Having wowed The Daily Show faithful with his poker-faced topical barbs, John Oliver steps away from Jon Stewart's green screens and onto the stage of New York City's Symphony Space for his first American stand-up special, John Oliver: Terrifying Times (tonight at 10 pm/ET, Comedy Central). We asked this one-man British invasion to give us his impressions of the Land of the Free.
TVGuide.com: Any special message for the Colonies in your first stand-up special?
John Oliver: It's so good to hear that word, "colonies." I want to reassure Americans that empires die, and you won't be blamed forever. We were destroying the world long before you were. People just see [Britain] as a benign, ex-aggressive uncle now. It’s all going to be fine.
TVGuide.com: What topics do you address?
Oliver: Generally political, and the way the world is now. Economy, the environment, empires, and a story of how I got into comedy. It involves me as an 11-year-old in a 400-meter race and my penis.
TVGuide.com: Let's not spoil that. Instead, talk about the misconceptions us Yankees have about you Brits.
Oliver: You really are throwing in some 1915-style words! [Laughs] We pronounce words correctly. We invented words. If you wanted to mangle a language you should have invented your own when you kicked us out. Our dentistry is appalling and our food is inedible. You might think those are xenophobic remarks, but they're pretty accurate.
TVGuide.com: How do the absurdities of America's presidential elections compare with Britain's parliamentary ones?
Oliver: Yours is longer. You can't overestimate how long this process is. What you lack in democracy you gain in sheer length.
TVGuide.com: It has an attrition effect.
Oliver: It's a rainbow of emotions — you get bored, frustrated, excited again, then bewildered. Then there's disbelief that it's still going on. In Britain we get it over quicker. And of course we have that whole monarch thing, which is stabilizing for what is nothing more than a tourist attraction.
TVGuide.com: Which British PM reminds you most of President Bush?
Oliver: [Laughs] In terms of intellect, William Pitt the Younger, who was the youngest we ever had. [Pitt first took office in 1783 at the age of 24.] He was certainly a child. If he were 11 years old, you could probably explain it away, but taking how he behaved in front of fully grown adults is a little hard to bear. Otherwise, I don't think we've had anyone quite like Bush before. I don't think anyone has. He's an individual figure, a maverick, an iconoclast.
TVGuide.com: You talked about our lack of a national language…. Bush has tried to rectify that.
Oliver: That's true. He has a hybrid language that falls between standard English grammar and something he is pioneering. I don't know if he has written down the grammatical rules that he is making up. Maybe he'll have the new Esperanto.
TVGuide.com: Obama vs. Clinton — who wins and why?
Oliver: As far as I can see, Obama's won, so that's interesting for a start. If he doesn’t win — having won — then there is a great question of why, and I guess you'd have a far more detailed and in-depth democracy than the rest of the world has given you credit for. Just as Bush managed to win an election he lost in 2000, if Clinton manages to do the same then clearly the rest of the world's democracies start to look dusty and old.
TVGuide.com: Thoughts on McCain?
Oliver: He seems like a decent man. It's odd. When you start from such a low point like this current administration, anything seems better. Anarchy would be better than what is happening now. It's not for me to say. I'm British — I don't get to vote here.
TVGuide.com: As a Daily Show correspondent, you've "traveled" around the globe. Do you have a favorite location?
Oliver: In terms of the green screen, you mean? I don't want to come across as Santa Claus now, debunking that hypothetical myth. But it's all "green," that's the thing. I guess I prefer a lighter shade of green to a darker shade. I never look behind me. It's all a bemused-looking cameraman standing in front of me.
TVGuide.com: As a part of the American media, how do you compare it to Britain's?
Oliver: Your media is certainly further along on the road to self-parody than ours is. Just as Bush is pioneering this new form of language, I'm not sure what it is that Fox News is doing at the moment. It is interesting, this line between information and some kind of entertainment in the horror genre. Network news leaves a little bit to be desired here. I heard it was bad before getting here, but I didn't realize how bad. As a comedian, I'm not encumbered by facts whatsoever, but I'm not sure a genuine journalist really should have that liberation. Facts really should be a burden he or she has to carry.
TVGuide.com: In closing, what can American imperialism learn from British imperialism?
Oliver: You've learned it all, because you're doing it pretty well. You want to ram your system of beliefs down the currently closed throats of the rest of the world. We did it, the Romans did it, and China will do it in the future.
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