John Oliver brings British class to Quincy Market

by Beacon Staff • October 10, 2007

During the diplomatic love affair between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2006, it seemed only natural for Comedy Central's award-winning political satire, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to add British comedian John Oliver to its cast of sarcastic correspondents.

In college, Oliver was a member of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, which spawned such comedy greats as Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams and Monty Python members John Cleese and Eric Idle.

He has since participated in numerous English comedy shows both live and for BBC radio and television. Currently, Oliver is a fan-favorite on The Daily Show. The Beacon got a chance to exchange some e-mails with Oliver before he brings his across-the-pond perspective to Boston for four stand-up shows this weekend. That is, unless he gets deported.

Set the scene for us a bit: Where are you? What are you wearing? What's going on around you?

I'm in the office I share with [fellow correspondent] Rob Riggle. He is currently filling in a mandatory fitness report for the marines, and I am filling in this questionnaire for The Berkeley Beacon. We both have important work to be getting on with. Today Rob is dressed like a Roman Centurion, and I am dressed like Helen Mirren dressed like the Queen.

What can an audience expect from your stand-up routine? Does it differ significantly from your stuff on The Daily Show?

No, it's fairly similar. I've been doing broadly political stand-up for the last eight years, which was always in the pseudo-authoritative style of The Daily Show. The only difference is that I will be performing stand-up, as I always do, in a strong Boston accent.

When did you realize you wanted to do comedy? Would you consider yourself a political person?

I would absolutely consider myself a political person. I watch the news with almost as much devotion as I watch sport. Almost, but not quite. As for when I realized I wanted to be a comedian, I actually tell the story of that in my stand-up set at the moment, so if you're interested come along. It involves a 400m race as an 11-year-old.

How intimidating was it being in the Footlights?

It really wasn't that intimidating. We were all just 18-year-old students. Also, it was an honor to be part of an organization, which produced such incredible people. If anything, the pressure and expectation that comes from that is a good thing.

How do you respond to people who say you shouldn't be criticizing America on television because you're English? In light of this administration's policies, do you fear being deported?

As a world citizen, I am seriously affected by American foreign policy, so I think that gives me one right. A second right comes from the fact that I am now an American taxpayer, so am extra distressed to see where my money is going. I haven't actually been aware of anyone claiming that as an English person I shouldn't be criticizing America; I'll have to take your word for it. In terms of worrying about deportation that is actually something that crosses my mind every now and then. I'm at the mercy of U.S. immigration, which is not the most secure place to be.

What advice would you give aspiring comedians at Emerson?

Just keep doing it. There is no other way to learn than on the job. This is true in virtually no other profession, and is what can occasionally make watching comedy similar to watching a car crash. And only marginally funnier.

Did you aim for America in terms of your career or was coming here a pleasant surprise? Do you think America and England "get" each other's senses of humor?

I had never been to America before when I was offered this job so it was certainly a pleasant surprise. I always wanted to come and do stand-up here, but certainly never dreamt that I'd be asked to appear on what was my favorite show. I think America and Britain do have a similar sense of humor, which is proven by the amount of cross-pollination which takes place.

Boston is a college town, so what were you like in college? Are you looking to relive it while you're here?

Sure. I'm looking forward to tying a keg to each side of my head and wandering the town looking for a party.

What was your audition tape for The Daily Show like? How did you ultimately land such a sweet gig? What is it like behind the scenes (especially when you're a newbie)?

I'm still not entirely sure how it happened, and don't want to ask too many questions in case it turns out that it was all a mistake. They couldn't have been more welcoming to me here, and it's been the happiest job I've ever had.

The Daily Show has become a launching pad for comedians' careers. Where do you see yourself in five years? (Your own spin-off perhaps?)

Hopefully still here. I have absolutely no desire to leave this program whatsoever. If I was doing something else, I'd only be trying to get hired by The Daily Show, so now I'm here it seems utterly pointless to leave.

Are you worried about coming to Boston so soon after the whole tea party thing? Is there a grudge?

Yes, a huge grudge. Don't think we have either forgotten or forgiven. I plan not only to make a memorial visit to the harbor and pay my respects to the leaf, but also to settle some scores from the stage.

John Oliver will be performing at Quincy Market's Comedy Connection on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11:15 p.m.