NY Times, YouTube

How John Oliver Became the Hottest Personality on TV by Satirizing Topics Even More Obscure Than Those Jon Stewart Does. The Comedy of Net Neutrality

Nov 17, 2014  •  Post A Comment

“[H]ere we are, at the end of [John] Oliver’s first season with [HBO’s] ‘Last Week Tonight’ — he will return in February — and the show has been a smash, with strong ratings, a dedicated fan base and a series of clips on YouTube that have melted the Internet,” writes media columnist David Carr in The New York Times.

Carr continues, saying that Oliver “helped drive attention to the debate on net neutrality, and last week, President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission to stand tall on that basic principle.”

Carr notes that “Mr. Oliver is a 37-year-old comedian hardly in the mold of a television star. His teeth are, well, British, and his hair is not something frequently seen on the small screen. And even though he wears nice suits on the show, they look as if they landed on him from a great distance.”

Oliver, who used to be a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, received an offer to put on a late show on Sunday nights on HBO. As Carr explains, “What he and his co-creators came up with was counterintuitive to the prevailing conventions of television, not to mention journalism. Each half-hour episode contained a big explainer of a complicated issue. The list of topics sounds like the arcane scraps from the cutting-room floor of most newsrooms — the amount of hidden sugar in food, civil forfeiture, the false hopes of lotteries, the failure of the American government to safeguard people who served as interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

So why has Oliver been so successful? Writes Carr: “I think there is, right now, a hunger for a kind of slow news, thoughtful takes that won’t fit inside a Twitter feed. … It helps that Mr. Oliver, a perpetually amused and amusing presence, is the one telling the story.”

We urge you to click on the link above to read Carr’s entire column.

Here, from YouTube, is Oliver’s bit about net neutrality. It’s viral with more than 7 million views:


  1. There’s a teaspoon of truth to Carr’s analysis, but the REAL secret to Oliver’s appeal is that his show and the jokes are masterfully crafted. The Daily Show is constrained by its format — its structure can’t wander too far from the news shows it parodies. But starting with its title, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, is wide open to props, nonsequiters, musical production numbers, whatever works to go after the big laughs.

    The only thing wrong with Oliver’s HBO success is that it leaves him with less time for his wonderful transatlantic podcast The Bugle with his friend and co host Andy Saltzman.

  2. I love John Oliver’s show. It’s like “All Things Considered” for snarky people.

  3. The Daily Show has covered net neutrality several times, in fact, as it has any number of other obscure stories. So has Colbert. The main difference is that Last Week Tonight makes those obscure stories the central focus of an episode and covers them in longer, scripted segments.

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