John Oliver taped an hourlong Comedy Central special of his own two weeks ago in New York City, and despite technical glitches that interrupted both tapings (and kept the second show audience out in the cold that much longer), ’twas a rousing success. I may have mentioned that earlier today.
For many in the audience who only know him as a correspondent on The Daily Show with John Stewart (as pictured), Oliver’s stand-up comes as a revelation. In fact, the folks over at Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch couldn’t believe it. Believe it. In fact, much of his material has been honed over the past couple of years in the alt-venues of New York City, his Bugle podcasts with Andy Zaltzman (who appeared onstage as a professor for a sketch with Oliver that encountered audio problems during the first taping, and prompting Oliver to quip, "If you cannot speak without static, then I don’t know what to say.") and even the Aspen festival last year for the comedy industry. Alone on the big stage at Symphony Space, though, Oliver had added production values at his disposal, allowing his biting wit and geo-political commentary to have more bite. Bits on a world math problem and unfair trade got visual aides on the screen behind him. Trust me, it’s better to see Oliver’s illustration of unfair trade on a big screen than on a folded-up piece of paper in his hands. Another routine he’s performed often, on how the influential melodrama of layering power ballads from the 1980s and 1990s can make even the most poisonous rhetoric sound wistful, seemed even more effective with images displayed behind him. We also learned in this hour why Oliver became a comedian and not an athlete. Throughout the taping and its pitfalls, we saw Oliver remained quick on his feet. From the beginning, when stagehands rushed a mic offstage to him, when he said, "This gig has not yet begun and yet I am talking. Don’t let the maverick beginning fool you. It’ll get much more conventional soon enough." To the end, when he stumbled over the word "protest" and uttered "plotest" instead: "We can invent words…change your Scrabble boards."
John Oliver’s Comedy Central special is tentatively scheduled to air April 20.
Ryan Hamilton had the tough task of coming out cold to warm up the audience ("I’m just here to get the wheels greased"), but in 10-11 minutes managed to get them going with his regular opening bit about looking like the white Chris Rock or the illegitimate child of Jerry and Elaine from Seinfeld, his views on speed dating, glitter, garbage disposals, and an energetic/nostalgic bit about bike safety and getting the wind knocked out of you.