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STUDIO: Comedy Central
RUNNING TIME: 56 minutes
• Select John Oliver appearances on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
• Behind the scenes at a Political Animal taping at the UCB Theatre
• “John & Andy On”: Interviews with Andy Zaltzman
Who better to poke fun at America’s decline than a Brit?
John Oliver. Special guest appearance by Andy Zaltzman. A crowd.
That Daily Show news correspondent with the British accent (John Oliver) gets to riff a little longer than he normally does for Jon Stewart, this time for an audience at the Symphony Space in Manhattan. Political-cultural commentary, nerd-deprecation and genitalia-related hi jinx happen.
John Oliver’s one of those comedians who is so completely grounded in now. His comedy stylings make him a perfect fit for The Daily Show, a program where the jokes are almost entirely relevant and hysterical for the moment but may find their longevity waning in a staggeringly brief period of time. There’s nothing really wrong with that; it is called The Daily Show after all and that’s exactly it’s purpose. Oliver’s exceedingly adept at interviewing hapless victims with the intent of making them immensely uncomfortable. Admittedly it’s not something everyone will find hilarious, but considering the subjects and the statuses they hold in our society, you have to find it at least a little off-putting that they can be so ill-informed or oblivious to Oliver’s deliberately clueless questions.
So how does Oliver fair on stage?
Not bad as it turns out. He’s certainly still finding his footing but there’s no reason why I wouldn’t go see him live if I had an opportunity. The material is political, naturally, and most of the jokes are aimed at the current administration’s woeful missteps. But what Oliver offers up is an outside perspective to American politics which is a welcome addition to the densely populated landscape of comedians whose schticks tend to fall under two categories: the apologetic American or the dimwitted patriot. In his opening remarks, he states, “I’m going to be speaking to you this evening with a British accent, so do be prepared for the words you hear to come with a little more authority than you’re used to.”
Oliver’s removed but at the same time very much engaged in Western politics so it’s not as if the criticisms of the U.S. that he makes are just dismissals. In fact, that’s probably when his ideas come together best: comparing past British imperialism with the present Bush regime. Oliver pokes fun at the strangely romanticized idea that the time of British conquest was seen as a point of pride. “They long once more to be treated that badly, that politely,” jests Oliver of third-world countries.
And fortunately Oliver’s quite the history guru and a lot of the visual cues aid him with his delivery. So he’s got the geek credentials, as if the shaggy haircut, classically academic glasses and small stature weren’t indicators enough. Oliver’s a nerd and he doesn’t shy away from this fact, especially when the material diverges away from current events and politics and to personal stories from his youth (among the best being an out-of-place but comical story about his junk falling out of his gym shorts at a track meet and another concerning an imagined conversation with his father about being a comedian and getting stuck in routines that go nowhere. It’s difficult to summarize here, but trust me on this).
I suppose the biggest detractor here is that the material can be familiar to anyone who has heard Oliver’s Times Online radio show with Andy Zaltzman (who also makes a cameo in the special. There’s a funny bit about the UK being the first to alternative energy sources, like using burning Catholics for fuel) or even The Daily Show for that matter. Oliver’s still working out the kinks – and it shows. A number of times throughout the special it becomes apparent that the crowd isn’t all that enthusiastic so not everything hits them as intended. Still, it works and he’s just sticking to what he knows best. Terrifying Times isn’t a bad way to kill an hour.
Surprisingly well-stacked in the features department, for a stand-up special DVD at least. Here we get a handful of Oliver’s funnier appearances on The Daily Show, as well as some excerpts from John’s interviews with Andy Zaltzman (presumably from their show The Bugle, though not really specified). And the best of all is a bonus taping from a show at the UCB Theater called “Political Animal.” There’s bits from Oliver’s segments interspersed with behind-the-scenes stuff about preparing for the gig. It’s neat to see this sort of transparency and even some of the funnier moments come from this extra rather than the feature. Also, Oliver commentates on the menus. It’s amusing.