The irony of satire in late night television


When “The Colbert Report” ended in late 2014, I was saddened and dismayed. That show had been a reliable, consistently funny satire, taking as its target everything absurd and stupid that came from the political world. Lately, with the way real life has been going, with the daily headlines at times making satire seem redundant, I wondered where I was going to get that constant dose of much-needed relief that “The Colbert Report” offered up. Thankfully, there’s “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper.”

Jordan Klepper cut his teeth as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” for three years. He excelled at playing the smarmy, cynical douche-bag, which makes him perfectly suited to mock the likes of Alex Jones and outlets such as Breitbart News. Much as Bill O’Reilly served as the influence behind the bloviating, self-righteous character of “Stephen Colbert,” Klepper clearly took Alex Jones as his influence for the aesthetic of “The Opposition.”

For those who don’t already know, Jones traffics in conspiracy theories, often including the government. (Come to think of it, any conspiracy theory worth its salt better have the government involved in some way.) One of his more colorful theories: The government is putting chemicals in the water that’s “turning the friggin’ frogs gay!” That’s a real quote, and, as Mr. Jones would say, you can look it up. A Jones supporter may say, “Oh, you’re taking things out of context,” and I would say, “I think I got the gist of this guy.” Another actual quote: “Again, America and the world was sleeping under the parasite of the satanic globalist pedophile system.” That was an opening salvo from one of his most recent shows. Who needs context for that? But this is all just the tip of the conspiracy theorist iceberg.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has Jones listed under the “extremist” category. Everything from 9/11 to the Boston Marathon bombings to Sandy Hook, even down to the Las Vegas shooting massacre (seriously) – everything is either a “false flag” operation by the government or an evil “globalist” plot to usher in the “New World Order.” That hurts my brain. That Jones has millions of followers hurts my brain even more. As an outsized, exaggerated personality who yells and rants and raves a great deal, Jones would seem like a challenge to satirize: He’s already a self-parodic exaggeration.

But so far, “The Opposition” is proving to be a salve for satirizing this kind of nonsense. Each show opens with Klepper in front of a conspiracy theory bulletin board, where he makes all kinds of inane “connections” before heading to his desk strewn with all kinds of newspapers. The premiere episode does a good job of making its case for targeting this specific type of Jones-like mentality.

Let me give you a few quick examples. Some of the things Klepper’s character says: “Here at The Opposition we believe in our own Golden Rule – May you only hear from others what you’ve already been telling yourself;” “In 2017, you get to pick which facts are right for you;”and perhaps my favorite from the episode, “There are dark forces at play. The deep state. Globalists. Bill Nye. And this program will oppose them at all costs. But just like Lee Harvey Oswald, I can’t do it alone.”

Late night TV abounds with great satirical shows from “The Daily Show” to “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” but it’s good to have the kind of sustained, character-based satire that “The Opposition” offers back on late night TV. There really hasn’t been anything like it since “Colbert.” Today’s political environment – alternative facts, fake news and straight-up lies – needs a consistent satirical voice.

Now, I’m not saying “The Opposition” is the greatest show of the bunch or anything (that’d be “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”), and it’s too early to tell how long Klepper and company can sustain this. But there’s a use and function to satire even in an age where it can feel like reality’s so exaggerated that, at times, it renders the satire seemingly redundant. The kind of willful stupidity and fallacious thinking that permeates the political and cultural landscape should never go un-ridiculed.

Hearing someone like Jones say something really stupid is mind-numbing and, to many rational people, would be self-evidently absurd. Hearing someone like Klepper’s character say something similarly stupid is of course funny, but it also makes me hope that that kind of ridiculous thought-process would somehow find its way back to Jones himself. Ideally, he would recognize his own crap and offer up a mea culpa for propagating the intellectual equivalent of toxic waste on a daily basis.

But I know that’s wishful thinking. Sometimes, in a world filled with an endless stream of insane lies and unfiltered nonsense, the only sane thing to do is laugh at it.