Late-night comedy is making a meal out of the toxic three-ring circus of the Trump administration. Every weekday evening into earliest morning, faux pundits take to their desks armed with quick punchlines and arch deep dives into the political disasters of the day, mining as many jokes as possible for an increasingly hungry audience from news that often feels catastrophic.
But one aspect of late-night comedy that gets relatively less attention than quotable monologues and breaking-news interviews is, ironically, the content that often requires bigger teams and considerably more time to produce. Field or on-the-street segments, in which correspondents pursue a story outside the confines of a studio, don’t tend to respond to the events of any single day and therefore don’t keep up with the news cycle’s rapid expiration dates. Instead, they dig into one subject at greater length, peppering their explorations with jokes along the way.
Since “The Daily Show” popularized the mockumentary take on this particular cable news staple, it’s fitting that two new attempts to make the comedic field segment relevant again come directly from its team of correspondents, both former and current. In docu-series “Klepper,” Jordan Klepper, who left the mother ship to helm his “Infowars”-style parody show “The Opposition,” the comedian embeds within sub-communities in an effort to better understand the country, from the inside out. A few days later, “The Daily Show” will premiere “Desi Lydic: Abroad,” an hourlong special from current correspondent Lydic in which she travels to three countries to highlight why they have much higher gender equality rankings than the United States does.
Of the two programs, “Desi Lydic: Abroad” will look more familiar to “Daily Show” fans for its overt stabs of humor and wry cynicism. The special opens with Lydic storming into the office of “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, furious that the U.S. was ranked 49th in the most recent Global Gender Gap Report; it ends with her screaming in helpless rage when she discovers that an updated version of the report knocks the nation down even further, to 51. In between existential breakdowns, she travels to Iceland (No. 1), Namibia (No. 13) and Spain (No. 24) to talk to some of the women making change and to show their progressive policies in action.
Lydic leans hard into her “well-meaning but naive feminist” character, emphasizing her relative lack of knowledge and experience in order to accentuate the expertise of her interview subjects. With barely 10 minutes to afford each country, “Abroad” has a similar problem to “Klepper” insomuch as there’s just not enough time for it to meaningfully explore the issues it raises, but it’s a sharp effort nonetheless. Tellingly, the most compelling parts of “Abroad” aren’t the “Rah-rah, sisterhood” moments underscored by inspiring music but the few scenes in which it allows for friction. Lydic running off camera to look up “intersectionality” and talking to younger Namibian women frustrated with how their country has formed around them is far more interesting than the bland “nevertheless, she persisted” montages that end the hour with a neat bow.
“Klepper,” too, trades on its host’s “Daily Show” persona — that of a privileged prepster whose ego was only outweighed by his obliviousness. He sometimes draws on that character, especially when trying to highlight how cushy his own life is in contrast with those of the people he’s interviewing. But “Klepper” isn’t a parody of “Viceland”-style documentaries. For the most part, the program is a completely earnest exploration of communities that don’t get as much media attention as they should — as “Klepper” and its host make plain.
With each episode clocking in at less than 21 minutes, the show struggles to go deeply enough into everything it pursues, leaving viewers with little more than an impression of the complex communities Klepper visits each week. But he’s clearly in awe of them, marveling at veterans channeling their grief into the bonkers experience of amateur wrestling, and teachers and undocumented students defying Georgia’s prohibitive university laws to educate and learn on their own terms. He even gets arrested for protesting alongside them at a hearing, and while he makes some jokes on his way to prison, he emphasizes that with this show, his priority isn’t making his audience laugh.
“If you’ve never thought twice about going to college or driving a car, and can get jokes while getting arrested, you’ve got some privilege,” Klepper says, “and you can use it to help others who aren’t so lucky.” “Klepper,” it seems, is his own attempt to do just that.