Q&A: John Oliver 

The Comedian Talks Stand-Up, Politics, and Our Inevitable Chinese Overlords

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You know John Oliver as the British guy on The Daily Show, as well as from his recurring role as Professor Duncan on Community. Oliver is doing stand-up this week in Portland; we chatted via email.

MERCURY: Have you gotten your green card yet? And why on earth would anyone want an American green card at a time like this? You know America is in trouble, right? Or is it really that much worse in Britain?

JOHN OLIVER: I do actually have my green card now. It was a long and unsettling process, to be honest. They even tested me for tuberculosis at one point. I can only assume that they were concerned that I was a 19th-century British chimney sweep. I tried marrying Gérard Depardieu, as I'd been led to believe that that was a legal shortcut, but apparently that just made me French. America is actually a far preferable place to live than the UK at the moment. And the very fact I can say that shows what a colossal mess the UK is in.

You do a podcast that keeps you immersed in British politics. Do you feel like a transient between the UK and the US? Where do your allegiances lie?

I do a free podcast every week called The Bugle. It's been a great way of continuing to work with my friend Andy Zaltzman while we're 3,000 miles apart. I think the distance has actually helped our work. I might move to the Midwest in the future, just to see what effect another 1,000 miles or so will have on our writing. In terms of where my true allegiances lie; they are with neither Britain nor the USA. They are with China, our future imperial overlords. I know on what side my economic bread is buttered.

You're working on projects across all sorts of media. Where does stand-up rank among them?

I've done stand-up for over 10 years. I love it. I find that if I don't do it for a couple of weeks, I get angsty. In many ways, stand-up is like heroin; it's a rush, it's very addictive, and it can prove extremely corrosive to a healthy personal life.

A number of comedians I've spoken with have called stand-up a quintessentially "American" art form. How does that ring to you?

I don't know if it is "quintessentially American," but it was certainly pioneered here by some of the greatest stand-ups ever to have spoken out loud. When you have a pedigree featuring names such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, it's hard to argue that America hasn't influenced stand-up more than any other nation.

Have politics always played so heavily in your act, or were there earlier incarnations that went in other directions?

My stand-up has always been partly political, but never entirely. That's the beauty of stand-up, you can talk about whatever you want, be it the G20 summit or the follicular splenditude of Justin Bieber. Just for the record, I will be addressing neither of those subjects when I am in Portland. If I do, it will only be in the context of using one as a metaphor for the other.

Do you ever go to do a show and feel the air of a political rally?

No. If that happens, I have done something very wrong. I've either completely lost sight of what my job is, or I've turned up to the wrong venue.

Speaking of John Oliver, The Daily Show

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