How John Oliver Is Doing Late Night Right
Comedic critiques of news, policies and government are not a very new thing. From 1945 to now, the model for late night talk shows – and subsequent satirical news programs that came from them – has stayed very true to its origins. Allowing us to chuckle and sigh at world affairs today, these TV shows have become a comfort for many Americans, who at times feel like they’re the only sane people watching everything around them crash and burn. For the most part, these shows seldom did anything but give us that comfort. But there’s always an exception to the rule. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver has gone above and beyond what many of its predecessors have created, transcending the screen to enact real-world change around us.
John Oliver, a product of Jon Stewart’s monstrously talented writing team, has elevated the form of politically charged late night TV that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report pioneered. Now that the hosts of both of these Comedy Central giants are leaving their shows, Oliver has been able to soothe us with his own witty observations.
All of his large segments get posted to Youtube, and they generally go viral. Like Stewart, people respond to Oliver’s ability to break down tough situations in a way that his audience cares about. He doesn’t attempt to pander to viewers, but he does make easily digestible sound bites, simplifying complex issues in a way that anyone can understand. It’s a similar model to Stewart’s, but Oliver is a fresh voice. His Britishness gives him status as somewhat of an outsider, and enables him to see American politics from a different perspective than his colleagues (much like the Scottish Armando Iannucci of Veep). He makes audiences care by putting politics in the context of our daily lives – for example, his segment on how the Patriot Act enables the government to see our “private” nudes, which incorporated Edward Snowden into a conversation about dick pics.
While both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had profound effects on our culture at large, Last Week Tonight has entered into the cultural lexicon so well it’s actually managed to enact real world change. Most recently, surreal headlines popped up informing readers that John Oliver was cited in an appeals court. Not only that, but the showrunners’ exposé on the dirty dealings of FIFA blew up, and eventually led to Sepp Blatter stepping down as chairman. A recent segment on televangelism has prompted an IRS probe of the entire institution.
Oliver educates without being condescending or boring, and we genuinely believe America gets a little bit smarter with each episode. The comedian has been able to take an age old formula and rework it into the most and honest and straightforward look at current affairs today. And for that, we salute you Mr. Oliver!