Jordan Klepper Is Okay With The Stephen Colbert Comparisons

When Jordan Klepper replaced John Oliver on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2014, the native Michigander became a quick study of the show’s behind-the-scenes practices. “I’m figuring out how these field pieces work,” he said in an interview given during his second day. “So right now I’m in learning mode.” Three and a half years later, Klepper’s very own late night series, The Opposition is set to follow The Daily Show with Trevor Noah at 11:30 pm. When speaking to Uproxx about the experience so far, Klepper remains as humble as he was on Stewart’s program — which is the exact opposite of his character.

“I’m Jordan Klepper, but I’m not,” he explains. “This character isn’t a totally new creation. It’s an extension of a thing I was doing on The Daily Show.” The Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade alum recognizes the validity of comparisons already being made between The Opposition and The Colbert Report, which former Daily Show correspondent (and now The Late Show host) Stephen Colbert performed in character. However, while Klepper’s predecessor and idol lampooned the media landscape of the 2000s, his satire hopes to dive headfirst into “the Breitbarts of the world.” It’s a humorous proposition, but it’s also a frightening one.

I saw the first clip you guys put out from Trump’s Phoenix rally. Is that the kind of material audiences can expect from The Opposition?

Yeah, I think that’s a good little taste of it. It’s sort of how we’re going to approach some of the topics. I’m going to be on a desk, or in the field occasionally, and we’re going to have other folks from the show go out and do field pieces, too. It won’t just be me in the field, interacting with people. That will be one part of it. There will be whole other part that is based in the studio. But with that teaser, I think you get a little taste of how we’re going to approach some of these topics.

But you will be based in a studio, desk and everything?

It’ll be based in a studio, albeit in the world our show claims to be a part of. This is myself and a group of my own foot soldiers, who have basically remained on the fringes, but now the fringe has gone mainstream. We have our own late night show at 11:30, where we’re going to broadcast all of the crazy shit that’s happening in this world. We’ve already been broadcasting it 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the radio for many years prior. So you’re going to see us present our own late night version of the kinds of shows that, in our minds, we’ve already been doing online. You’ll see me behind a desk. You’ll also see these other folks in the field, because we still want to go to places, talk to real people and bring those stories into the studio.

What you’re describing sounds like Comedy Central’s version of Alex Jones. A satire of the kind of news media that’s well beyond the reaches of, say, the Bill O’Reilly days and Fox News channels of the world.

Precisely. That was sort of the world we were more interested in. The kind of source material we wanted to satirize. We wanted to create and live in a world closer to the one we’re actually living in now, in 2017, where people gets their news from places like Alex Jones’s website. I’ve been to a lot of Trump rallies with The Daily Show, and what I quickly noticed is people were getting their information not from Fox or CNN, necessarily, but from the Breitbarts of the world. So we started looking into this world, which is a world that predominantly exists online. We were curious about that world’s viewpoints, and how it all functions. I used it to inform my character, but I also used it to setup this show. It’s the thing we’re using to drive this narrative.

What was the research process like? When diving into the weeds of Infowars, Breitbart and other like-minded conspiracy theory websites, I suspect you had to retain a much tighter grip on reality than usual.

I think that is 100 percent true, but the research part was fun. It was a lot of watching Infowars, a lot of reading Breitbart, and all of that stuff. Most of it is online and free to access anyway, but it’s also, I think… It’s reaching out and trying to determine if this is an aberration of American culture. Whatever it is, I think it’s definitely a heightening of something. You start reading all of these articles concerning a paranoid style of American politics and you’re like, “Oh, this is the [Barry] Goldwater era all over again.” You begin seeing all of these comparisons to what happened with Goldwater, and what has also started happening with Trump. The particular way in which paranoia seeps into American politics. It’s always been there, though. That’s why, when reading and watching this stuff, I thought, “Oh, this doesn’t feel like it’s just a blitz.” In a way, it feels like 2017 has honed in on this paranoia by launching it into the internet and exposing everybody to an echo chamber. Now we all get to pick our own realities. That was the feeling we stumbled upon while researching the show, so we’ve tried to put it in context.

In terms of show structure, Trevor Noah didn’t change too much when he took over for Jon Stewart at The Daily Show — the opening bit, the correspondents’ pieces, the guest interview. The Nightly Show more or less did the same, albeit with more panels. Meanwhile, shows like Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal eschew that format to focus more intensely on their chosen topics. What will it be for The Opposition?

We are going to have guests. I felt that, because we are sort of creating this world and I’m a character in this world, I still wanted to ground it with real people from the real world. The way to do that is to have guests come onto the show. Also, because I love going out into the field, I’m going to try to do field pieces whenever and wherever I can. Otherwise I’ll be spending most of my time in the studio, Monday through Thursday. One of the things I love about this gig is interacting with real people, so we wanted to bring that element into the studio as well. There will be a portion in which politicians, news-makers, influencers and others will appear on the show for our third act, and my character will interact with them.

Others have already said this about The Opposition and your character on it, but I’m getting a strong Colbert Report vibe from this. What Colbert did for O’Reilly and Fox News, you seem to be doing for Jones and Infowars. Do you mind this comparison?

