Face time with John Oliver
John Oliver, the British correspondent on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” talked to The State News, along with other college newspapers across the country, to discuss the second season of his upcoming show on Comedy Central, “John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show.” The show displays stand-up acts by Oliver, along with four weekly guest comedians, and will begin tomorrow at midnight, running for the next six weeks.
What was your first big break and what was going through your mind when you were first on camera?
I’m not even sure I can remember that. I did a lot of little things in England, but I’m not sure there was ever a moment that was a big break. I mean, my first time on ‘The Daily Show’ was probably the thing I remember the most. I got in late Sunday night to New York and then came to work Monday morning, thinking that they would ease me in slowly. And then they said, ‘You’re going to be on tonight.’ And I was so tired and so jet-lagged, I wasn’t really entirely sure what was happening. I remembering standing backstage and the music started — ‘The Daily Show’ music — and the audience started screaming when Jon walked out. And I remember my legs started buckling, and I thought, ‘Oh no, what am I doing here?’
You’re currently a part of the “John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “Community” and your podcast, The Bugle. How do you have time for all these projects you’re working on?
It’s not easy. My favorite is ‘The Daily Show.’ I can answer that one honestly — that is my favorite thing to do. But I like doing the other things just to give me a kind of balance in my head because ‘The Daily Show’ can be quite all-consuming, when you get into the grind of turning out shows every day. So I find doing live stand up or doing The Bugle podcast with Andy (Zaltzman) or ‘Community,’ I find the variation of that actually relaxes me in a way. Obviously, taking on other jobs as a way to relax is not a particularly healthy system to set up for yourself, but at the moment it is working for me. But it means that I can’t do much else on top of this. But that’s why I don’t do too many movies or anything — I don’t have a lot of time leftover in my day. And I don’t do Facebook. I think I’ve saved probably months per year, at least weeks per year, because I’m not on Facebook.
What was your involvement in “The Smurfs” movie?
I can talk about it, but I won’t be able to talk about it very long because it took about 20 minutes to do. I’m Vanity Smurf in the upcoming Smurfs movie, and I think the reason for that is that the English voice still embodies the concept of narcissism and arrogance to American ears. So, my Smurf doesn’t actually talk much — he just looks at himself in the mirror. So I think I talk a few times, but the rest of the time I’m in the background, gazing longingly at myself. I don’t know anything about the movie (or) what happens in it. All I know is from the scenes I shot — I think I fall over at some point, and I give myself a series of compliments.
With a lineup like one with comedienne Maria Bamford on the upcoming show, were you consciously trying to bring alternative comedians to a large setup like Comedy Central?
Basically, yeah. I think it was a chance to get some slightly more imaginative comedians than would normally be on a consolation show and get them together. It was an atmosphere where they could really succeed. So yeah, I think because we kind of committed to picking imaginative acts, it meant that we had more license to choose. … (We) knew that they would go down well rather than just bamboozle people because the kind of audience that we got was kind of kind of people that were much more interested in hearing comedy like that. So hopefully, we can draw the same type of crowd on TV as well.
What do you think about the rising costs in higher education for American students?
That’s honestly a difficult thing for me to comment on. I know much less about the American collegiate system than I do about England, which is a real mess at the moment because the British government are imposing these fees that we are not used to. I was probably a part of the last wave of people to go through college in England not having to directly pay fees to the college. You would do it on a grant, and it was basically free at the point of entry. We were terrified about moving toward the American system where it costs so much money to go there and you are forced to leave with a crippling amount of debt. And there are huge protests against that in England at the moment, so it seems to me to be a terrible situation for anyone thinking about going into higher education — having to carry that kind of weight of debt with you.
What is the best stand up show you’ve seen live?
I just saw Colin Quinn on Broadway — his show about the history of the world, which is excellent. I saw Marc Maron do a gig in Aspen, (Colo.,) which was phenomenal. That was very exciting to watch. And then in England, Stewart Lee in Edinburgh I saw. (He) did an absolutely phenomenal gig as did Johnny Vegas in England as well.