No prominent television talk-show celebrity has allowed a guest host to fill-in regularly since the halcyon days of The Tonight Show's Johnny Carson—who allowed folks like Joan Rivers, Bob Newhart, and David Letterman to hold down the fort on numerous occasions.
Starting June 10, however, Jon Stewart will be taking a hiatus for the summer, and he's asked John Oliver to steer the Comedy Central ship. The Daily Show contributor/stand-up comic will take over the unpredictable program until September 3, while Stewart directs Gael Garcia Bernaí in Rosewater.
The British comedian recently spoke with Details about the significance of his new gig, why stand-up is like doing heroin, and how no one in their right mind can be a Yankees fan.
DETAILS: How did it feel to get the nod to take over what is arguably the most revered post in American television?
JOHN OLIVER: I was surprised to receive such an honor. It's incredible to be the custodian of something so significant. I have twelve weeks to destroy everything he has built for the last 14 years.
DETAILS: At least you already know what it takes to produce The Daily Show. What is the process of crafting humor for the most respected show on television like?
JOHN OLIVER: It's a process. It's like a sausage factory in that those in such a place are trying to make the most palatable sausage using some of the most disgusting ingredients you will ever see.
DETAILS: Have you sussed out what you'll do when you take over for Stewart?
JOHN OLIVER: I have no idea what I'll do. Fortunately, I can't sit around and dwell on it because I have so much to do on The Daily Show right now. I'm just glad for John that he'll direct his movie. That reflects his work ethic. He works so hard here and then what does he do? He leaves the show for three months to work even harder on a movie. Incredible.
DETAILS: What sets Stewart apart from other humorists?
JOHN OLIVER: It's simple. It's that he's not just funny. That's obvious, but when you work for him for years you appreciate the special work ethic he has and his incredibly analytical mind. He's an amazing day-to-day manager of the show. How he puts it all together is spectacular.
DETAILS: What sets him apart during interviews is that when he answers a question, he replies with a joke and then follows with something serious without fail.
JOHN OLIVER: Yes, he's like that because he has an unbelievably quick mind that doesn't shut off. He's a great stand-up comic as well.
DETAILS: Speaking of stand-up, how do you find time to squeeze in stand-up since your schedule is so jammed?
JOHN OLIVER: I have to find time since doing comedy settles me down. It's really very relaxing for me. It might not make sense for the average person, but actual [comics] get it. I have a lot to do over the next few months but if I can do some stand-up, that's great for me. [It's] addictive. Like heroin. It's just always been that way for me. It's something I need to do.
DETAILS: Unlike many of your British peers you've completely embraced American sports. Does watching baseball and football relax you like stand-up?
JOHN OLIVER: Yes it does. For the record I still love soccer, but I love baseball, particularly the Mets.
DETAILS: Why the Mets and not the Yankees?
JOHN OLIVER: If you have a choice you can't choose the Yankees unless there is something really wrong with you. Life isn't supposed to be that easy. Being a Mets fan is like lending someone a lot of money and you just know that you'll never get paid back.
DETAILS: Quite a few comics love the Mets. Does that have something to do with the link between comedy and tragedy?
JOHN OLIVER: Exactly. That's why I'm more comfortable as a Jets fan. The Super Bowl will be at Met Life Stadium next year but I'm sure the Jets will not be a participant. I'll be too busy to attend anyway. When I'm in New Jersey next year, it'll most likely be to do stand-up, not cheer for the Jets in the Super Bowl. But I do enjoy the Jets. Rex Ryan is very funny, but that's not the goal. The goal is to win a Super Bowl and I just don't see that happening for that franchise any time soon.
DETAILS: All the trouble America is having is grist for you. Just before George Carlin died, he said that America is circling the drain. Is it all over for us?
JOHN OLIVER: It has to happen to every empire. History says so. Every empire has to get sucked down the drain. As a British person, I know how it feels.