When Jordan Klepper made his debut on The Daily Show in 2014, it was clear that he had a little Stephen Colbert in him. Or, to be more specific, a little “Stephen Colbert.” He was perfect at being the guy who was arguing for the wrong things for the express purpose of showing how wrong they were. In a given segment, he could be the frat bro type making #NotAllMen arguments in a conversation about rape, or he could be expressing enthusiasm for a Trump presidency because it would make him the first “openly asshole” president. Klepper was as good at being wrong as anyone since Colbert. That’s why it made all the sense in the world when he was given The Opposition, a Colbert Report-style show where Klepper plays a conservative character based on Alex Jones and other conspiracy theorists of his ilk. So far, the results have been encouraging, as through five episodes, Klepper has found quite a bit to mock about the Infowars world.
Whereas Colbert had a relatively easy target in Bill O’Reilly, Alex Jones is a bit harder to make fun of, if only because he’s so much of a self-parody to begin with. He shrieks at the top of his lungs about gay frogs, and you never know when he might take his shirt off. How are you supposed to exaggerate that? Thankfully, Klepper doesn’t try to. The character he embodies on The Opposition is far more subdued than Jones, and the mockery has more to do with his opinions than his personality. It’s a smart move; trying to out-crazy Jones would be a losing game, and Klepper’s act works better as a smug know-it-all than a lunatic who turns it up all the way to 11. Plus, the absurdity of some of the opinions being expressed is actually clearer when they are being said calmly and confidently rather than angrily. Klepper delivers his hot takes about chemtrails and false flags with all the assuredness of Walter Cronkite, and that really drives home the point about how ridiculous they are. After all, how could anyone say any of this with a straight face?
The Colbert Report’s DNA is all over The Opposition. Consider Thursday’s show, when Klepper laments the death of the Graham-Cassidy bill, which momentarily leaves the Affordable Care Act intact. “It pains me to say this on our fourth episode, but ladies and gentlemen, the fight is finished. We’ve lost,” he says before pretending to go to a commercial. Then, the camera pans in, and he says that he was just tricking all the liberals watching into thinking he was going to commercial, and now the real fight could begin. This bit recalls the Report’s “Colbert Platinum” segment, where Colbert would talk about financial issues and politely ask any non-rich people to change the channel because this didn’t concern them. Both shows embrace the notion that there are certain things “they” don’t want you to know, and that they’re the only news source you can believe.
Another segment from Klepper’s first week focused on “Which Numbers Can Be Trusted?” in which Klepper presents a given number from any given news story, and through some twisted logic, convinces us that it confirms his right-wing mindset. Trump’s 43% approval rating is good because it used to be even lower. The stock market being on the rise is somehow all Trump’s doing and not Obama’s. This is a bit like “The DaColbert Code,” a segment where Colbert used DaVinci Code-style logic to make predictions about things like the Oscars or the confirmation of Samuel Alito. When Colbert’s predictions were right, he called it. When they were wrong, it was always somehow not his fault. Colbert and Klepper’s characters both embrace the idea that their opinions only matter when they’re right. While The Opposition is a different entity and focuses on skewering on a different type of conservatism, it has undoubtedly learned a lot about satire from The Colbert Report. This may prove to be an issue as the show looks to carve out an identity for itself, but for now, it’s led to some great bits that have made me nostalgic for the glory days of the Report.
Going into Klepper’s second week on the air, there was a huge elephant in the room: What would he say about the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people? One of Alex Jones’s most reprehensible views is his oft-repeated claim that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax. Even this week Jones was railing about how the shooting in Las Vegas was a deep state conspiracy and once again going far beyond the boundaries of human decency. So, what would Klepper do? Would he say – even through the guise of a character – that what happened was some vast left-wing conspiracy? Are some things too vile to say even as a joke? Klepper decided not to go there, instead taking time at the beginning of the show to address (outside his character) the situation and express his sadness for what had happened. After that, he went into a bit praising Chance The Rapper for going after the “establishment cabal” that is Rotten Tomatoes for the 17% score they gave the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy The House. Klepper seemed to sense that the tragedy was too raw in viewers’ minds to target the idiocy that Jones spews when shootings like this happen. It was probably the right call, but I do hope that in the ensuing days, he goes after what Jones said. If he’s going to target the primary figure in the right-wing paranoia landscape, he’s eventually going to have to handle his most odious ideas.
The early returns on The Opposition have certainly been positive. Klepper is confident and sure-footed as he goes after his targets, while the show’s “Citizen Journalists” like Tim Baltz and Kobi Libii have demonstrated the potential to develop into stars. At times, the show seems a little bit too similar to The Colbert Report, but that problem will likely disappear as the show continues to find its own identity. As the Trump era marches on, paranoid creeps like Jones are going to continue to sell their dangerous ideologies to gullible folks who will gleefully swallow anything that agrees with what they already believe. Klepper seems well-equipped to be the primary voice deconstructing their nonsense and showing it to be the utter bullshit that it really is.
Photo by Brad Barket.