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Viewers won’t need to look further than the set of “The Opposition,” Comedy Central’s new political comedy show, to see how the new generation of right-leaning media has changed American political discourse.
While Stephen Colbert’s set during the late 2000s was adorned with a gratuitous number of flags and American iconography, and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” set featured an over-the-top rotating globe, incoming host Jordan Klepper’s is different.
One of the most prominent features of the set of “The Opposition” is a permanently installed Murder Board, a tackboard reminiscent of “A Beautiful Mind” with nonsense scribbled next to a 2016 electoral map, and images and arrows linking Beyoncé, former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Taylor Swift, and, of course, Hillary Clinton.
For Klepper, the figures and scrawling on the board represent the obsession and paranoid thinking of the emerging right-wing-media landscape during the era of President Donald Trump, in which he said the “bar for what now we can put out there to make our case was lowered immensely.”
“You just need a shred. A shred of something that you can weave into something larger,” Klepper told Business Insider in an interview in his office a week before the show’s debut. “Donald Trump was the best at ‘I heard a thing, I’m in a position of power by repeating it, I now legitimize it to millions, to my 30-plus million followers, and I’m in a position where people just trust those things that I say.'”
‘The starting point is the normalization of bulls—‘
Debuting Monday evening on Comedy Central, “The Opposition” satirizes the emergence of a media ecosystem built on weaponizing those small facts and incidents that inflame cultural divides or buoy conspiracy theorists.
Trump’s ascendance split conservative media, pitting the traditional conservative intelligentsia at outlets like The National Review and The Weekly Standard against pro-Trump anti-“globalist” bloggers at sites like Breitbart News. No longer were the opinion programs on Fox News dominated by pundits towing the Republican Party line – pro-Trump Republicans clashed often on air with “Never Trump”-ers.
Long dismissed or relegated to the fringes, the antiestablishment online right found new power in an administration recently staffed by right-wing-media figures such as Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon. Enthusiastic collaborators on Fox News, included host Sean Hannity, also gave rise to right-wing ideas.
Right-wing media has also succeeded in baiting the former New York Times public editor into reprimanding a reporter for a harmless joke, broken major stories about the administration, and continued to harass Clinton on her book tour.
“The Opposition” is the major first comedy show with a baked-in acknowledgement of the shift in the conservative-media landscape away from the dogmatic, small-government Reagan Republican. The show will focus on the heightened influence of the online right-wing figures to subtly and overtly influence the political discourse.
- Comedy Central
Klepper pitched the idea for his show when Comedy Central gave him the option to shoot a pilot for a nightly or weekly show. He said he wanted to capture the “tenor of the moment” and was curious to watch how strange conspiracies, counterfactuals, and outrages flowed upstream from chat rooms and subreddits to prime time on Fox News and the president’s Twitter feed.
Stu Miller, one of the show’s executive producers along with “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, said the creators of the show “feel like this world has real influence.”
“The starting point is the normalization of bulls—,” Miller said. “For us, it’s that sort of connection between ideas that were fringe years ago – out of the mainstream – are suddenly mainstream, and seeing the path is not hard to follow.”
Klepper said he noticed while covering Trump rallies that the information, language, and arguments that people were making had less in common with Fox News and more in common with Breitbart News and even the conspiracy-peddling Infowars.
“America’s always had this paranoia, but we’ve amplified it through the internet,” Klepper said. “Like, ‘Oh, you can create your own world? That’s awesome, that’s kind of good for us – our own paranoia can bounce off of our own ideas.'”
Airing at 11:30 ET four nights a week, the show has drawn natural comparisons to one of the time slot’s former occupants.
Indeed, “The Opposition” shares some of the hallmarks of the show.
Like “Colbert” and “The Daily Show,” it has a traditional three-block structure, with a block for current events, a block for field pieces, and a block for a celebrity, scholarly, or political guest.
And Klepper’s proudly ignorant character style comes across as a slightly more genial, Midwestern Colbert, who will also participate in the adversarial in-character interview style that helped get Republican and Democratic politicians alike to avoid “The Colbert Report.”
- Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press
But the show hopes to layer on elements that acknowledge and play with the new right-wing-media landscape, where ideas percolate on social media and then bubble up to the mainstream.
In the universe of “The Opposition,” viewers are watching the television portion, though the world is much more expansive. The show will feature radio segments (talk radio remains a dominant medium in conservative political media) and bits from fake past shows, and will have larger tentacles into the real world – Klepper said the team plans to make content for the internet.
