For the cover story of Rolling Stone‘s TV Issue (on stands Friday) former Daily Show correspondent and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver takes senior writer Brian Hiatt behind the creation of his acclaimed weekly show and sheds some light on the history of the man behind the acerbic, cynical humor.
Oliver discusses how working alongside his mentor Jon Stewart for seven and a half years on The Daily Show prepared him for Last Week Tonight, but notes the difference between Stewart’s show and his own. “I wanted to take everything Jon had taught me…and think, ‘What could I do differently?’,” Oliver says of the weekly show. “And that would be ‘depth’ and ‘length.’ There’s loads of responsibility that comes with getting extra time, and you better fucking use it.”
Fans of the show get an unprecedented look at how it’s created, from discarded jokes and 11th-hour rewrites to lawyer requests and LBJ’s “bunghole.” Here are five revelations from the cover story:
Ricky Gervais was key to his success.
After appearing on friend Armando Iannucci’s Daily Show-esque British show Gash, Oliver was spotted by Ricky Gervais, who recommended the comedian to Daily Show scouts without ever meeting him. Oddly enough, Gervais didn’t tell Oliver about the recommendation.
His future wife saved him from deportation.
At the 2008 Republican National Convention, Oliver met his future wife Kate Norley after secretly entering an unauthorized area and being chased by security. Facing deportation if caught, Norley hid the host and his co-workers. The couple went on their first date a few months later.
He had a very different upbringing than Kanye West.
When Hiatt brings up Kanye West’s mom and her certainty of her son’s genius at an early age, Oliver contrasts that with his own parents. “This is, unfortunately, another way in which Yeezus and I are different,” he says, cackling. “I don’t think there was ever the sense of ‘You are a shining light who will go on to make some of the most artistically important music of your generation, and you should keep telling people that, even if it turns out only to be quite good.’ No, I did not experience the Kanye form of parenting.”
His childhood dream was to be a professional soccer player.
Oliver didn’t take comedy seriously until college, focusing his childhood on becoming a soccer player despite lacking the necessary athletic ability. As a child, the host would attend soccer games in full uniform on the off-chance the team ran out of substitutes and needed someone. “It didn’t border on delusion,” recalls Oliver. “It set up house in the epicenter of delusion.”
He doesn’t watch his own show.
Unlike fictional talk show host Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling), Oliver does not spend his nights watching and rewatching his show to parse every detail and nuance of each episode. “Fuck, no,” Oliver says. “Because there’s too many things that would be annoying to me. There’s no point in putting myself through that. It’s better to just draw a line under it and move on to next week.”
The TV Issue also includes a full fall television preview, a feature on the trippiest show on TV (Adventure Time), the best shows that were never made and an interview with the original son of anarchy (Kurt Sutter).
Also in this issue: Tim Dickinson on the Koch Brothers’ toxic empire, Smokey Robinson’s life in 15 songs, an encounter with Lenny Kravitz, a Q&A with Stevie Nicks, Peter Travers on Gone Girl and more.