I grew up a huge fan of Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report. What that program showed was that you could attack the news through a character’s perspective, and it was a fresh way of looking at things back then. It was something that was sustainable, which was clearly exciting and new. We want to build a show that feels like it’s in the world of 2017, and that’s why we chose to dive into this world of the alt-media. This feels like the lens to use, where people are so out on the fringe, they’re literally choosing their own reality. This feels like what’s fresh and new now, and we want to make The Opposition feel like it’s of today. What Colbert did was blaze the path for shows like this, shows that let you articulate the news through a certain point of view in a satirical way. This lets you find something really fresh and new with it. That’s something that we definitely see him doing, and I think what we’re trying to do is figure out how to create a character that feels unique to this particular time.

The banter you and Noah have developed recently reminds me of the comedic animosity that existed between Stewart and Colbert’s characters. I assume it was intentional, but is that something you two will keep doing in the future?

We are definitely going to keep that up. I think we want these shows to exist in the same world. We’re going to have, from time to time, with similar kinds of passes back and forth between the shows. On a personal level, I love performing with Trevor. It’s always so fun to play off of his energy. I think it’s a really fun dynamic to have, to encourage this rivalry while remaining friends. We’ve created these characters who, when faced with one another, will say, “I totally disagree with everything you think, you’re totally misguided, but you’re still my friend. You’re just a totally misguided friend.” I think that’s a really fun dynamic for us to play with, and we want to keep it up. There’s something nice about putting these shows into a kind of a conversation. When I got the 11:30 spot for what would become The Opposition, right after The Daily Show, it felt like we could keep doing that. It feels necessary, especially in a world with a lot of really great — but grave — satirical shows talking about the news from otherwise earnest perspectives.

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Which, of course, is something Colbert Report perfect with The Daily Show a decade prior. That said, you’ve been working on this character for some time. I suspect one of his earliest appearances occurred during “The Hostile Takeover of The Daily Show,” when you guest-hosted while Noah was in the hospital.

You’re probably right. This character isn’t a totally new creation. It’s an extension of a thing I was doing on The Daily Show, either from the get-go as a new correspondent, or later on when I became one of the senior team members. It’s just a guy who has my own name. I’m Jordan Klepper, but I’m not. I have totally new blind spots that the old Jordan Klepper doesn’t. I have more confidence than that Jordan Klepper, and definitely more ignorance than him. Or at least I’d like to think I do. So by creating him for The Daily Show, this character became a vessel through which I was able to attack certain stories. And as I started to play around with Trevor more, that helped me better define who he was — especially when he was primarily a foil to Trevor.

That’s always the most comfortable, most fun place to play from. I come from the world of like sketch comedy and improv, where you have to wear a light veil. You filter various things through whatever character you’re playing in the moment, and I’ve always enjoyed using that to play around with whoever or whatever that guy was or is. Like playing a guy who has privilege, but has no idea he has that privilege. It’s all about showing and not telling. When I guest-hosted for Trevor, what was really fun about doing that was also figuring out what these kinds of jokes feel like through my voice. That was definitely a quick turnaround day, because we’d started working on a show mid-day through the very day it would premiere. We had to rewrite almost everything since what was on paper was designed with Trevor’s voice in mind, but not mine. We are very different performers who are approach these kinds of material differently. With my character, there’s a different kind of asshole guy-ness you have to write for. I’ve been telling them for years that I’m an asshole, so write for me! [Laughs.]

Colbert has transitioned from hosting a late night talk show in character to hosting another as himself. Do you worry your character work with The Daily Show, which is about to expand greatly with The Opposition, will make future character-less endeavors difficult?

You know what? It doesn’t. It doesn’t bother me at all. I am filtering this thing through a point of view, but I also think it’s a comedic point of view I often utilize. Hopefully the people who watch me will understand this in the context of the show. They’ll recognize the show, and me inside of this character, for who and what we are. Hopefully they’ll get what I’m doing within this character. So if that’s something people enjoy, and The Opposition gets to be on television for a while, then I couldn’t think of a better scenario. We didn’t see this as a novel way of approaching this stuff, to be clear. It’s just the way in which I wanted to approach these topics. It’s way more fun to play somebody who doesn’t have all the answers, but thinks he does. That’s a very human part to play. It’s also a very human part of all humans, especially myself. I get that, and it’s very much a big part of this character. I hope that shines through in what we do.

Subjects of interest are day-to-day with the current news cycle, of course, but is there anything you would specifically like to cover with The Opposition?

There are a lot of things on our board we are excited to play around with and figure out. On the short side of it all, I can’t wait to start to playing around in this world with an actual audience right there in front of us, reacting to us and helping to inform what this show is. Selfishly, we’ve also hired some really great people to populate this world and play off me. I just have so much fun playing around with them. I can’t wait for the world to meet them. I can’t wait to invite everyone into this world we have created.

Colbert appeared in character on The O’Reilly Factor, much to Bill’s obvious annoyance. Would you ever do the same for Jones and Infowars?

You know what? There’s such a dry heat down in Texas. I just don’t know if I would do super well down to Austin, where I’d have to go talk to Jones. It just feels like, for a Midwestern kid whose now an east coast elitist, my sweat glands can’t handle it.

The Opposition with Jordan Klepper premieres Monday, September 25th at 11:30pm ET/PT on Comedy Central.