Kasich: What happened, Marlow, is that people kind of listened to us for a little while talking, and I’ve never quite understood this issue of “chemistry,” but they say we have good chemistry. It’s kind of natural. It’s fun. We’re having a good time. It’s enjoyable. We’re both learning things we didn’t think we were gonna learn. It’s good stuff.

When you first bonded over music, was it about Kasich’s meeting with Bono?

Klepper: [Laughs] Governor Kasich is gonna bring that meeting up. I’m surprised he hasn’t brought it up already!

Kasich: I’m never talking about it again. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.

Klepper: Governor Kasich has a surprising amount of rock love and fandom that I was a little taken aback by. I didn’t think we’d go to Foo Fighters so quickly, but we did, and I think that was part of the fun of it.

Kasich: Just the other day, Jordan suggested a woman by the name of Margo Price—I think she’s country but moves in between that world and the pop world. We did an interview with her and she was so great, and the music is so good, so now I’ve got her on my Spotify playlist.

Klepper: This is the ulterior motive here: I’m trying to get Governor Kasich to weep uncontrollably, and I think Governor Kasich is trying to get me to become a Christian by the end of it. We’re sort of working our own separate games. I need to find God, and I’m gonna get Governor Kasich to weep to alt-country music.

So, would Creed be the middle ground here?

Kasich: [Laughs] You bring up Creed with most people and they wanna cancel you right then!

It’s not really a left-right thing, but you two do seem to find a lot of common ground in the pod. Was that the message? To show that, in a divided time, you can find common ground with people on the other side of the aisle?

Klepper: I think we came into this from an open place of curiosity and liking the conversation we’re having. There’s a lot of talk in culture right now of “this is how we find common ground,” and I think Governor Kasich and I naturally found it by sharing our cultural identities and curiosities. I don’t think we’re coming at it from “this is a road map for doing it,” but we’ve stumbled upon a way of naturally finding it. People will probably come to this as a fan of mine or a fan of the governor’s and be a little bit surprised by what the other person has both in common and what that other person is interested in. We even said, hey, as we start booking guests, let’s each come to the table with people we love and want to know more about—even if the other doesn’t know much about them.

Kasich: The thing is, this is not that complicated: Jordan is curious, I’m curious, and there are very few conversations today. What we’re trying to do, and I think we’re starting to do, is to get people to share their stories and what their particular points of view are.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Comedian Jordan Klepper hosts the premiere of Comedy Central's <em>The Opposition with Jordan Klepper</em> on September 25, 2017, in New York City. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Brad Barket/Getty</div>

Comedian Jordan Klepper hosts the premiere of Comedy Central's The Opposition with Jordan Klepper on September 25, 2017, in New York City.

Brad Barket/Getty

This isn’t really even a left-right thing, because Governor Kasich, you’ve been pulled toward the center in recent years, due to the GOP moving so far to the right.

Kasich: No, I haven’t been pulled anywhere. I haven’t moved at all. Everybody’s moving away. I’m still what I’ve been, politically, for a long time. But there are forces out there that are moving people in crazy directions. I don’t move that way, and I’m not too worried where they are. I’m comfortable with what I’m doing, and I’m not interested in seeking their approval.

You are one of the few people in the Republican Party who’s stood their ground and spoken out against its move to the far-right, and I’m curious how that’s been for you.

Kasich: It hasn’t been difficult at all. Who am I answering to? I’m only answering to a couple of people—an audience of one up above, and then my wife, and some of my friends. But, you know, I do my thing. It’s not a problem—not an issue for me. People don’t like it? I want ‘em to like it, but if they don’t, I’m not going to change who I am to satisfy them.

I’m curious what your thoughts are on the furor over Joe Rogan, because I think it speaks to an important issue regarding podcasts, which is the responsibility of the platform and its relationship to the public, and how if you have people on who are pushing dangerous lies, it’s important to push back on those.

Kasich: I think we’re all concerned about the dilemma of social media. Look, right now, the reality is too many people in our country live in their own silo and gobble up that which they agree with. That is dangerous. This is a problem that we have to think about as it relates to social media. In regard to Rogan, you know, I’ve never heard his podcast. I’ll tell you this: I give a lot of credit to Neil Young for standing up, but that’s who Neil Young is. In terms of how it relates to us, we’re not interested in putting extremists on. Again, we want people to have an interesting conversation—to get them to think about their own lives, and what matters to them. But the problem with social media is real, and it’s evolving. How do we deal with this? How do we think about the way it works? I don’t have the answer. There’s the issue of free speech, but there’s also the issue of responsibility.

