As I sat last night in the auditorium of Manhattan’s Symphony Space, laughing wildly at the stand-up routine that Daily Show correspondent John Oliver was taping for an upcoming Comedy Central special, one question kept nagging me: When exactly did he write all this side-splitting stuff? Could Oliver’s barbs been penned…gasp…during the late writers’ strike? So I breathed a sigh of relief when Oliver mentioned in passing that his material was actually written for him by a 10-year-old boy in Indonesia. “He lives and works at a factory,” Oliver said of the presumably non-Guild scribe. “Works, mostly. He’s a real worker.” He then whipped out the child’s “blood-spattered notebook” to share some more observational bits about “the man hitting me with a stick.”
That’s Oliver’s style in a nutshell: viciously political, with a smirking meta edge (plus an excellent Oxbridge accent). Like Jon Stewart in his prime, he metes out caustic political judgments on topics like religion, war, colonialism, and global economics — barely bothering to act like he’s kidding. Yet like Stephen Colbert, he’ll also slip at times into an elaborately ironic persona, eviscerating right-wing excess by pretending to embrace it. At one point, he played an excerpt of President Bush’s 2008 State of the Union address over Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” kneeling in humble admiration. “What’s your solution, Jon Stewart?” he shouted righteously.
Oliver was at his best last night when he was playing off of pre-recorded videos like that, or when he got to interact with special guest Andy Zaltzman. In other words, it all amounted to a 90-minute episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report as hosted by Oliver — one hell of an audition. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Comedy Central needs to give Oliver his own regular show, stat. (In the meantime, you can tune in to his stand-up special on the auspicious date of April 20.) Who’s with me?