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From the Daily Show to a weekly deal of his own

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Oliver spent eight years  as a member of the  fake-news team on The Daily Show.

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Oliver spent eight years as a member of the fake-news team on The Daily Show.

If there's a funny person on television who has earned a shot at hosting his own funny TV show, it's John Oliver.

The bespectacled Brit comedian put in eight solid years as a member of the fake-news-team ensemble on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, closing out his career-making run by filling in for Stewart for eight weeks last summer while the Daily Show host was on hiatus directing a movie.

At the same time, Oliver built a reputation as a solo performer by starring in a made-for-cable standup-comedy special, John Oliver: Terrifying Times, and then hosting four seasons of John Oliver's New York Stand Up Show on U.S. cable's Comedy Central.

He's more than ready. And now, the time has come.

Oliver returns to TV this Sunday on HBO Canada (check listings for time) with a weekly fake-news show of his own, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a satirical look at the past seven days in news, politics and current events that will most definitely play to his strengths as a cynic, critic and able dispenser of Brit-accented righteous indignation.

The biggest challenge facing Oliver and Last Week Tonight is carving out a unique place and identity in a satirical news/commentary landscape that already includes his former home, The Daily Show, its very popular spinoff, The Colbert Report, and HBO's long-running Real Time with Bill Maher.

When he faced the media for the first time after his HBO show was announced last January, Oliver -- a graduate of Cambridge University who was a member of the prestigious Cambridge Footlights comedy troupe (whose alumni list also includes John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie) -- said his goal was to create a show that delivers fast-breaking comedy while taking full advantage of the added writing time that airing weekly, rather than daily, will allow.

"I have talked to (Stewart) a lot ... and I don't think there's a worry that it will be too similar (to The Daily Show)," the 36-year-old native of Birmingham, England, said during HBO's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles.

"You know, it's me. And I am different, so we'll approach things in a different way. We're going to be on once a week, so we'll have extra time to have a different perspective on things. The attractive thing about being on at the end of the week is, you know, you can look backwards and also forward at the week coming."

Because of the current-events nature of the program, no previews were made available for Last Week Tonight. But during the January interview, Oliver promised that his unique position as a transplanted Brit who has adopted America as his home will allow him to tread an interesting line as he comments on goings-on both on U.S. soil and around the world.

"It's different," he said. "My view has changed because I view this as my home now. You know, I arrived here as an imposter on a visa, and now I am a legal permanent resident. It's so romantic, that.

"You know, I usually start standup gigs by saying some version of 'I love it here, and I need you to remember that during the things I'm going to be saying over the next hour and a half.' ... I think I can play it both ways, because I'm a green card recipient, which means I can't vote and I am taxed. So that is taxation without representation -- and now I get why you got so pissy about it all those years ago.

"But, yeah ... America has been very generous in what it has offered up as joke subjects over the years. And American politics, in particular, is a circus of crazy that is unparalleled around the world. You can take that as both a compliment and an insult, (because) I meant it as both."

Oliver said he's fully aware of the debt he owes to Stewart and The Daily Show, particularly since it was his two months as fill-in host that led directly to HBO offering him his own weekly premium-cable slot.

"I think it's probably the main reason why I'm here now," he explained. "(Hosting) was a bizarre, exciting, and terrifying experience... I can't really (comment on how well it went) because I didn't watch it. I did it. So I don't really know how it went down. But it's still on the air, the show. I set myself the achievable goal of just not destroying that particular franchise.

"So the fact that it's still there and Jon is still doing it, that I took that as a 'W' in the 'win' column. I guess it went well."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 G3

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