John Oliver was three months late. The award-winning late-night host was supposed to perform at the IU Auditorium on Sept. 30, but two days before his performance, the actors strike ended, and he rushed off to resume “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
“We're very happy that he was able to reschedule,” IU Auditorium Executive Director Maria Talbert said. “We were really pleased when we learned this summer that he would be available to make a stop in Bloomington.”
Talbert said Oliver’s one night show was not part of the auditorium’s original season lineup, but as soon as the auditorium executives learned he was available, they jumped at the chance to book him.
“He was someone who we knew we wanted to bring to Bloomington for many years, ” Talbert said. “We really are proud of the fact that we are able to bring to our community these big-name artists, to allow them to be able to share the same space with and enjoy an evening of laughs with hundreds and even thousands of other people.”
Both Talbert and Oliver himself highlighted that this was the comedian’s first visit to Bloomington. Oliver joked he remembered why he hadn’t been to Bloomington before when he interacted with heckling crowd members, specifically a heckler who shouted “f*** the monarchy.” Oliver joked the audience member had beaten him to the punchline and needed to “show his work.”
However, Talbert said she was sure that Bloomington residents would enjoy Oliver’s comedy as much as other audiences had.
“He has a really interesting take on current events,” Talbert said. “His wit and his unique perspective is one that our community would absolutely appreciate.”
Oliver is well-known for his satire, beginning each late night show with a sardonic recap of the last week’s most popular news headlines. In Bloomington, it was apparent almost from the moment he stepped on stage. One of his first quips was, “I like watching bad things happen to billionaires,” as he described watching Elon Musk short-circuit his own dreams of success by publicly wrecking X, formerly known as Twitter.
Graduate student Leigh Levinson felt the show mirrored her own struggles as someone who works in technology.
“The climate around what happened with Twitter (now X) was really heated for us in our daily lives, so it was fun to hear it again,” she said. “I think he does a good job of blending important messages into satire.”
Jessica Jones came from Brownsburg to see Oliver. To her, Oliver’s show was a bright spot.
“It’s really helped bring a lot of levities to some really difficult times over the past few years, and so it was a great opportunity just to see him in person,” Jones said.
The audience loved Oliver, cheering him on with huge laughs and rounds of applause. At times, Oliver would engage in a back-and-forth with members of the crowd. He riffed with the audience about Americans’ love of “The Great British Baking Show,” joking that the show proved how repressed British people were.
Oliver also showed off his knowledge of history as he described the process leading up to Charles III becoming king of England, centering it on that establishment’s terror of Catholic monarchs as well as current events. He joked that the royals have no ground to say that Meghan Markle is ruining the monarchy when their own past is so turbulent.
However, Oliver also took aim at America, describing how the military accidentally dropped two nuclear bombs on North Carolina and one nuclear bomb on South Carolina during the Cold War and told the audience his fear of being kicked out of America prior to gaining his citizenship.
Oliver also discussed COVID-19, describing how his lifetime loathing of the children’s TV show “Paw Patrol” was born. According to Oliver, he would use the show to buy his children’s silence while he filmed the socially-distanced version of “Last Week Tonight.” He would load up an iPad with episodes, set it in front of his children and run to the other room to rant about the dangers of a police state while his children watched episodes that, according to Oliver, were glorifying a police state.
He argued that the characters’ high use of technology had caused the citizens to become over reliant on them and bemoaned the fact that they taught his son the meaning of “surveillance drone.”
Oliver’s dislike of technology was showcased vividly throughout the show, as he crowed about the havoc Musk’s $8 Twitter Blue verification system had caused. He laughed when describing how a verified Coke account tweeted that “Pepsi is better” and that a verified Chiquita account posted they had just taken over Brazil.
Oliver ended the night by returning to how he had started it: anger against celebrities. He said that life will return to the way it was post-COVID when people hate celebrities again, mentioning the communal backlash that occurred after the final season of the TV show “Lost” and how it brought Americans together. He said people just don’t have the energy to care about television or celebrities anymore.
In particular, he said, we will know America is back to normal when we hate Anne Hathaway again. Referencing the storm of hatred against her, he described how one day, in the distant future perhaps, people in the US would turn on the TV and see Anne Hathaway on a late-night show.
He told a warm story of how she would ask the late-night host to sing happy birthday to her crew member who loves the show – yet followed that up with how people should respond: “f*** Anne Hathaway.” As the show ended, he left us with a vision of hope, albeit in an untraditional way. In his sardonic way, he showed how America could finally come together: by hating someone.