“We’re going to create internet content that way – we want to play with the fact that a lot of these sites are just content machines,” Klepper said. “In the world of this show, you’re catching a sliver of it.”
The show’s producers also point to the comedic value of the new right-wing ecosystem’s stars: Conspiratorial YouTube vloggers, rambling men’s-rights activists, and disgraced former mainstream media employees turned white rappers.
The show cast six supporting “citizen journalists” who reflect the broad swath of personalities on the right, with a gun-rights activist in the vein of bombastic NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, provocateurs in the vein of Milo Yiannopoulos, what Miller described as a “pseudo-intellectual with no real credentials,” and a stay-at-home livestreamer rambling without much of a point.
“It isn’t a monolithic structure where, like, everyone looks like Alex Jones,” Klepper said. “There are so many weird characters out there.”
- Gavin Bond/Comedy Central
‘Even if you don’t understand alternative-media sources, you understand the feel’
The program faces obvious challenges.
While “The Daily Show” skewered nightly television news and “The Colbert Report” directly parodied the “O’Reilly Factor” in the same medium and format as the show, the universe of the media on the far right online isn’t as coherent or visible, and the mediums for activism are ever-changing.
And though the show is anchored in a television medium parodying Alex Jones’ daily Infowars studio broadcasts, memes from r/The Donald subreddit, livestreamed stunts, Twitter-trolling campaigns, and viral YouTube screeds often garner far more engagement and generally have a larger effect than an average broadcast on Infowars.
There’s the bigger question of whether the far-right media is truly as relevant and impactful as the show’s creators argue, and whether the presumably left-leaning audience will know enough about the far right to fully get the joke.
Klepper argued that audiences don’t need to be familiar exactly with the personalities on the far right to understand the mood or who is driving the conversation.
“I think they see it on the largest stage in the world as Donald Trump starts to listen to Steve Bannon and react to these talking points,” Klepper said. “Even if you don’t understand alternative media sources, you understand the feel.”
Further, while the show’s creators are quick to point out that late-night talk shows take time to develop, Comedy Central has high hopes that “The Opposition” can help return the network to its glory years as a political comedy powerhouse.
Though “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s ratings ticked up in the first quarter of the year and “The President Show” resonated with audiences, if not with some critics, network representatives still remember fondly Stewart’s and Colbert’s domination of the 11-t0-midnight time slot among key demographics pined over by advertisers.
Klepper seems to understand the pressure of living up to the hype.
Asked by an audience member at a test screening if he was nervous, he told an anecdote about how the show’s wardrobe supervisor noticed his measurements had changed in just a few weeks.
“I’m losing weight in my neck,” Klepper joked.
‘These are scary times’
The show is also still figuring out how it plans to interact with the world of right-wing media, whose stars are often hypersensitive and enjoy being the center of attention.
After Alex Jones used his platform to rant about the Comedy Central host, Klepper weaved his comments about “The Opposition” into a bit at a test screening in New York.
But the show’s staff have been wary about the sort of content it risks elevating. Klepper wanted to acknowledge the influence the far right had on shaping the conservative-media discourse without giving a megaphone to toxic ideas.
“We’re cautious that this is not for us to immediately start interacting with and giving too much oxygen to that side,” Klepper said. “You need to be careful of giving air to certain people and certain ideas, and I think the media can create a bigger story and bigger attention for something who doesn’t need that.”
For the moment, the show’s potential for influence is unclear, even to its subjects. Far-right provocateur Mike Cernovich said in a message that he’d never heard of the show.
When told by Business Insider that the show may satirize him, Infowars editor and polemical culture wars vlogger Paul Joseph Watson said “the fact that they have to resort to satirizing me in a comedy show proves that they’re struggling to combat me with actual logical arguments.
“That they’re so obsessed with someone I assume they will portray as a basement-dwelling freak shows that I am getting under their skin, and I love it,” Watson said. “I look forward to seeing the show and will no doubt be able to mine it for a ton of great content.”
Jack Posobiec, known for perpetuating conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and storming onstage at the politically charged staging of “Julius Caesar” in Central Park, also initially said he’d never heard of it, though he said that “imitation is the best form of flattery.”
After Business Insider showed him the show’s Twitter feed, he added: “I liked this show better when it was called ‘The Colbert Report.'”