John Oliver talks hosting 'The Daily Show,' his stress nightmares, and his dream guest
Tonight, John Oliver starts a three-month stint hosting Comedy Central’s The Daily Show while Jon Stewart is away directing his debut movie, the drama Rosewater. To hear the British comedian tell it, the decision was a no-brainer.
“Jon called me on the phone to say they’d got the money for the movie and then asked if I would host over the summer,” Oliver explained. “I said yes just automatically. I owe him so much I will do anything he wants, from temporarily hosting a show to disposing of a body. It was only on hanging the phone up that I suddenly thought, ‘Whoa. What have I just agreed to?'”
Below, Oliver talks more about standing in for Stewart, his dream guest, and the likelihood of his teeth falling out on camera.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were there other people in line for the job of temporary host? I’m imagining a lot of scheming and backstabbing among the Daily Show correspondents — like Showgirls, but with less nudity.
JOHN OLIVER: [Laughs] Oh, much more than you know. We have a swimming pool here that we all thrash around in for at least three hours a day. No, everyone’s been incredibly supportive.
Presumably it helped your case that you are one of the show’s writers as well.
I think so. It’s easier to negotiate the process of making the show every day if you are quite deeply embedded in it. Jon is involved in every single aspect of the show so you really need to replace that directly, just in this instance with a lower skill set.
In the press release announcing your appointment as guest host, you were quoted as saying, “Don’t worry, it’s still going to be everything that you love about The Daily Show, just without the thing that you love the most about it.” Which is one of those lines that is funny because it’s true.
Because it is profoundly true. It’s like having the royal family without the Queen. It’s like the Queen taking the summer off. And you can dress up like the Queen, but you’re not the Queen.
Will you be dressing up as the Queen at any point this summer?
Listen, it’s three long months with a royal baby in it. I can’t imagine that I’m not going to be in a Queen costume at some point.
Who would be your dream guest during your tenure as host?
What would you ask her?
I think I’d probably ask her, “What exactly do you do? Just talk me through an average day. Please explain to me how a percentage of my income as a British resident went to your average day.”
I think she’d probably reply, “You aren’t a British resident any more, you motherf—er.”
[Laughs] If she replies like that I hope it’s in the context of being a guest on this show. Because then we would have one of the most spectacular interviews in human history: “British head of state calls subject a motherf—er.”
The problem is that if you make a hash of hosting and make too much fun of the royal family you could be deported from America and banned from the U.K.
That’s right. I’d probably need to go and live on that trash pile in the Pacific.
Hey, even trash piles in the Pacific need cutting edge satire!
[Laughs] Perhaps trash piles more than anywhere else need the benefit of being ruthlessly satirized.
Of course you recently did say “whoop-de-f—ing-doo” to former Australian prime minister John Howard.
I did! I did!
Are there any other notable international leaders, past or present, that you would like to say that to?
Oh, there are so many. But I will say it was fun saying it to him. Just the flash of disbelief across his face. Even though, as an Australian, I’m sure he’s heard worse.
He probably heard worse that day.
Exactly! We’re not dealing with a delicate flower here. This is John Howard. But, yeah, there are so many people I would like to say “whoop-de-f—ing-doo” to. I’m just glad that I’ve moved up from saying it zero times to world leaders to once.
I would describe your correspondent persona as “over-caffeinated über-Brit.” How much thinking have you done with regard to your persona as host?
Not much thinking. I am an over-caffeinated über-Brit. I think you’re giving my performance skills slightly more respect than they deserve.
Speaking of performance skills, over the years Jon has gotten a lot of comedy mileage out of his appearing in the movie Death to Smoochy. Is that why you appeared in The Love Guru? So that if you ever did host The Daily Show you would have your own crappy movie to reference?
I’ve modeled my movie career on his, too, yeah. The Love Guru and then The Smurfs 2, which is coming out this summer. My movie career proves that this is the only thing that I can do.
Have you had any hosting-related stress dreams?
Yeah. Everything from teeth falling out to trying to think of an interesting question for Salma Hayek. If it was a Salma Hayek dream. that may have actually led in a different direction.
The good news is that, as a Brit — and I say this as one myself — if your teeth do fall out on camera that would not surprise viewers at all.
I think they’re just waiting anyway. It’s going to go at any moment! It’s like people looking at the Leaning Tower of Pisa: You want to be there to see the fall.
Are you getting a pay raise out of this?
I don’t think so. Again, that’s probably something I should have looked at.
Would you like to become the permanent host of either The Daily Show or something else, like Daily Show alum Stephen Colbert?
Maybe one day. But I can’t really think that far ahead. It’s like being stuck in open water. Your main thing is trying not to drown. You’re not thinking, “Oh, when I don’t drown, I wonder if I should learn Spanish.” I know it might seem like an achievable goal, but I’m just trying to make sure that when Jon gets back the entire studio isn’t somehow in flames.