ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
And my guest in this part of the program has brought oracular authority to a three-month fill-in stint on Comedy Central this summer. With Jon Stewart off directing a film, the anchor chair at "The Daily Show" has been occupied by the show's senior British correspondent, John Oliver, whose own stand-up show on Comedy Central starts its fourth season tonight. And John Oliver joins us from New York. Welcome to the program.
JOHN OLIVER: Thank you very much for having me on the program.
SIEGEL: Thank you for slumming with us. How do you like being an anchorman so far?
OLIVER: It's a pretty weird experience sitting behind that desk. Yeah. I knew that I was going to have some almost comically oversized shoes to step into. But, yeah, I definitely feel like a child wearing a full adult clown pair of shoes.
SIEGEL: You've had a very good run of material. The world has obliged you. Edward Snowden trapped in the transit lounge of the Moscow Airport.
SIEGEL: Anthony Weiner returns to...
OLIVER: Anthony Weiner is the gift that cannot stop giving.
OLIVER: He gives and he gives and he gives.
SIEGEL: You did have the - on the more serious side - the George Zimmerman trial, the Detroit bankruptcy.
OLIVER: That's right. And you can throw some Supreme Court rulings in there as well, the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage. So, yeah, it has been - summer is usually a slower time. I was definitely prepared for it to be slower, and it has not worked out that way in any shape or form. So, yeah, I'm grateful as a comedian and slightly demoralized, occasionally, as a human being.
OLIVER: And those two things are always very different.
SIEGEL: Well, let's take a listen now to the story of all stories. Lucky you, the British - the senior British correspondent, were anchoring the program to tell America about a royal birth. Here is some of your reportage and analysis of that story.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV PROGRAM, "THE DAILY SHOW")
OLIVER: It was a boy. And finally, we have a member of the royal family with an actual excuse for being a toothless, petulant, useless human being.
That one could get me into trouble back home.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's now being chained into the famous golden easel in front of Buckingham Palace.
OLIVER: Ooh, the golden easel.
OLIVER: Don't look directly at it. You'll make it dirty with your peasant eyes.
OLIVER: Incidentally, when there is not a royal birth announcement, that easel is traditionally used to hold the nude portrait of the queen.
OLIVER: I think legally I can still be killed for that.
SIEGEL: John, you obviously felt the special burden to represent the United Kingdom in your stay...
OLIVER: I sure did. I anticipate that my knighthood will be in the mail. I think I just wait, right? I think it just makes its way over here after that. You know, I definitely felt that it was important to voice, you know, a true emotion at the greatest baby being born in the history of human civilization.
SIEGEL: (Laughing) All of the British interviews with you that I've read note that your Birmingham - your Midlands accent, is it a Brummie accent that you have...
SIEGEL: ...plays over here - who cares? You sound just like the queen to American ears.
OLIVER: Yeah. You're basically - you're sonically racist, Americans. You think we all sound the same. Yeah, whereas in fact, I have a - I have definitely a mongrel accent. My family are from Liverpool, so I have some twang there. I have a Midlands accent, and I was raised about an hour north of London. So my voice is a mess, although, yeah, to American ears it sounds like the crisp language of a queen's butler.
SIEGEL: (Laughing) Is it true that you were recommended to Jon Stewart for a job by Ricky Gervais?
OLIVER: I think it was. I've never looked too closely into that for fear that, you know, we always have an impostor syndrome whenever you are given your dream job. So, yeah, I've never looked too closely into it in case it turns out that they got the wrong person.
SIEGEL: And when you came over here to work on "The Daily Show," this was the beginning of your experience of America?
OLIVER: These were - I'd never been to America before. So, yeah, I mean, it was the beginning of my physical experience of America. But, you know, as someone who lives on Earth, I've had multiple experiences of America culturally and politically over my lifetime. Your influence spreads wide.
SIEGEL: We're unavoidable, you're saying.
OLIVER: You are unavoidable, again, in a physical and in an emotional sense.
SIEGEL: So what's actually surprised you? Living here, marrying an American woman, now being very much a part of American media, what is it that still makes you feel this place isn't quite real when you live here?
OLIVER: Well, I definitely believe that this place is real. I don't think the realness of America is in question. You know, you only need to see a car drive past with an American flag and an eagle on the back of it to realize that you are dealing with a high level of reality when it comes to America. No, I love it here. I deeply love it here. And, you know, I guess the tone of jokes is often, you know, at best irreverent, but it always comes from a place of deep love. I do not want to leave here. That is, I cannot make that clear enough to immigration authorities that...
OLIVER: ...may be listening to this interview: I don't want to leave. So, please don't make me.
SIEGEL: And you have a green card now. So...
OLIVER: I have a green card, yeah. But they can take that away. That's - they can take that away at any moment. So, please don't. Please let me keep it.
SIEGEL: Your stand-up show resumes tonight. Is it different? I mean, now that you're so identified with being the anchorman of "The Daily Show," does it change the way you think an audience receives you when you stand up?
OLIVER: I don't think so. I don't think it changes the way they respond to me. And people, I guess, generally come to see me do stand-up with a working knowledge of my broad sense of humor on "The Daily Show." So, no. I think it's pretty much the same. And, yeah, I don't think anyone would mistake me as an actual anchor. I think I'm just a summer fling that people will soon forget.
SIEGEL: The stand-up show is, I guess, on Friday, at the same time, at 11 p.m. Eastern, as "The Daily Show."
OLIVER: Yeah, this is - yeah, exactly.
SIEGEL: That's because...
OLIVER: I, we've just taken that slot on a Friday now.
SIEGEL: "The Daily Show" - on "The Daily Show," you're on guard for news, 24/4. I mean, you're...
OLIVER: Twenty four-four indeed, or 30-minute four.
OLIVER: It's slightly less catchy.
SIEGEL: Has anyone thought about expanding "The Daily Show" beyond four nights a week?
OLIVER: I don't know. I don't know. I guess that is a business decision. And like with any business decision, if they thought it would be profitable, they would do it without thinking about it.
SIEGEL: I see.
OLIVER: So, yeah, I have no idea if they are thinking about going for the 24/5. Can it be done? I'm not sure.
SIEGEL: OK. Well, John Oliver, how much longer do you have on "The Daily Show"?
OLIVER: Well, hopefully, a long time.
SIEGEL: No, I mean as the...
OLIVER: I'm hoping not to get fired, Robert, if that is what you're alluding to.
SIEGEL: No, I mean, as the anchor... (Laughing)
OLIVER: As anchor, I have another three weeks of the show, then we have two weeks off, and then Jon is back at the start of September. So I have three weeks. And then I'm hoping, upon Jon's return, I'm not going to be fired. I'm hoping that. And hearing you, especially your voice saying that, has given so much more weight to that anxiety in my mind.
SIEGEL: I'm... (Laughing) I didn't - I didn't mean to imply any such thing and...
OLIVER: I trust your voice. That is the problem. That there's a gravitas to your voice and hearing you say, how much longer do you think it will be that you're working there? It shan't be long, for sure.
SIEGEL: In that case, John Oliver, a man with obviously a very long career ahead of him...
SIEGEL: ...at Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," has been talking us. His own stand-up show resumes tonight. Thank you very much for talking with us.
OLIVER: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIEGEL: This is NPR News.
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