Comedian John Oliver to give performance in IC


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When Brit John Oliver was asked about Stephen Bloom's article in The Atlantic, he said he hadn't read a word. But he noted that if it attacked the exaggerated importance of the Iowa caucuses, it might have some validity. Many of Oliver's comedic musings deal with American politics and the commentary surrounding it.

The Emmy-award winning comedian will perform his show "Comedy for Smart People" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the IMU Main Lounge. The University of Iowa's Hancher and SCOPE will present the show in collaboration.

Along with "The Daily Show," Oliver is known for his recurring role as Dr. Ian Duncan on the NBC comedy "Community" and for hosting a Comedy Central standup series titled "John Oliver's New York Standup Show."

Oliver's interest in comedy began well before relocating to the United States.

"I was always interested in politics, and I was always interested in comedy, but it took me a surprisingly long time to think of putting the two together," he said. "I loved 'The Daily Show' when I was living in England, so to be working on it now is a dream come true."

While studying at Cambridge, he was the vice president of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, a theater group whose previous members include Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugh Laurie, and most of the members of Monty Python.

Despite his background in theater, Oliver contends that he doesn't portray a character on "The Daily Show."

"I don't know if I really have a character, and if I do, he or she doesn't have any political position whatsoever," he said. "That's the beauty of playing a fake journalist — you don't have to be consistent in any shape or form. You can change your positions as frequently as Mitt Romney changes his ties. And his positions."

Many UI students likely depend on "The Daily Show" as one of their main news sources. But Oliver assures his fans that he is not a journalist — he works for the laughs.

"[It's] purely for entertainment," he said. "I have absolutely no interest in politically influencing anyone whatsoever. If I did, I'd have gone into politics. And if I'd done that, I think I'd have killed myself by now."

Though Oliver verifies that his goal is not to sway the public's political opinions, his colleagues are known for their influence.

Both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been listed in the rank of Time's Most Influential People of the Year.

On Oct. 30, 2010, the pair led the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., an event that attracted around 215,000 people.

UI journalism Professor Julie Andsager notes that the faux journalists who present information on such shows as "The Daily Show" are not a bad source of news.

"If you look at 'The Daily Show,' it presents news in a much more comprehensive way compared to other news networks," she said. "What I mean by that is, if they show a clip of Newt Gingrich contradicting himself, it shows several clips of him saying something in the past that is the complete opposite. If you were going to just rely on 20 minutes of television news per day, you could do a lot worse than 'The Daily Show.' "

But Andsager warns that the program's viewers should seek news from other sources as well.

"Some people think that they don't have to go elsewhere," she said. "You're not getting a full picture of the news, and you're not getting a broad picture of the world."

UI journalism Associate Professor Frank Durham agrees that "The Daily Show" should not be a person's main source of news.

"People watching this fake news are not learning about events and politics, they are learning to ridicule institutions," he said. "I like it when they make fun of institutions, because institutions are worth making fun of. It is worth making fun of their foibles."

And when it comes to the flaws of institutions, Durham says, now is a great time for satirical news shows.

"At a time when the world is more complicated than it's ever been, at a time when [institutions] are stretched economically, there will be more opportunities for ridicule," he said. "The modern institution is under more strain than ever. That means more mistakes, and more mistakes mean more 'Daily Show.' "

Institutions' errors will undoubtedly be under attack in Oliver's standup show, which carries the slogan: "Offering insight into American values and politics only an outsider can provide."

Oliver said that his standup performance differs from his work on "The Daily Show" because it is slightly more personal, and he sometimes draws in stories from his own life.

He also said that his audience can come in with one expectation.

"I think they're entitled to expect it to be funny," he said. "Otherwise, I think we can all safely assume that the evening has been a complete failure."

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