Restoring sanity one joke at a time: an interview with The Daily Show’s John Oliver

Ever notice that amid the sea of well-orchestrated confusion that is “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, there is always one correspondent that stands out? Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry…Some may have been rooting for John Hodgman or Aasif Mandvi, but right now John Oliver is it.

Not that “The Daily Show” is his only gig, the comedian has also tried his hand at acting and co-hosts a popular political pod- cast called “The Bugle” with fel- low British political comic Andy Zaltzman. The two also co-host- ed the “Political Animal” podcast between 2004 and 2006, when Oliver left for “The Daily Show.”

Later this month Oliver will be taking part in Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington, D.C. In the following interview, Oliver talks about “The Daily Show,” British food and political humor.

Q: How did you get involved with “The Daily Show?” Did you come to America to be on the show?

A: Yes, I’d never been to America before. I moved here four years ago after Jon offered me the job. It all happened so quickly that most of my possessions are actually still in storage in South London. I haven’t had a chance to go back and move everything here yet.

Q: You do a pretty good New York accent. How long did it take you to master that?

A: You’re very kind to say that, but I must disagree. I do a terrible New York accent that is located somewhere between a Long Island Teamster and Paulie Walnuts from “The Sopranos.” It took about 4 minutes to master it.

Q: There seemed to be a comedy boom in America in the 80s. What was it like across the pond at that time?

A: Well, we were actually in the middle of a terrible recession, thanks for asking. But in the midst of that there was the beginning of what was labeled alternative comedy. We were certainly aware of the comedy boom in the United States, which seemed to largely consist of men in sports jackets with the sleeves rolled up standing in front of a brick wall and talking about how irritating the wonder of aviation was.

Q: Your material outside of the show is also political. Have you always aspired to do political humor? Was there someone you looked to as a role model when you were a kid?

A: I loved a writer and comedian called Armando Iannucci. And Terry Jones from Monty Python used to have a great weekly satirical column in the newspaper that I would cut out and keep. I was always interested in politics, but it took me a while to be confident enough as a stand-up to talk about it.

Q: Are you a news-junkie? Where do you get your news?

A: Working for “The Daily Show,” I watch the news almost constantly; we have it on in the background all day. And that is exactly as miserable an experience as you would imagine. Fox, CNN, and MSNBC all seem to be embroiled in a daily competition to see who can be the most dreadful.

Q: Do you feel like there is a sense of responsibility with your job, to highlight things that people may not be reading in newspapers?

A: Absolutely not. The only responsibility I feel we have is to make people laugh. We’re a comedy show. If people want to be informed about something, they should really go to the library. Besides, you need to already have at least a passing knowledge of the news to understand our jokes.

Q: Will you be taking part in Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington on Oct. 30, and will you guys be shooting spitballs at Colbert who is holding a competing rally?

A: I will definitely be down there. And Stephen has no idea what is coming to him yet. Mainly because we haven’t worked it out yet. But he’ll find out—as soon as we do.

Q: What’s worse: American beer or British food?

A: Oh, come on. You know the answer to that. British food is only ever one step away from being declared unfit for human consumption.

Q: Tell me about “The Bugle.” Do you plan to keep doing the podcast?

A: I’ll definitely do it as long as I can. It’s a weekly audio newspaper for the visual world that has been a great way for Andy Zaltzman and myself to continue working together, despite being an ocean apart. And “The Bugle” has been lucky enough to attract some of the most enthusiastic, imaginative and deeply infantile fans. We can’t stop and let them all down. It’s available for free on iTunes. Help yourself.

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
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