Klepper: I think you have a responsibility for anything you say in front of a microphone and put out there. That’s what the microphone’s for—amplifying your point of view, and your ideas—and I have no problem with there being any kind of criticism of somebody who says something from a platform like that. Like Governor Kasich said, I respect what Neil Young and the other artists have done. Misinformation is a really destructive force in America right now, and I think it’s unfortunate that we are in our silos and refuse to hear outside perspectives. I have not heard all of the Rogan podcasts where he brings folks on, and so I can’t comment incredibly in-depth on that misinformation, but I do think it’s dangerous if you’re putting people on and you’re not checking them. That is your responsibility. I think the platform also has a responsibility for what they’re putting out to the ears of people—who’s paying for that, and what you are paying for.

I’m curious how you can find common ground with a party that declared the Jan. 6 insurrection “legitimate political discourse?” How can anyone find common ground with that?

Kasich: Well, we don’t try to find common ground with that. We think those people are nuts, so there’s our common ground.

But it’s Republican Party leadership that declared it “legitimate political discourse.” It’s the leadership of an entire political party.

Kasich: What party? There’s no party with me. They don’t speak for me any more than any party. I speak for me. My party, the Republican Party—of which I’m still a member—is my vehicle, but they’re not my master. I don’t check in somewhere and get talking points, but I think you just gave us an idea here to have maybe a Ben Smith on or someone to talk about the way we navigate social media. But frankly, people are kind of worn out now.

I watched the news that entire day on Jan. 6 and was shocked by what I saw, so for the Republican National Committee to call it “legitimate political discourse” is nuts.

Kasich: What they did was crazy. Crazy. Period. End of story. What else do you want me to say? That’s like saying, well, because the Pope says something then everybody has to agree with it. The RNC and all these organizations are so yesterday. And people in the media who don’t really understand politics, they focus on this, but they just don’t understand it. Oh, look at what the RNC said. Who cares? I’m more interested in what the weatherman has to say today, and I know that the weatherman is going to be wrong two out of three times and I’m beginning to think that’s how the RNC is.

And Jordan, you were there that day, so how do you feel about this brainwashing attempt that’s going on within the Republican Party to make us forget just how horrific Jan. 6 was? Again, this is the leadership of one of the two major political parties in the U.S. declaring it “legitimate political discourse.”

Klepper: It’s really given me the opportunity to look back on that, and the man dressed in fatigues who tripped my cameraman and then ran up toward the Capitol with other men with zip ties. Maybe they were “legitimately discoursing” with me at the time and I was a little too harsh on them. So, perhaps it’s an opportunity for me to grow, to hear some of this. [Laughs] No. When I hear that, it’s totally bullshit. It’s politics, politics, politics. That’s what’s so mind-numbing and infuriating. That party is trying to rewrite history, and it’s trying to give folks an out in conversations. When I go to Trump rallies and events, folks are just looking for a piece of BS to get on to the next question. So, when you give them an uncomfortable truth, like, “Do you support what happened at the Capitol?” what they immediately are doing is, can I point to something? More often than not, it’s whataboutism. Can I point to something that the left did? AOC? Antifa? Oh great, I can say this is “legitimate political discourse.” Trump did the same thing when he started to call Jan. 6 a “protest.” All of these are essentially marketing teams who are throwing BS to the foot soldiers so they don’t feel uncomfortable with press. And it’s scary.

It feels like right now, you have the majority of a party who refuses to even have the conversation about having a conversation, and it’s really frustrating. The governor has hope in the ideals of a lot of the folks in this country, and sometimes we come to loggerheads because I don’t always share that. When it comes to politics and governing, you have one party that’s attempting politics and then governing, and you have another party who’s just trying to be really good at politics. When you play like that with no real accountability, or even what feels like a moral center, you’re left in a scary place. You’re left with folks who are denying even that the democratic process existed in any legitimate form last election. When you deny that, and you don’t allow yourself to change and have faith in those institutions, then you have a shaky country that’s losing faith altogether, and that’s a scary thing for us.

Kasich: The one thing I do get concerned about is, you’ve got to look at everything across the board. I don’t know who was out there lighting fires and trying to damage the federal building in Portland, but from what I understand, it was a lot of people on the hard left. It takes two to tango. So, when we look at what the RNC said about January 6, it’s outrageous, but there are things that are being said on the hard left—the woke left. We can’t just say, if Donald Trump was gone everything would be normal again. No, it wouldn’t, because he accelerated the divisions that had been existing in our country. You gotta look at it across the board, and fairly.

