Sunday, February 28, 2010

John Oliver: Topical Comedy, With A Crisp Accent

I listen to NPR a lot, but very infrequently during weekdays. A while back, I did happen to catch “Fresh Air” when Terry Gross interviewed John Oliver, a correspondent for the Daily Show. I rarely watch the television program, but when I do, it makes me laugh. John Oliver is not someone I remember from the show, but his interview with Terry Gross was interesting.

Oliver is British and in his role on the Daily Show he has occasion to do faux press coverage of American political events. In the “Fresh Air” interview, he talked about attending the recent Tea Party rallies and how he was struck by the intensity of the conviction of the attendees. He laughingly rejected the attendees’ characterization of the Obama administration as “tyrannical.” He comically warned that that really diminished what his country had done to its colonies and what other truly tyrannical governments had inflicted on their people. Oliver also shared that in speaking to Tea Party attendees, it was apparent that many were ardently convinced that President Obama was a Muslim. Oliver expressed concern not only that so many embraced this falsehood, but that those who embraced it were extremely fearful because they believed the president’s Muslim faith was evidence that he would allow our country to be overrun and taken over by nefarious forces. Some reading this post might think that Oliver was exaggerating what was said at the Tea Parties or simply making things up. I’ve never attended a Tea Party, but I have heard a number of other people in other contexts make similar statements in complete earnestness. Such statements leave me incredulous. I’m not sure how to even respond.

Terry Gross also asked Oliver about his reaction to American politics as a Englishman who has only come to this country in the last few years. He said he was most struck by the influence of religion; that was something very different from Europe. He noted that Tony Blair was a very devout Catholic, but was careful to not talk about his faith or be photographed going to church. Oliver indicated that in Britain the public would react with immediate suspicion if he had flaunted his religion. I thought that was a fascinating statement. President George W. Bush spoke in religious terms frequently during his administration. Such references always made me suspicious. It always seemed calculated, a ploy. Perhaps this is just the reaction of someone who was raised in D.C., but I always wondered why more of my fellow citizens weren’t similarly suspicious.

Terry Gross’s interview with Terry Gross is available below.

Matthew 5:33-37 (The Message)

"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."

1 comment:

  1. I find it interesting that during John Oliver's recent appearance as the host of the Daily Show, Mr. Oliver did not cover the plight of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Over 50 Churches and Coptic Institutions were burned to the ground and Oliver ignored it.

    I have noted that Mr. Oliver has on many occasions supported Islamic ideas and has done pieces that cast Muslims in a very flattering light. Additionally he has made it a point to attack Christians, Christianity and in general make it a point to find and use people in his comedy that make a mockery of Christianity.

    I have no issue with the mockery or the "Christians" he features in his pieces. What I do have a problem with is when he does not have the same comedic eye or ire when it comes to other faiths.

    I understand that if he did point out the aggression and hatred displayed toward other faiths in other cultures and places, he would be placing himself and Jon Stewart in harms way as other groups (like Muslims) appear to have elements that will act on criticism. The actions range from simple protesting all the way to a violent response to anything critical.

    John Oliver appears to only attack groups that do not violently respond to his comedy.

    Maybe he should have done a piece vilifying the Copts when their Churches were burned... After all they would not respond to his "Comedy" with anything other than words..... and he is obviously not afraid of words from Christian groups.