Ever since Donald Trump lobbed an insult at CNN over a piece of reported news he didn't like, the term "fake news" has taken on a life of its own. It's unfortunate but undeniable, and the result is now we're living in something called a "post-truth" world (feel free to punch a wall if necessary). Oxford Dictionary even named "post-truth" as its word of the year, defining it as the moment when "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." But comedic political correspondent-turned-actor Ed Helms is here to take back the true meaning of "fake news," despite what it has seemingly become in pop culture. And he's doing it all in a one-hour special: The Fake News With Ted Nelms.
Returning to Comedy Central nearly a decade after his stint on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Office alum is shining a light on the current political climate with a full hour of complete and ridiculous satire aimed at the way people consume media nowadays. But while it may seem like it's too soon for The Fake News With Ted Nelms (airing Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 10 p.m.) to subvert the "fake news" idea that Trump has created since we're still in the thick of dealing with the fallout from that made-up concept, Helms passionately disagrees.
"Look, we're not trying to dictate how anyone should think or feel and we're certainly not trying to preach about the right way to view the world or to view media," Helms tells Bustle. "At the same time, to me as a comedian, everything is fair game."
In fact, because of the sheer amount of insanity happening in the Trump era of politics, Helms thinks it's the perfect time to satirize it all. "I don't think it's too soon or too late," he says. "As soon as something absurd is happening, we should be making fun of it."
While the idea for the special "had been kicking around for a while before the term 'fake news' had taken on the cultural significance that it has now," according to Helms, Trump was actually not the inspiration for the Comedy Central show.
"But that's definitely why we decided to name it Fake News," he adds with a laugh. "It just felt like a fun way for us to reclaim the meaning of fake news. Fake news is one thing: it's totally made-up news. You can do it comedically or you could do it maliciously but it's just made-up news. Unfortunately now, the term fake news is also being used to mean 'news that I don't like or disagrees with my world view.' That is really tragic because it's not what fake news is. So this is a fun way to remind what fake news really is."
While it would be easy for Helms and his fellow writers to inject their own political views and opinions into The Fake News With Ted Nelms, Helms promises that they didn't make this special "to espouse any sort of partisan point of view."
"Our highest aspiration for this show is to be funny and not to topple some political ideology or take on certain issues," he says before adding, "of course, social issues are baked into the satire. But our goal is to make people laugh. It's less about making fun of public figures or ideologies and more about making fun of the news itself and how the news presents information in sometimes helpful and sometimes very unhelpful ways."
In addition to redefining what fake news is, Helms also hopes to change the way people think about the news. "It would be nice if people looked inward and just think about how we consume news and what our role is in the news cycle," Helms says. "And hopefully we get some positive energy out there."
Part satire, part sketch comedy presented in a deadpan broadcast news program format, Helms plays Ted Nelms, a fictional news broadcaster who reads completely made-up jokes as news. "I'm not playing a comedian who is telling jokes about the news," he says. "In that way, it's very different from The Daily Show or Weekend Update or John Oliver or Samantha Bee." All of the made-up news stories were inspired by real news broadcasts Helms and the writers have seen on TV, but their silliness is amplified. It's a project that Helms considers his "baby."
"This really came out of my imagination and I haven't had the opportunity to do that before," he says. Getting back to his satirical news roots reminded Helms of what he enjoys doing the most in the entertainment industry, and while he's already thinking about another chapter of The Fake News With Ted Nelms, this is just planned as a one-off, one-hour special.
"We'll see how it goes," he says. "If it really catches on or gets a really exciting response, we'll think more about how to do more of it. I'm quite busy otherwise so it's a little hard to know where and when it would fit in, but at the same time, this is one of the most fun things I've ever worked on and it's just been an absolute joy from start to finish. So I'd be thrilled if we could find a way to somehow keep it churning."
As for whether Helms thinks Trump will tune in to see his highjacking of the term fake news come full circle, he just laughs. "I would hope that he has better things to do with his time," Helms says. But at this rate, it's anybody's guess.