November 20, 2010
24 hours before John Oliver’s show, I had already been subjected to a night full of laughs, and now even more hilarity is on deck. The night before, I enjoyed a set from the outrageous (if slightly mean-spirited) humor of comedian Louis C.K., also right here at The Paramount. Here I am finally recovering, and now going back into the proverbial lion’s den for another round of hard laughs. If not careful, there was going to be danger of a busted gut. At the very least, I’m sure my face was going to hurt something fierce.
Arriving early, I found many patrons already inside eagerly awaiting the show. Although some were young (members of The Daily Show demographic, to be sure), the audience was of all ages. As the moments passed, more and more arrived and packed the place to capacity.
Once the lights went down, executive director Ken Stein came out and introduced the opening act. A young comic who warmed up the crowd, Shane Mauss entertained us with his goofy charm and child-like pluckiness.
After a brief set by Mauss, he introduced the headliner and finally passed the mic to the man of the hour, Mr. John Oliver.
What struck me first about Oliver was how casual he looked. This is a guy I’m accustomed to seeing as a correspondent, usually clad in suit and tie. Not as a depiction of a stiff Brit, but as a professional. It was a bit jarring to see him as a regular guy clad in jeans, sneakers and a poplin shirt.
Once John began his act, though, all the confusion melted away and I settled in to enjoy his brand of comedy. A bit ranty but always hilarious; it was a unique show I can only describe as a cross between observational humor and a state of the union address.
While most were a series of observations, he sprinkled amusing tales of when he was on assignment for The Daily Show. These anecdotes were real highlights, because of his storytelling style. Drawing you in with a tale, he adds intrigue and dialogue that have you laughing well before he builds to such absurd conclusions. Amongst these gems was a story of a disconcerting ride to the airport from a Michigan hotel with a frightening driver. When the journey goes off the beaten path (literally), John fears for his life when the stranger claims he “wants to show him something.” Needless to say, John was not killed. He did, however, learn that this burly fellow proclaimed himself to be the first line of defense against any invading Canadians. Neighbors to the North, you have been warned.
For a “stand-up” act, Oliver showed a lot of energy up there, at times becoming a “sit-down,” a “kneeling,” and even a “prone position” act. Yes, he was all over the place in both topic and his staging, but the show benefited from these manic actions. Whether demonstrating drunken antics or re-enacting Thanksgiving with his father, John wasn’t afraid to get into character for our amusement.
Staying true to his roots, John made sure to anchor his act to what he does best: point out what the heck is wrong with America. From Brett Favre to Las Vegas to blind consumption, Oliver didn’t hesitate illustrating what a silly and nonsensical society we often inhabit. There were several acute observations, but a favorite was about the error of generalizations. He noted how many in our country have an irrational fear about Islam, and made the comparison that equating all Islamists to terrorists is akin to equating all Americans to baseball players. Amusing when you find the sport’s biggest stars in baseball to be the likes of Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols.
Oliver also clarified that he has gained more perspective and respect for the democratic processes now that he lives in the Unites States. What has become increasingly grating to him is the prevalence of voter apathy. He shared that Australia has attempted to counter this trend by making voting mandatory (can you imagine that here?!) and that many pubs and bars are open to provide alcoholic incentives around the clock. As John concluded, this is not a very good recipe for responsible civic duty. And so the search for shaking off this apathy continues.
Furthermore, Oliver has incensed that as a British citizen living in America, he had no control or voting privileges even though he paid his taxes here in the States. Then, it hit him. What was he actually angry about? Taxation, without representation. “Ohhhh,” John said solemnly. “That was a big deal, wasn’t it?”
As he ended his set, Oliver lamented the pathetic remnants of what was once the mighty British empire. Once the most dominant nation on Earth, it has now been reduced to the voice of a gecko selling insurance. To emphasize his contention, he produced a list from his pocket. On that piece of paper was a list of Guinness world records. But not “real” records, mind you, like Olympic marks or any legitimate feat of human endeavor. No, this list was more of the Joey Chestnut variety, if you know what I mean. Feats of the ridiculous and asinine.
Now, who do you think now dominates these types of accomplishments? The good old U.S. of A. Who was the first to jog across the Sahara? American. Most live rattlesnakes in the mouth? American. Oldest stripper? You guessed it. Largest gathering of people dressed as gorillas? Oh, well looky here! It’s the British! The Queen should be so proud. And over the laughter from this final revelation, John Oliver was sure to plead with us not to take this record from them. It’s all they have.
As I left the theatre that night, I was relived that my gut had not ruptured. But my face did hurt, in spite of the beer ingested. It was a good hurt, though. I’d much rather have sore muscles from laughter rather than say, stepping on a rusty nail or even getting a paper cut. And I think all of us at The Paramount felt the same joyous yet cathartic pain. We laughed because it’s funny and we laughed because it’s true. Sure, Oliver may venture into the realm of the hyperbole to make his points, but these arguments are no less valid despite the snarkiness. Any fool can point to the ills of our country, but only a jester can make us laugh instead of cry at the idea.