“Hmm, John Oliver. That’s the guy from The Daily Show, right?”
This was my first impression a few months ago when I saw his name on the list for the Paramount 2010/11 season. Now that I’m familiar with his work, it’s a show I will not miss. Please, allow me to explain.
Confession. I’m not, or ever have been, a regular viewer of The Daily Show. It’s not that I don’t find merit in the program, because I do find the writing witty and the insight to usually be spot on. Admittedly, I may be more inclined to appreciate it due to my seed of counter-culture inside me (particularly in a state that for some reason just re-elected Rick Perry as governor, again).
I’ve not watched it all these years because I never thought it would be my cup of tea (as in the drink, not the
crazies political movement). However, just because I don’t watch The Daily Show, doesn’t mean I’m a lunatic who prefers Glenn Beck. In fact, I’d rather opt for lobotomy over watching anything on FOX News (which coincidentally, may be the requisite for finding anything informative about that very network).
Oh, but did I mention I don’t have cable TV? That kind of answers the whole “why I don’t watch” thing. I probably should have mentioned that to begin with. Oops.
Of course, through the miracle of the interwebs I’ve been able to catch up on what I’ve been missing all this time. My appreciation for the show grows… well… daily. What I find most enjoyable is the cast. There are enough personality types on the show that it replicates a kind of family dynamic. And by “family,” I obviously mean the dysfunctional (yet endearing) kind. Political rantings dyed with this level of satire is likely reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner for most of us. Ah, I can almost hear it now. “Uh oh, Uncle Lewis Black is ranting again. Someone get his high blood pressure meds.”
For those more familiar to the show than I was, they know that a strength has historically been the hilarious correspondents and contributors. Off the top of my head, I can think of the aforementioned Lewis Black, as well as Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, John Hodgeman, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Rob Corddry, Mo Rocca, Dave Attell, and (why not?) Olivia Munn. Each quirky and brilliant in their own way. Browsing endless clips on YouTube and Hulu, I’ve developed a short list of favorites. At the top of that list is the ever affable… John Oliver.
Oliver is a stand-up comedian who appears as a “Senior British Correspondent” on The Daily Show. After discovering his work online, I discovered I can whittle away hours watching his comedy. His pieces are consistently funny, and all have a boyish charm that make his humor appear countercultural and precocious. He’s like a cross between Sacha Baron Cohen and Harry Potter.
But what is it about Oliver’s twist on the news that makes me ask for more? Is it the Emmy-winning writing? The sharp social commentary? The sometimes tongue-in-cheek exasperation? The nonchalant delivery? Nah.
It’s the British accent.
There seems to be a mystical power over us American yokels regarding Brit accents. I’ve met many people who are absolute suckers for an English dialect, and evidently they represent a microcosm of how this country feels about Great Britain in general. How does the old saying go? The U.S. and England are two nations separated by a common language? I’m inclined to believe it, and I guess for us the grass is always greener over on the British Isles.
For those seduced by the land of fish and chips, bangers, beef trifles and afternoon tea, I imagine the accent just makes things sweeter and more pleasant to listen to. It’s like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Wait, who said that? That’s right. Mary friggin’ Poppins, the nanny. And guess where she’s from?
Contemplating the why was a tricky proposition. Perhaps the accent sounds so familiar and yet so (paradoxically) foreign that it demands our attention. Perhaps we’re tired of listening to our own boorish speech. Perhaps the accent makes discussion sound more regal or sophisticated. We seem to respect the British more, as if it lends itself an increased cachet.
For instance, look at recent Oscar winners. What do Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Tilda Swinton, Rachel Weitz, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, and a few dozen other nominees have in common? You guessed it. Old Blighty. Heck, even Gwyneth Paltrow has an Oscar, and I attribute it solely to her playing a British role in Shakespeare in Love. Because, let’s be honest; if Paltrow was truly talented, we wouldn’t be marvelling at her performance at the Country Music Awards, now would we? As a side note, I’m pretty sure the CMAs are the one venue where a British accent won’t help.
And do you think television news networks aren’t aware that British accents equate to increased credibility? Take a look at (former CNN darling) Christiane Amanpour. Or how about Martin Bashir? Why else do you think more people would trust BBC news over MSNBC or (gulp) The Drudge Report? The accent, baby.
So it stands to reason that John Oliver’s candor (and accent) allows him to brazenly tell the truth to American audiences, even on a fake news program. We can tolerate the Horatian satire because of how earnest he is. Hopefully, we can also learn a thing or two.
Here’s a prime example of what allows our great state of Texas to select the like of Rick Perry… again.
Even better, here’s this. This clip summarizes what I’ve been personally espousing for years now. And why I always remember that “nostalgia” isn’t just a yearning, it’s a malady. A reminder that clarifies the proverbial “rose-tinted glasses” are really just cataracts that cloud one’s vision.
We laugh, then laugh some more, and hopefully see through our self-delusion. American folly can be brought to light and we won’t feel inclined to shoot this messenger. John Oliver can tell the truth because he’s British. After all, it worked for Simon Cowell.
Comedian John Oliver has two shows at The Paramount on Saturday, November 20th. An 8 pm, and a late show at 10:30 pm. Go to one of them. You know you want to. What else are you gonna do? Go to the movies and watch Harry Potter, Part 7?