The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has, over the last five or six years, proven to be a fertile breeding ground for new comedic talent. Many of their "correspondents", who became famous while appearing on the show, parlayed that exposure into movies and other TV shows, with the result that the Daily Show has spawned no fewer than three spin-offs - all of them hosted by former Daily Show alumni.
The first, and arguably most successful "correspondent" to make the jump was Steve Carrell, famous for his Produce Pete and Even Stephven segments. His awkward, earnest yet pathetic persona, cultivated for years on the Daily Show, easily found a home in Hollywood; in 2005 he starred as the main characters in both The 40-Year Old Virgin and the still-running US version of The Office.
Stephen Colbert, easily my favourite correspondent ever, followed suit later that year with a spinoff show of his own, The Colbert Report. It was based on a gag promo he had done the year before spoofing right-wing opinion shows such as The O'Reilly Factor and Scarborough Country; however Comedy Central liked it so much that they commissioned an actual show in the coveted 11:30 PM slot, right after the Daily Show. The Report has gone on to become blisteringly successful, with Stephen amassing so much online support that he has had, or should have had, bridges in Hungary and International Space Station lounges named after him, along with a semi-comedic run for President and an invitation to join the US Olympic Speed Skating Team at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics as the team's "assistant psychological consultant".
Open the Floodgates
The massive success of these two prompted virtually every correspondent since to jump ship at some point to explore new career opportunities; Rob Corddry, who cultivated a balding, angry, middle age crisis persona on the show, saw his career more or less tank after leaving. Ed Helms was a little more successful, managing to snag a recurring role on The Office as well as co-starring in the 2009 comedy The Hangover. Demetri Martin, who hosted a hilarious segment on the Daily Show called Trendspotting, used many of the same themes on his own spinoff-show called Important Things with Demetri Martin, which is now in its second season and is extremely creative and funny in its own right.
The high turnover rate at the Daily Show set the stage for John Oliver, whose bookishness, Birmingham accent and biting, historical humour quickly won over viewers to the point where he's become possibly the most famous correspondent since Stephen Colbert. He juxtaposes the old empire of his homeland, Great Britain, with that of his adoptive country with hilarious results.
On the looting of Iraqi palaces for war trophies: "Us English know how it's done. Have you ever seen the British Museum? It's practically an active crime scene."
On Holocaust Denial: "Has *your* country ever tried killing 30 million people? Believe me it's a logistical nightmare."
On still feeling angry after moving to America: "I pay my taxes. I try to fit in. I've learnt your rudimentary language. I don't know what more you could reasonably expect me to do. And that's when it hit me. I know why I'm so angry. I know what this is. Taxation without representation."
It was only a matter of time before he, too, spawned his own show. And so it came as no surprise when, in September 2009, one was announced, due to start in January 2010.
Put bluntly, for a comedian with so much promise as John Oliver, this seems to be a fast, barely-thought-out, slapdash attempt at capitalizing on his fame as quickly as possible. Sorry John, I love you, but it had to be said. Unlike the Colbert Report and Important Things, which are well-thought-out comedy shows with creative premises, John Oliver's New York Stand Up Show basically consists of six minutes of John's standup at the start, followed by fifty-four minutes of standup from other people, his New York "guests". It's more or a less a dressed-up-version of Just for Laughs.
That said, there's nothing wrong with the show per se. John Oliver's standup, predictably, is hilarious, and the calibre of his guests has so far been high, including Janeane Garofalo, Brian Posehn and Mary-Lynn Rajskub. If an hour of stand-up comedy is what you want, then your wishes have been answered. But a comedian like John Oliver, who is smart, unique and hilarious, could have done so much more than just hosting a standup show. Even with the odd sketch or two thrown in it could have been so much better. But it seems like in the rush to capitalize on his fame, Comedy Central threw together the fastest, easiest show possible, and probably put a mind-numbingly gargantuan contract in front of John's face.
Despite this, I will continue to watch the show (online), if only for John's standup. And I will laugh, and laugh heartily. But there will always be that nagging voice in the back of my head that says, this could have been so much better. I hope John Oliver and Comedy Central eventually realize this too, and get him the kind of show he deserves. He hasn't officially left the Daily Show yet, probably because the workload needed for his show is so tiny, so you can still enjoy his correspondent pieces there. And if you still haven't gotten your John Oliver fix yet, you can check out his weekly podcast "The Bugle" here. But here's hoping that he lands a much better show, soon.
Thanks to BaronWR and e2reneta for directing me towards The Bugle.