Since 2006, John Oliver has proved his mettle as a phony journalist on The Daily Show.
Serving in numerous “reporting” roles, but chiefly as senior British correspondent, the Birmingham, England-born Oliver is schoolboyish, poker-faced and emphatic in explaining America to itself, satisfied that his accent makes anything he says, however off-kilter, sound authoritative.
Recently Oliver said a simple “yes” to his boss, Jon Stewart, who is taking the summer off to make a feature film, and asked Oliver to fill in for him at the Daily Show anchor desk.
“I’ll say ‘yes’ to anything he wants me to do,” Oliver says. “I owe him so much — he brought me over here seven years ago — so I’ll do anything he wants, whether it’s hosting his show or operating as a drug mule between here and Bogota.”
Stewart will be directing and producing Rosewater from his own script based on a book by Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was falsely accused of being a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government in 2009.
And starting Monday, Oliver will preside on The Daily Show, which airs at 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on Comedy Central. He will substitute-anchor for eight weeks before Stewart’s return on Sept. 3.
“He’s got all the talents and he’s gonna be great,” Stewart said in a separate interview. “And he can handle the speed of it. You want somebody in that position for everybody else on the staff, so they don’t feel they have to slow down.”
Oliver has his own assessment of the challenge: “You’re taking this engine and hoping you can operate it with a lower skill set than the guy who designed it.”
Oliver, 36, says his comic style was forged by early exposure to Monty Python and Armando Iannucci, a Scottish farceur who produced the British political TV satire The Thick of It and, currently, HBO’s Veep. Seeking his own style, Oliver wanted to apply “classic British comedic lunacy to politics, trying to do something stupid with something serious.”
At Cambridge University, he became part of the comedy troupe Cambridge Footlights, whose alumni include Sasha Baron Cohen, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese and David Frost.
That was followed by successful standup gigs and TV appearances across his homeland. Then Stewart discovered him and brought him to these shores.
“From the day I came to The Daily Show I couldn’t imagine not being here,” Oliver says.
And for the next two months, he is filling in for the man who not only is his boss but his mentor.
“You know Jon Stewart is funny,” Oliver says. “What you don’t see is, he’s a pretty incredible manager of production as well. He’s spent over 10 years making sure this show operates in a certain way. The key thing is to really keep your foot on the throat of this show so that it doesn’t just get up and walk away.”
Starting Monday, John Oliver is putting his foot down, and keeping it funny.