Comedy Central

John Oliver, known for his work on "The Daily Show," will appear tonight at the Crest.

British comic John Oliver performs stand-up Friday night at the Crest

Published: Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 - 5:44 pm | Page 5TICKET

Comic John Oliver nearly burst into tears one afternoon during an impromptu celebration at "The Daily Show" offices.

It was 2009, and the almost-tears were not ones borne of laughter, or sorrow. Rather, it was a moment of deep relief and joy, as the celebration was honoring the fact that Oliver had just secured a much- desired plum: a green card.

"As a comedian you're kind of allergic to sincerity – but this was a massive moment for me," said Oliver via phone from his office in New York City.

The new immigration status for Oliver, who hails from Birmingham, England, has made all the difference. With his previous visitor status Oliver had the feeling that he sometimes had to tread lightly as a comedian.

After all, he's a correspondent for the show that has comically eviscerated just about every celebrity and politician from President Barack Obama to Ted Nugent. The immigration uncertainty made Oliver's every walk through customs a nail-biting affair.

"Without the green card you can't really put down any roots because you know those roots can be pulled up by someone behind a desk that has taken a disliking to you," he said.

"My immigration status, I realized, especially after the fact, is something I thought about every day," Oliver said.

Luckily, those days are behind him. Oliver is an permanent resident alien. Ironically it is the "alien" in Oliver that best defines him as a comic.

Local audiences will get to see Oliver's unique outlook when he makes his area debut today at Sacramento's Crest Theatre.

The Bee spoke with Oliver, who is married to Iraq war veteran Kate Norley. That development suggests that citizenship may soon be in the offing.

You met your wife while covering the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Is that a good place to pick up women?

Having been to two conventions, I'm not sure that that's true. With either convention, romance is not key on your mind. It's more about emotionally surviving them. I was definitely not expecting to meet my wife as I ran through the corridors of what has to be one the least romantic places on earth – a Republican national convention.

How did you meet there?

She was in the Army with Vets for Freedom and was attending both conventions. Our crew was being chased by security because we were filming something where we weren't supposed to be filming. So she hid us in this little area.

Was she a fan?

She did not know who we were or what the show was.

I understand you started stand-up in London?

I started right out of college. I was always doing it on the side while I was doing other things. I never stopped. I still probably self-identify as a stand-up first ... anything I do on the side is like a bonus.

Is there an overarching theme to your stand-up show?

I'll talk about politics a bit and about America, and my feelings towards it. And I'll talk about my personal life.

Any adjustment being a Brit and doing stand-up in the United States?

You'd be surprised how much cross-fertilization there is in comedy now between the U.K. and the U.S. – not just with TV but with stand-up. So there really wasn't that much of an adjustment. With stand-up it's always kind of an outsider's point of view. It actually helps to be, sonically and physically, not obviously American. That has become one of the main themes when I do stand-up now – because clearly when you listen to my voice it is obvious I don't belong here.

Do you like the give-and-take with an audience, and dealing with hecklers?

I don't mind hecklers, it stops the feeling of a show feeling like you're watching TV. I tend to invite it in a way because I ask people questions. I like to involve an audience. I get bored if you're saying the same thing time and time again. I welcome an interaction to a point ... to a point. I'm not inviting people in Sacramento to come to the show with their most abusive insults and to hurl them at the stage.

How do audiences differ between the United States and Great Britain?

In Great Britain the audiences are usually a bit more drunk. When doing stand-up in clubs there, heckling is seen as not just an expectation but as a basic right. They don't come as much to listen as to engage in a constant back and forth. If they're not laughing they will not be silent. They will explain to you exactly how and why they think you are not funny.

What would you say is the biggest misperception Brits have about America?

The thing people don't often realize about America is how divided it is. Because America is kind of sold to the world as a united front. When we see Americans, they're often waving flags or standing together. What you don't realize is that what you get in every U.S. election is an ending where slightly under 50 percent of the population is absolutely devastated.

Is it true you wanted to be a footballer (soccer player)?

I still kind of do, and I'm gradually realizing that that dream is now dead.

Were you any good?

In my mind I was. In reality I was physically average. On teams I played on at schools – there were some guys that went on to professional. When I played with them it became evident I was playing a different sport.

Most comics cite George Carlin and Richard Pryor as influences. You?

Both of them were influences. Pryor is probably the greatest stand-up that ever lived. Carlin was sensational. I had all of their albums when I was growing up. I'd listen to them every night before I went to sleep, so I knew them all by heart.

Do Brits see the fiscal cliff as bizarre political sport?

The pageantry of American politics, in general, is absolutely ludicrous. When we look at U.S. presidential elections taking a year and a half and costing billions and billions – I think that's seems inherently insane for someone outside looking in.

Kind of the way Americans see the pageantry of the royals, like the Kate Middleton-Prince William wedding?

Yes. At least the fiscal cliff was technically relevant to people's everyday lives, rather than pseudo-figureheads getting married. That is really as close to meaningless as any world event can be. The fiscal cliff had direct consequences. The marriage of Kate Middleton to the prince? Sure, they're the greatest couple in the history of humanity – that is taken as a given. If you thought the wedding was overblown you've not seen anything until you see how Brits react when this baby pops out.


When: 8 tonight

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento

Tickets: $35

Information: (800) 225-2277;

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