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Irreverent, unflinching and unmistakably British, John Oliver joked his way through Tuesday’s Q&A with Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles at the Hearst Tower while still sounding off about some serious issues.
A former guest host of “The Daily Show,” the bespectacled comedian now headlines HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Funny as he is, Oliver has directed his humor on-air at the perils of native advertising, the Federal Communications Commission and other media subjects.
While Oliver has yet to meet his show’s leading legal defender, he said of its vetting, “The lawyer is like Charlie’s Angel if Charlie was really depressed if he felt like the Angels were going to get him into litigation — ‘Angels, stop it. Stop it. I looked at your plan. You’ve got big trouble here.’ So at the moment the lawyer is a guy on speaker phone who seems so depressed.”
With a “very vigorous research department,” litigation shouldn’t be a problem, the comedian said. “They are just more nervous if we are dealing with an organization like FiFA who enjoy the idea of court appearances. But we made sure that was right and consequently FIFA can go f— themselves,” he said, referring to a World Cup rant.
During the Q&A, Oliver reinforced his stance on native advertising, which he first broached publicly after reading an interview with Time Inc. chief executive officer Joseph Ripp “where he so quickly dismissed the idea of church and state, and then claimed that everyone on his staff was actually happier with that wall being removed.” Oliver said, “You can almost guarantee that 50 percent of his staff is f—king furious. The problem I see is that it might look temporary but it is a trust parasite…So The New York Times will run a piece about native advertising and people will go through the thought process of ‘Oh look, Chevron’s got a piece in The New York Times.’ But, actually you know what — who gives a s–t the New York Times is running Chevron ads these days.”
He continued, “It’s easy to be angry that it’s happening but you kind of have to take responsibility as a consumer if you’re not paying for it. If you think you can see everything through The Huffington Post, then you are part assassin of journalism.”
As for his rallying viewers to the FCC site after his show on “net neutrality,” Oliver said, “The FCC Web site crashed. That’s true. And we may have played a role in that. But if we did play a role it was more kind of showing people they should be angry and giving them a serve at which they can direct their anger. In our defense, if the FCC’s comments area crashes, that’s their problem.”
The 37-year-old Cambridge University graduate was more cheerful in describing spotting J.K. Rowling in “The Daily Show” crowd. “I figured I just must be hallucinating, She came around later to speak with Jon [Stewart] and asked, “So how long have you been here?” “I. Have, Only. Been. Here. Since. Last. Night. It’s. So. Hot. Here.” and she hugged me and said, “You look so much like Harry.”…I remember lying down in my bed that night thinking, ‘WTF just happened?’ I woke up in a city I didn’t belong in and wound up being told by J.K. Rowling that I looked like Harry Potter.”
But Oliver, whom HBO has told he does not have to have guests, is not big on celebrity interviews – something he dealt with subbing for Stewart. “It was something that I had absolutely no experience with whatsoever. My experience at ‘The Daily Show’ was kind of to attack or to look for a joke all the time, and not to assist someone who was selling a movie of theirs that objectively looks at best appalling.”
As for his own only-in-America Cinderella story, Oliver said his best friend describes the reaction back home best. “People will say, ‘Oh this guy went to America. Do you remember him? None of us really remember him. He didn’t sing great. Any way, good for him, I guess. Aren’t Americans weird?’” Oliver laughed. “They’re passive aggressive, which is the quintessential way for British people to criticize one another rather than say, ‘Well congratulation you have achieved beyond what anyone thought was likely. I’m glad you’ve found somewhere where you can succeed.’”