Interview: John Oliver

The British comic and Daily Show correspondent on Glenn Beck, gun nuts, and the National Health
By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 27, 2009

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John Oliver is English. There's no getting around it, really. He's got that funny accent. His title at The Daily Show is "Senior British Correspondent." He went to Cambridge. He may even munch on tea and crumpets for all we know.

Unlike many of us, Oliver chose to live in America. He came here in 2006, and its his outsider's view of this vast and vaunted land of weirdoes, wingnuts, and whackjobs that makes trenchant comedy — last showcased in his stand-up special, Terrifying Times — so remarkable.

Although he still holds a grudge against Boston for igniting that revolution a couple centuries ago, Oliver has agreed to bring his topical observations to the Wilbur Theatre on Friday. We e-mailed him to get some perspective on current events.

You called out the odious Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh last month, describing them as "beneath contempt" and "kind of a joke in themselves." What are some of the better misspelled, ALL-CAPS, creatively punctuated e-mail responses you've received from their fans?
Luckily, I have most of my handwritten mail intercepted now by security. Before this happened, the classic warning sign was anything written in green ink. That always promised you some quintessential crazy. Unfortunately, emails don't come with the same color coded warning. But you're right, any email in ALL-CAPS is always promising a treat - I've certainly been called a BRITISH FUKK before and have received explicit instructions to BURN IN HEEL.

Speaking of Glen Beck, what sort of outrageous thing would you have to say on-air in order for 36 companies to decide to boycott the Daily Show?
We can't compete with him. He's out on his own now. He is the Usain Bolt of whackjobs.

A recent Washington Post headline: "Health-Reform Rhetoric Gets Personal for Britons." Does it hurt your feelings when people make fun of the NHS?
It's amazing the response that American criticism of the NHS has received in Britain. Before it happened, people did not have a good word to say about the NHS — but now they are lining up to defend it. It seems that we are allowed to say it's terrible, but no-one else is. The NHS is our N Word.

Defend the National Health ... if you can. (Stephen Hawking never would've survived over there, you know.)
In principle, it is absolutely the system that you want; Universal Health Care, with no-one allowed to fall through the net. In practicality, it is a minefield. Long, long waiting lists, and hugely overworked and underpaid doctors. Also, you have to factor in how genetically weak British people are. We took the loss of the Empire hard, and we are now extra prone to all known diseases. However, your Stephen Hawking example is misinformed. We worked on him round the clock in a special laboratory — he is the world's first bionic genius. He's got laser canon eyes. Pray that you never make him prove it.

Suddenly, gun nuts are showing up outside Barack Obama's speeches. Scary stuff. The UK, on the other hand, has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. If an Englishman wanted to make a statement outside a Gordon Brown speech, what prop would you suggest that man carry instead?
We use the old fashioned British tut of disapproval — it is absolutely devastating at a range of up to 20 miles.

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  Topics: Comedy , Barack Obama, The Daily Show, Rush Limbaugh,  More more >
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