John Oliver's "Vanity" Project

Since 2006, John Oliver has been a correspondent and writer for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, bringing a brilliant satirical wit that fits perfectly with the show's unstated mission to take no prisoners when it comes to attacking politicians and the media. He's since branched out into acting roles, including The Love Guru and NBC's Community, as well as the upcoming film version of The Smurfs. But he got his start as a stand-up comedian, and he's bringing his stage show to Houston's House of Blues this Friday.

Art Attack: How often does your Daily Show schedule allow you to work on your stand-up? John Oliver: Not as often as I'd like. The Daily Show is a pretty relentless schedule. My main chance to do gigs is whenever we have a hiatus week -- hence my coming to Houston now!

AA: Do you think your stand-up has changed since becoming a regular political humorist? Has the TV gig affected the way you write and structure stand-up bits? Oliver: Not really. There isn't a great deal of crossover between writing stand-up and writing for TV. And the fact that they're so different actually helps keep each one fresh. I really look forward to doing stand-up, as it's a great change of pace from the daily grind of writing for TV.

AA: What draws you to political/topical humor? Has this always been your top choice, or have you wanted to spend more time on more personal or observational humor? Do you feel that "political humorist" is too narrow a label? Oliver: I think that's too narrow a label. Personally, I just see myself as a comedian, albeit a comedian that happens to spend some time talking about what is happening in the world politically. I think "political comedy" is a subject matter, rather than a genre. I tend to talk about whatever I find funny at the time. I've got no real "mission" other than to be funny.

AA: Terrifying Times was mostly thematically linked material about Bush, war, etc. Is your current set similarly tied to one large idea? Is that something you set out to create, or something that evolves organically? Oliver: The Terrifying Times show was thematically linked as it was written to be performed in an hour special for TV. What I'm doing at the moment doesn't have one overriding idea to it, as I've just filmed a new series of my stand-up show for Comedy Central, where I do different 10-minute sets at the start of each of the six episodes, instead of one long set. So at the moment, my material is a lot more varied. It also changes all the time. If it didn't, I'd get bored.

AA: Have you had to pass on certain opportunities because of your dual commitments to Daily Show and Community? Oliver: Yes, I have. But I really don't mind, because I absolutely love working for The Daily Show; in many ways, it's my dream job. And Community has been incredibly generous about working around my Daily Show schedule, meaning I can shoot episodes for them whenever I have some time off.

AA: What's the contributor balance like on The Daily Show in terms of writing your commentary and field pieces? Do you spearhead those, or are they more team-based, pitched to various correspondents? Oliver: The whole writing process is extremely collaborative. As writers, we usually write in pairs, whether it's for headlines for Jon Stewart, or chats for correspondents. And we write the chats for whichever correspondent we feel is most appropriate for the bit. The field pieces are slightly different. They are mainly written by the correspondent and whichever field producer is working on the story.

AA: Is there a way to keep track of your dates online? Your MySpace page seems slightly out-of-date. Oliver: I'm afraid there isn't. That MySpace page is dead, and I'm so busy at the moment that I haven't had time to set up a website. I'm also not on Facebook or Twitter. I realize that this is a slightly ridiculous situation, but until I put it right, the only way to find out when and where I'm performing is either word of mouth or physically stealing my personal planner.

AA: What can you tell us about The Smurfs? Oliver: All I can tell you is that I am Vanity Smurf. I speak a few times, and spend the rest of the movie gazing at myself in the mirror. I think they chose me because to the rest of the world, the British accent is still the sonic embodiment of narcissism.

AA: One last question: What's in the future for Community's Professor Duncan? He and Chang seem somehow made for each other. Oliver: I don't know what the future holds for him. But you're right, Duncan and Chang seem to have struck up a very happy, dysfunctional relationship. It was contempt at first sight. I think deep down, they're both aware that they're each lucky to have such a committed nemesis in their lives.

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Daniel Carlson
Contact: Daniel Carlson