In a time when we have to be able to laugh at ourselves to survive, John Oliver is a comedic genius. Where other satirists stick to roasting our media or political leaders, Oliver excels at poking fun at all of us (and often himself too) for our ridiculous mannerisms and weird obsessions. He’s set to take the stage at Madison’s Orpheum Theatre for two shows this Sunday, Dec. 7.
After an incredibly successful seven-year stint under Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” Oliver was finally given the airtime he deserved this year with his own show on HBO, the now often-viral “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” This new platform has given him ample opportunity to touch on topics as mundane as pumpkin spice lattes to hilarious-but-true commentary on the widespread corruption during the FIFA World Cup. However, it has also naturally spurred much debate about whether Oliver has overtaken Stewart.
Rather than wage a war of comedy favoritism, I find it makes more sense to appreciate each for their own strength. I’d like to think Oliver probably feels similarly, since he doesn’t seem to take himself that seriously. For example, it’s hard to imagine anyone bulldozing through the bullshit of cable TV and political campaign season in quite the same way Stewart does. I’ve found Oliver’s specialty comes in the form of longer rants on one topic, which build and build and take us all the way from just a chuckle to ROFLMAO.
Many might be put off by the length of his jokes. On his show, he sometimes only touches on one subject for upwards of 15 minutes. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of rants (h/t Kanye) and feel they translate especially well to the live stage. I hope on stage Oliver takes this brand of longform funny storytelling into new realms, like tales from his assuredly hilarious personal life.
Overall I’ve found myself surprisingly relaxed going into Oliver’s live performance, whereas with other comedians, I have anxiously questioned whether they could live up to expectations. He has already proven that he need not rely on a simple scripted fill-in-the-blank-with-amusing-current-events-each-day format a la Seth Meyers (no hate). Still, I can only imagine the potential some segments from his show have for translating to a live stage, like one of my personal favorites “How Is This Still A Thing?” This is something that some comedians known for their work on the tube, like “Broad City” stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, failed to master.
Oliver has also received multiple Emmy’s for his writing, so we know he’s got the goods. I’m crossing my fingers he’ll skip the awkward cliches and serve up some great original content about Wisconsin. He’s already mentioned our little corner of the world on his show—making a joke about UW being a hub for buying drugs between Michigan and California.
But no matter what Oliver brings to the Orpheum, at the end of the day Sunday, I feel like the joke will definitely be on us. Whether his on-stage presence is similar to his television persona or whether he goes a bit off the cuff and shows us something new, I expect those in attendance will get what they’re looking for—an intense ab workout.