John Oliver for president! (in eight years, or so)

John Oliver: “I’m from Britain, as you can tell from these accurately pronounced words.”
Photo: Maury Phillips

If one thing was proven this week at The Comedy Festival at Caesars Palace, it’s that comedians are very smart people. Never mind that they try to make a living at a desperately hard profession or that many spend hours writing and talking about their genitalia. Outwitting ever more jaded audiences and tricking them into laughing for an hour straight, isn’t for the feint of heart or feeble of mind. Saturday night, John Oliver and friends were more than up to the task.

Oliver is best known for his role as a writer and correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This performance included two other Daily Show veterans, former supervising producer and current writer Rory Albanese and fellow correspondent Rob Riggle.

Oliver showcased his brand of extremely intelligent humor, with a set that touched on global news and pop culture in a style very in keeping with his day job. Clearly, the man knows more about world politics (not to mention geography), than some of the people who’ve recently been sporting power suits and hoping to take over the country.

As Oliver riffed on gun control, famine and the Olympics, the packed crowd kept up with him easily, even surprising the comedian with their acceptance of his far left humor.

Falling in love with America under the Bush administration, Oliver explained, has been “like falling in love with a girl that is throwing up all over herself, holding her hair back and saying, ‘It’s going to be alright.’”

He begged the crowd to look into his eyes. I’m the future of the country, he told us, after complaining about not being able to vote in the presidential election because of his visa. “Taxation without representation!” he proclaimed, then threatened to dump a truckload of Dr. Pepper in the Boston Harbor.

Oliver’s gig stayed mostly in the realm of international politics and news, a welcome break from the dirty sex jokes that dominated much of the festival, but he did stray from the course to crack a harsh one on Vegas.

“This entire city is pointless. Architecturally, it’s like it’s been designed by a six-year-old child.

‘I want a pyramid and the Eiffel Tower.’

‘But you can’t have that.’

‘But I want it, and in the middle of the desert.’”

However, Oliver ended the evening giving his audience a high compliment. Not only did he commend the crowd for laughing at a Galileo joke (much to his apparent surprise), but he also remarked on the warmness of his reception. Hecklers don’t usually ask for an autograph, give an ululation and cackle, he said. The folks at Caesars returned the favor, sending off the Brit with an energetic standing ovation, but I’d like to offer my own compliment to Oliver: a brief list of my favorite unlikely topics touched on during his show.

1. Romanian politics. A Romanian village recently voted to reelect a mayor who had died just before the vote. Oliver sympathized with his opponent. “That cannot have been an easy concession speech to give.”

2. The upside of human rights violations. The opening ceremony at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing “just goes to show what Cirque du Soleil would be capable of if they were willing to hit people with wooden sticks.”

3. Border policy vs. Olympic team recruiting. Oliver said we should hold time trials on the Mexican border. “If you can run an 100 in under 10 we’ve got a passport with your name and picture on it.”

4. Justice Scalia. Alright, he is on The Daily Show, so a Scalia mention wasn’t all that surprising, but it’s always refreshing to hear a member of the Supreme Court called an “industrial-strength douchebag.”

5. World food shortages Oliver imagined a world in which rap stars expressed their wealth not in gaudy bling, but in massive quantities of rice. On Cribs, Snoop would open up his fridge to show off all his rice. Yea, bitches. Oliver then backtracked to explain that, of course, he didn’t want to imply that Snoop would keep dried rice in his fridge. He’d have a pantry for that. In fact, he’s so wealthy that when he didn’t finish all his rice, he’d throw it out and make a fresh batch the next day. After deconstructing his joke for a good three minutes, Oliver paused, “I think I’m about to heckle myself,” he said.

6. The pope’s astronomer. Oliver pointed out that the new pope is an Aries while Jesus is clearly a Capricorn. “They’re not compatible. Don’t get angry with me, Catholics; get angry with Galileo. Oh wait, you already did.”

7. Gallows humor, literally. Oliver’s last joke of the evening was about last words. He recounted the story of a George Apple who was executed by electric chair in New York in 1924. When asked for his last words, George answered, “Well, gentlemen, you’re about to see a baked Apple.” Oliver marveled at the man’s commitment to humor. “He decided to end on a terrible pun.” If that’s not worthy of respect, I’m not sure what is.

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