It took “fake news” to bring Ed Helms back to Comedy Central. Since leaving “The Daily Show” in 2006, Helms has found plenty of success as a comedic actor in both TV and film, starting with “The Office,” and then, of course, “The Hangover” trilogy and a successful voice over career in animated hits like “The Lorax” and “Captain Underpants.”
But Helms missed his time satirizing the news, especially given his experience working alongside legendary talent like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, and many more. Now he’s back behind the desk, at least for one night, as the fictional host of Comedy Central’s “The Fake News with Ted Nelms.”
“I’ve just been missing being a part of the media commentary world ever since I left ‘The Daily Show,’ Helms said. “I really feel back in the saddle in a way. It’s really scratching that itch.”
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON” talked to Helms recently about his return to Comedy Central, what The Daily Show meant to him, and why he’s reclaiming the term Fake News to actually mean “Fake News.” We started by discussing how the idea came about. Listen below!
“The Fake News” isn’t a “Daily Show” clone, but a satiric take on the breathlessness of cable news reporting. “We really set out to make something that was joyful and silly and ridiculous in a ‘Monty Python’ tradition than mean-spirited or too biting,” Helms said. “That’s not to say there aren’t some satirical pieces at times… [but] people looking for a big Trump takedown in this will be disappointed. It’s much more of an exploration of the various ways that cable news uses questionable judgment, and some of the tropes of news delivery that are ridiculously sensational or overly combative.”
Calling his show “The Fake News” is also a way for Helms to try and restore the true definition of “fake news,” something that has been hijacked by Donald Trump and others to define anything he disagrees with.
“It’s getting used in lots of confusing ways and this was a fun way to reassert the very literal meaning of ‘fake news,’ which is to say, we made all this shit up, it is totally and completely fake,” Helms said. “That’s what you should be calling ‘fake news.’ Not the news that you happen to disagree with or happen to think makes you look bad, or don’t align with the cultural narrative you want to tell.”
But Helms said “the master we were here to serve” was comedy. Addressing the power of comedy, Helms said he was recently inspired by the documentary “Tickling Giants,” about Dr. Bassem Youssef, dubbed the “Egyptian Jon Stewart.”
“It’s an unbelievable documentary,” he said. “What he goes through just to be able to tell jokes in his home country and his courage and audacity takes your breath away. I saw that months ago and that re-lit a little fire in me, just about the need to assert power, our rights, and our responsibility to poke fun at our leadership and our institutions.”
Helms still reflects on his time at “The Daily Show” in the early 2000s as a golden point in helping launch his career. “I look back on it as some of the most intense and greatest training for the rest of my career, just being surrounded by such hilarious, brilliant, hard-working, inspiring people. It felt like you were a part of something and that’s a great feeling.”
He also remembers how volatile the world of politics was at the time, and marvels at how tame that period now seems, compared to now. “It felt like the nation was pretty divided at that point,” he said. “It turns out we could get a lot more divided if we put our minds to it.”
As for “The Fake News,” in creating his fictional counterpart “Ted Nelms,” Helms was inspired by anchors such as Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, and Shepard Smith. But then there’s his uncanny resemblance to another cable news star: CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“As soon as I got into hair and makeup and got my suit on, all of us on set were like, wow, this is a little bit of Jake Tapper going on here,” he said. “We all agree Jake Tapper is one of the most handsome guys in the news business!”
Here’s a promo for “The Fake News with Ted Nelms,” which airs Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.