Despite the accolades and rave reviews John Oliver has received over the last year, the comedian still says he’s taken aback by the popularity of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”
“I’m still sort of bamboozled by the level of success of the show,” Oliver admits. “When we started, I didn’t want to let HBO down. I didn’t want to let down Jon Stewart because he taught me everything... And now I feel like we don’t want to let down the people who watch the show.”
Like “The Daily Show” (where Oliver spent many years as a correspondent), “Last Week Tonight” both parodies the news and illuminates undercover issues. Oliver and his team were often praised for their coverage of topics like the struggle of Afghan translators to get visas to move to the United States. He adds that he was surprised that critics seem to be surprised that viewers were willing to watch 10-minute segments on intense topics.
“You have to have a pretty intense level of contempt for the American people if you think people only watch something if it’s 2 minutes long and it has someone being smashed in the nuts or something,” he says. “I’m not saying I don’t enjoy 2-minute-long nonsense, but there has to be protein along with dessert.”
While promos for the second season have touted the fact that absolutely nothing about the show will change for viewers, Oliver and his team are planning to go even more in-depth in the new season. “Everyone wants to get better, and we should be able to get better,” he says.
The journalism question:Oliver is firmly in the camp that his show is, at its heart, a comedy program, but his staff did recently add four additional researchers to the mix — all have strong traditional journalism backgrounds. “We’re pretty rigorous in terms of fact-checking. We love to show people things that they haven’t seen before,” he explains. “They will fact check numbers in documentaries or the news. They’ll say, ok that thing is not as true as they say.”
An Englishman in New York:There is a long history of satire in Oliver’s native England, but he says he feels more American than ever. “I’ve been here ten years now,” he says. “I’m married to an American. I have no plans to leave. I think I sound more different than I am.”
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.