By Eric Deggans
Times TV/Media Critic
He has been called the senior White House correspondent, the senior Middle East correspondent, and the senior British correspondent for the world's pre-eminent fake news show.
But British-born Daily Show With Jon Stewart writer/cast member John Oliver credits a simple inspiration for his Emmy-winning range: a severe attention-deficit issue.
"I get bored easily," confessed 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.
On the Daily Show, "your job is to find a way to process all this dysfunction into something you can laugh at," he said. "But it also doubles down the pressure. If you fail, you're also miserable."
Oliver joined the show in 2006 after a stint in Cambridge University's Footlights comedy troupe (famous alums: Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugh Laurie) and on the BBC. He was so confident the job wouldn't last, Oliver didn't take his belongings out of storage in London for years.
But these days, he's a Daily Show writer and its most-featured correspondent, also appearing as professor Ian Duncan on NBC's Community and in his own Comedy Central series, John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show. (We won't mention that part in The Smurfs movie.)
Oliver submitted to a few questions while traveling; I started with the obvious:
How do you keep interview subjects from playing along?
Sometimes you have to explain you're interviewing them because you want their point of view, not because they're funny. You want somebody who will be as humorless as possible. Generally when we work with (new) camera crews, 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."
How 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.
Why do we Americans have such a love/hate relationship with the British?
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 . . ."
You hosted a comedy panel titled "The Decline of American Empire." Are you enjoying this?
It's all through the prism of someone who has been through this before. We lost everything. You can kind of offer 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?
$14.3 trillion. That is an impressive level of debt. I talk a bit about that when I do standup; it's something to be admired. It's like when we see these rogue traders, who have somehow lost their banks $400 million. 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. 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.