Klepper: To push back on the governor there, I think it’s apples and oranges, but I will open my ears and say that the left has rigidity, and has a hard time talking about the violence in places like [Portland]. And I understand that there is anxiety from the right about those things, and I think some of that comes from an earnest place, and some of that comes from a more manipulative place that denies accountability for some of the frustrations that they have. You have a country that’s upset about what’s happening. For some of the country, it’s because of the institutionalized problems; and for some of the country, it’s because they think they’re losing some of the values of the country that they feel were there for them in the first place. What I like about the conversations I have with Governor Kasich about this is, I don’t agree with Governor Kasich on all political points of view, but I do respect the fact that when some of the BS hit the fan, he stood up and was able to support another party because it was more about the country and the ideas there than it was about the R or the D. I have family members in the Midwest and all throughout the country who look at Governor Kasich and find themselves in the middle but aren’t able to have that conversation because it’s all about R or D right now.

<div class="inline-image__title">514338796</div> <div class="inline-image__caption"><p>"LANSING, MI - MARCH 08: Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich greets supporters following a rally at the Lansing Brewing Company on March 8, 2016 in Lansing, Michigan. Voters in Michigan go to the polls today to select their partys presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)"</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Scott Olson</div>
514338796

"LANSING, MI - MARCH 08: Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich greets supporters following a rally at the Lansing Brewing Company on March 8, 2016 in Lansing, Michigan. Voters in Michigan go to the polls today to select their partys presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)"

Scott Olson

Governor Kasich, just to go back to what you said about Portland, a hundred or so young anarchists dressed in black clashing with police is not nearly the same as what happened on Jan. 6, right?

Kasich: No, no, no. What I’m trying to say to you is, it’s both sides that can get themselves locked in. And by the way, if you want to talk about the party of Trump, there are a lot of people in the party of Trump who are Democrats! They were frustrated with their lives, so they voted for Trump. We know that. It’s that what’s happening in the country is we’re not listening to one another, and there are people who say, “If any change comes to the values I grew up with it’s a disaster,” and there are people on the left who say, “The values that we’ve had are all wrong and we need to start over.” That’s what’s going on, in my opinion.

Governor Kasich, you used to host a show on Fox News back in the early 2000s. But it’s now a network that’s not only tried to minimize the events of Jan. 6 but also spread a number of conspiracies about the election and the pandemic. How do you feel about the network today?

Kasich: I don’t trash people that I used to work with, so I’ll leave it to Jordan.

Klepper: Well, in that case, I never worked for Fox News and I think it’s an embarrassment, it’s hurting our country, and the only hope that I have is the fact that people got upset when Fox News didn’t one hundred percent back Donald Trump and then they jumped to places like OAN and Newsmax, and nobody knows where to find OAN and Newsmax on the television. So maybe the fact that Spectrum Cable makes it so hard to find these other places may give us hope for the future.

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Governor Kasich, how do you feel about Jordan’s brand of videos now where he confronts Trump cultists and tries to break down their strange logic—or lack thereof?

Kasich: He’s a very talented guy. He does a good job, it gives people a lot of pleasure, they enjoy him, and god bless him.

How do we deprogram members of the Trump cult? We have an entire political party that’s fallen under the sway of one man and become a cult of personality, so how do you get those people back to reality?

Klepper: Well, it’s a couple things. I do think—and we’ve talked about this here—we’re in our silos. Social media can be really dangerous and it’s telling you the things you want to hear. So, step one, break out of that silo. Mark Twain would say “travel,” as it’s the fastest way to break down inhibitions and prejudices against other people. So, get out, see other people, and talk to other people, because the bubble is killing us right now. Media institutions that are pushing narratives that are harmful to folks for profit—I think we need to hold their feet to the fire. But that’s an institution problem. When I go out to the Trump rallies and I’m talking to folks, it breaks my heart. You find these things not out of craziness, but because there’s a hole that you need to fill. You need a sense of belonging—a sense of meaning in your life. I relate to that. I joined an improv group because I needed to feel like I belonged. We have a culture that doesn’t give people a lot of opportunities to belong and have a sense of meaning. You can find that in religion, an improv group, or a lot of different places. How do we get to a place where we’re filling those very human needs with things that are worthwhile and beneficial?

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