The John Oliver Origins Story

As told by The Times of London's theater and comedy critic.

“I systematically failed to be a comedian in England.” Those words were spoken a week ago in Los Angeles by Emmy winner John Oliver as he visited the backstage press room.

Oliver has never shied away from his humble beginnings, and this weekend, Dominic Maxwell, the theater and comedy critic for The Times of London, revisits the details of that history. Ahead of tonight’s 80th episode of Last Week Tonight. From Maxwell’s piece:

Whoever saw this coming? Not me. As a comedy critic in the early 2000s, I watched Oliver in the same sweaty hundred-seaters at the [Edinburgh] Fringe as I watched dozens of other, now-forgotten almost-weres. He would perform pointed, politicized stand-up shows that were full of good material, yet didn’t always feel finished. He was a good performer, not quite a natural.

Sometimes he would pop up in shows supporting other members of what was dubbed “the Chocolate Milk Gang:” a bunch of proudly geeky comics led by Daniel Kitson and including Alun Cochrane, David O’Doherty and a young Russell Howard. Sometimes he would perform with Andy Zaltzman, the comic with whom he would later reunite for hundreds of episodes of The Bugle podcast – launched in tandem with this newspaper in 2007 – until leaving in June after struggling to keep up his commitment to Zaltzman. “I have a television show and a baby,” he said on his final podcast, “and I’m trying not to f*** up either of them.”

Maxwell wonders if there is anyone, today in the U.K., as good at political satire as Oliver. And by the way, The Bugle podcast is scheduled to officially relaunch Oct. 21 with Zaltzman, who performed in August at Oliver’s old Fringe stomping ground.

Zaltzman is currently at the beginning of a U.S. tour with that Fringe show, Satirist for Hire. He kicked things off last night in Washington, D.C. and on Wednesday, Sept. 28, will perform at The Gramercy Theatre in New York.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
John Oliver Skewers Tronc

Screen grab via: YouTube

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.