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Correspondent John Oliver has no plans to leave news "sausage factory" that is the Daily Show



john-oliver.jpgHe’s been called the Senior White House Correspondent, the Senior Middle East Correspondent, and the Senior British Correspondent for the world’s preeminent fake news show.

But it turns out British-born Daily Show correspondent John Oliver credits a simple inspiration for his Emmy-winning range of reporting and analysis: severe attention deficits.

“That’s why my comedy is kind of broadly about topical things…I have a bit of an attention span problem and I get bored easily,” said Oliver, 34, speaking from an airport terminal where the announcements were so loud, we agreed the airline must be trying to scare passengers onto the aircraft.

“Part of the challenge and part of the joy (in the Daily Show) morning writers’ meeting – your job is to, by the end of the day, find a way to process all this dysfunction that into something you can laugh at,” he said. “But it also doubles down the pressure. If you fail, not only have you failed at your job, but you’re also miserable."

john-oliver-g_264545t.jpgOliver joined the show in 2006, after a stint in Cambridge University’s well-known Footlights comedy troupe (famous alums: Sasha Baron Cohen, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese and Sir David Frost) and appearing in comedy shows on the BBC. He was so confident the Daily Show gig wouldn't last, Oliver didn’t even take his belongings out of storage in London.

But these days, he’s a member of the general writing staff and the show’s most-featured correspondent, juggling his own stand-up comedy career, a role as Prof. Ian Duncan on NBC’s Community, and his own Comedy Central series, John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show (we won’t mention that part in The Smurfs movie).

Oliver will be performing at 8 p.m. Friday in the Straz Center, 1010 North W.C. MacInnes Place, Tampa.

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Oliver submitted to a few questions while traveling to his next gig; I started with the obvious:

john-oliver-4.jpgHow do you keep interview subjects from playing along when you’re cracking jokes in these remote pieces for the Daily Show?

“Sometimes you have to explain to them – you’re interviewing them because you want their point of view, not because you think they’re funny. It works better if you find people  who are passionate about what they’re talking about, to the extent that they generally won’t see it as a laughing matter. You want somebody who is really fired up about it, so they will be as humorless as possible. Generally when we work with camera crews that haven’t worked with us before, they’re not walking away thinking, ‘That should be funny.’ They’re saying, ‘What the hell just happened in there?’ We’re saying, ‘It’ll be fine. Trust us.’”

“Sometimes the most contentious interviews are the one where you have people calling up wanting copies. Or on a DVD afterwards. To them, it’s not funny. Just to everyone else, it is.”

john-oliver-terrifying-times.jpgHow do you juggle all your various jobs?
“I’m pretty exhausted, (but) the Daily Show is so all consuming, I find it clears my head doing something different. Otherwise, you’re in the depressing soup of cable news all day. Anything climbing out of that soup is an incredibly liberating healthy feeling even if it is another job."

You know my job involves watching all that stuff every day?
“Touche (laughing). I’m probably complaining to the wrong person.”

How long will it be before you pull an Ed Helms or a Steve Carell and…
“…get the hell out of Dodge? (laughs). Well, my personal interest level in this subject matter is quite high. I have a naturally extended shelf life in terms of how long I can do this without wanting to throw myself and my television out of the window. Again. I’m realize I’m talking to someone who knows exactly what I’m going through. I have no plans to leave.”

john-oliver3.jpgWhy do we Americans have such a love/hate relationship with the British?
“We have a natural authority you see in late night infomercials generally – its British people selling crap to Americans. But Alan Rickman also has made a career out sitting in swivel chairs, stroking hairless cats while trying to conquer the planet. It’s like you know that historically the British have been evil and the greatest enemies of this nation. And yet, you just can’t help to want to be ordered around by us. It’s like a disastrous old relationship you got out of. Part of you is still saying, ‘It would be fun, wouldn’t it, to go out once more? I know we nearly killed each other last time, but still.'"

You participated in a comedy panel titled The Decline of American Empire? Are you enjoying this just a little bit?
“It’s all through the prism of someone who has been through this before. We lost everything. We’ve only got Bermuda and Falkland Islands. Our pockets are nearly empty. You can kind of offer an advice – how to lose an empire with as much dignity as possible. And from experience I can tell you; not much dignity is possible.”

What signs do you see that American culture is in decline?
“I’m looking at the cold, hard numbers. $14.3 trillion; That is an impressive level of debt. I talk a bit about that when I do stand up; it’s something to be admired. It’s like when we see these rogue traders, who have somehow lost their banks $400-billion. You think, ‘How could that happen?’"

But wasn’t the last guy to do that British?
“Exactly! All the mistakes you made, we’ve made worse. And you just put on some pomp and circumstance for the world to laugh at, throw in a royal wedding and for at least an afternoon, you’re relevant again. We used to own two thirds of the world’s land mass. And now people just tune in to laugh at our weddings.”

[Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 2:29pm]


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