Ian Chant: Let's get the one your probably the most sick of hearing out of the way first - How did you get your start in comedy?
John Oliver: I first began writing comedy at University – and as soon as I realized that it might be possible to behave in an infantile manner for the rest of my life and get paid for it – I decided that comedy was for me.
IC: Most people know you from your work on the Daily Show - how did you get involved in one of the funniest shows on American TV? Is it a case of you calling on Comedy Central, or were you approached by the show? Do you have any preferences as far as doing TV work or traditional stand up? Could you maybe speak to the challenges and rewards of each medium? And because I've got to know, how does one break their nose filming a TV segment for a satirical news show?
J.O: The Daily Show was my favorite program even when I was back in England, so to be working on it now is pretty much a dream come true. How I came to work on the show is something that still seems like a bit of a blur. It all happened very quickly – one minute I was writing a radio show in London, next thing I was in New York being offered a job. I can’t really explain it to myself, so I’m struggling to explain it to you.
I like both writing for television and stand-up. Each tends to be a good release from the tensions of the other. Stand-up is very immediate, and can be looser – writing for the Daily Show is a much more disciplined process. Both are satisfying in different ways – and both are most exciting when the learning curve is steepest.
As for breaking my nose; I did that fighting against the Confederate Army in a re-enactment of the American Civil War. So at least I now know what kind of soldier I would be. I would be terrible. Having said that, I did help defeat the South, and I think I deserve both credit and a medal for that.
I.C: Did you have any experience working in America before the Daily Show? In the same vein, how do your live sets in the States compare to the work you did in the U.K.? Do you get better reactions on some material here; do your material and interactions with the audience change based on where you’re performing? And since you’ve already got a letter of complaint from Buckingham Palace with your name on it - can we expect you to be denounced by the White House sometime soon, if only for the sake of symmetry?
J.O: I had never been to America before coming here to work on the show. My stand up has always dealt with politics in a global sense, so it has translated surprisingly easy. It’s been interesting to see how audiences in America respond to material criticizing their President – in my experience so far they have agreed even more fervently than people back in Britain.
I have indeed already received a letter of complaint from the Queen. I was in fact invited to the White House Press Dinner this year, but it is on the same night as the gig at your college – and I have opted to get what has to be a warmer reception at Washington state rather than DC. However hostile you are, you simply cannot dislike me as much as the GOP.
I.C: Regarding England, do you ever find yourself getting homesick? Any plans for future work in England or with your long time partner Andy Zaltzman, or a triumphant return to the Edinburgh Festival? Has anyone, to your knowledge, ever returned to Edinburgh triumphantly? And is there any place fans of your work can access material from Political Animals or The Department?
J.O: I absolutely want to go back to the Edinburgh Festival as soon as possible. It is the greatest reason for doing comedy. It can be a stressful and expensive place to perform, but otherwise I haven’t got a bad word to say about it. Andy Zaltzman and I are still writing together, albeit currently across an ocean. We hope to try to get a couple of things off the ground both here and back in Britain. You must be able to find Political Animal and The Department on a file sharing site somewhere. But I am planning to put it online myself soon, so you can download away to your hearts content.