Reporting from a meticulously designed facsimile of a bunker for the first episode of his new Comedy Central series The Opposition, Jordan Klepper swiveled to face the camera and cocked a skeptical eyebrow. “That’s how they smuggle their ideas across the open borders of our mind,” he said. “I want to shut down those borders. I want to close your mind.”
What was he talking about? As far as The Opposition is concerned, it hardly matters.
The show — which premiered September 25 and will air four nights a week, Monday through Thursday — sees the former Daily Show correspondent shrugging on the persona of an all-purpose “alt-media” host whose No. 1 goal is to confirm his own biases. In introducing his audience to this character, Klepper hinged his monologue on the stalwart belief that everything he says and thinks is already awesome.
“Here at The Opposition, we believe in our own golden rule: May you only hear from others what you’ve already been telling yourself,” he declared.
When Comedy Central announced that Klepper would helm his own series, it sounded as though he would be trying to launch his own version of The Colbert Report, skewering Alex Jones instead of Bill O’Reilly. But throughout The Opposition’s early episodes, Klepper has dug into the news of the day — or, more accurately, his conspiracy theories about it — with less of Jones’s open fury and more arch skepticism.
In the name of offering more specific pastiches of familiar conservative media personas, Klepper debuted several “citizen journalist” sidekicks, ranging from flamboyant “provocateurs” to the suspicious hosts of “Oppo-Radio.” He brought on wonky commentators like author Kurt Andersen and activist DeRay Mckesson, introducing both guests and their joint interview with, “Here opposing me tonight...”
Basically: The Opposition is a mashup of a whole mess of conservative media staples. Sometimes it hits the mark; sometimes it doesn’t. So far, its mere attempt has turned out to be more interesting than I expected it would be. But as the show continues to sharpen its perspective — and bump up against real-life horror such as the deadly Las Vegas mass shooting, to which Klepper devoted exactly 45 out-of-character seconds at the top of his October 2 show — it will clearly need some real time to settle into a voice that can handle both the absurdity of what The Opposition is satirizing and the gravity of its consequences.
Five episodes in, here’s what The Opposition has going for and against it as it tries to carve out its own space in the otherwise crowded late-night television landscape.
The characters populating The Opposition’s paranoid universe are immediately recognizable — with one notable exception
As Klepper told reporters during a set visit with press the week before The Opposition premiered, the inspiration for the show came from his experiences attending Trump rallies as a correspondent for The Daily Show and speaking with alt-right devotees. He recounted how his alarm and fascination grew steadily, especially regarding how the people he met mostly consumed news via Facebook.
So when building his own show from scratch with an assortment of Daily Show producers, Klepper assembled a brigade of comedians who could play sidekicks to his host. Niccole Thurman, Tim Baltz, Laura Grey, Aaron Jackson, Josh Sharp, and Kobi Libii — none of whom ever appeared on The Daily Show — all play archetypes of both conservative media figures and the people who love them. Comedy duo Jackson and Sharp, for example, play two halves of a fiery Milo Yiannopoulos whole. Thurman is a black woman playing the kind of person who doesn’t care what Donald Trump does to the world at large so long as she makes out all right.
Whenever the citizen journalists are onscreen, The Opposition’s parody is sharp and specific. In the show’s second episode, Jackson and Sharp took on the outrage over Trump retweeting a doctored GIF of him hitting Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball by whining that the left just doesn’t have a sense of humor. “They think [jokes are] just about being funny, but jokes are actually about getting any reaction,” Jackson said. “A laugh, a gasp, a horrified scream that triggers past trauma...”
Besides, Sharp added later, “I’m gay, so if you criticize what I say at all, you’re a bigot.”
In the fourth episode, Libii tapped in to defend his general expertise in all things, insisting that any claim he makes is valid because his “greatest credential of all is certainty,” so it doesn’t matter if he has no actual qualifications to discuss the topic at hand.
The specificity of the citizen journalists is honed enough that they actually throw one larger issue with the show into stark relief: Klepper himself isn’t playing much of anyone. If anything, he’s essentially a personification of paranoia. But the way The Opposition is set up makes it feel like its host should be more rooted in something more immediately recognizable.
Klepper doesn’t have to spoof Alex Jones, but his delivery and sharp tailored suits make it feel like his “privileged prepster” Daily Show correspondent wandered off that set and started vlogging from his basement. If he wants to hit the sweet spot that Colbert did with The Colbert Report, he’ll have to hone his characterization into something just a little more extreme, to match the target of his satire.
Klepper is at his best when he’s clearly doing mental backflips to keep his “alternative facts” straight
At the beginning of every episode, Klepper stands in front of a bulletin board of paper scraps and news clippings from the “fake news” media, connected by literal stray threads. If the bulletin board could speak, it would beep like a malfunctioning smoke alarm — 100 percent sure there’s a fire somewhere but lacking the actual capacity to detect it.
The implication of this backdrop and every ensuing minute of The Opposition is that the people the show caricatures are constantly trying to connect the dots between completely disparate situations. And a closer look at the set — which I had the chance to inspect during the show’s pre-launch set visit — reveals the incredible amount of effort The Opposition’s production team put into selling its sendup of paranoia, from the chaotic bulletin board to Klepper’s stray screenplay for “A Guy, a Girl, and a Pizzagate.”
When I asked Klepper during that set visit how he would highlight alt-media hypocrisy without giving credence to dangerous ideas, he avoided specifics while explaining that it’s “a day-to-day question we’re asking ourselves.” In the opening week of his show, that sentiment mostly translated to sidestepping the details of what he’s parodying rather than the hyperbolic way that “underground” “news sources” tend to fabricate or finesse their own set of facts to fit their preferred narratives.
In episode three, Klepper took this approach to surreal new heights as his character confronted the fact that Tom Price — the health and human services secretary who would resign a couple of days later — had misused at least $400,000 in taxpayer money on private travel. “Whew!” Klepper sighed, eyes wide in panic. “Okay, I can do this.”
By “do this,” he meant “spin this story into something not just fine but GREAT.” And lo, after explaining that numbers are particularly tricky in politics because “some numbers are valid and support my argument, while others are backstabbing fakes that go against my argument,” he was off:
Four hundred thousand. Four. Four is the number of legs on a horse. Horses were popular in 1830. 18:30 is military time for 6:30. And 6:30 is when the sun goes down. Son is also a male child, which is who Tom Price was visiting, and visiting has eight letters. A son is half a father. Eight divided in half is four, and what has four letters? GOOD.
Was it ridiculous? Of course. But as Klepper has driven home again and again throughout The Opposition’s first five episodes, the kinds of alt-media figures he’s been observing hate admitting they might be wrong above all else, and will go to extremes to avoid it.
Ultimately, no matter how confused Klepper’s characterization is, he still manages to produce some solid moments — especially when he’s able to convey not just that the alt-media he’s mimicking regularly trades in falsehoods, but that it stretches itself to the point of snapping in order to do so.
The Opposition With Jordan Klepper airs Monday through Thursday at 11:30 pm Eastern on Comedy Central. Previous episodes are available to stream on Comedy Central’s website.
Update: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Jackson and Sharp’s joint portrayal of Milo Yiannopoulos. Vox apologizes for the error.