Tonight is the first night of Jon Stewart's movie-making hiatus, which means it will be John Oliver's first shot at The Daily Show's anchor desk. And he's lucked out: He couldn't have picked a better news cycle for his brand of humor that is at its best when calling out American hypocrisy in his made-for-BBC accent.
The heart of the NSA story broke too late last week to make Stewart's final pre-hiatus show on Thursday, giving Oliver first crack on a story that hits that Daily Show sweet spot of absurdity and righteous indignation. You've got a government scandal featuring an already in trouble administration, conservative hand wringing, hotel room service, and some pun-ready names. PRISM, anyone? How about Booz Allen?
Over the years, Oliver has done some of his best work by simply being astonished at the way Americans do things. Segments don't always mention the fact that he is British, but his Britishness is always clearly part of the joke. Take for instance this segment from April, in which he interviews a man in Arizona who wants to save guns from destruction.
There's an obviousness outsiderness to Oliver which works brilliantly when he's commenting on America's foolishness. Or really, anyone's foolishness. Note for instance how his accent played a role as he called out Jon Stewart for not lampooning Anthony Weiner back in 2011. Even the way he uses his accent is a joke on us: according to The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman, "most Americans… hear his distinctively Brummie accent as standard Posh English." Or, as Kevin Fallon wrote in The Daily Beast, "By merely speaking with a British accent, he comes off as a superior know-it-all explaining American politics to us when, in fact, he’s talking out of his ass. Err … arse."
But aside from the fact that Oliver gets to call America (and Stewart) out, the NSA scandal also fits into Oliver's Daily Show oeuvre in other ways. Oliver has a knack for tackling complicated stories that deal with America's role on an international scale. Surely, he if anyone can lend sensible humor to the hunt for Edward Snowden. Though it's not perfectly comparable, here's his March 2012 investigation into how America stopped funding UNESCO:
Oliver is great at catching people in their idiocy when he's sitting in front of them. He won't have their silly reactions to catch when he's at the anchor desk, but surely the people involved in this NSA scandal will give him something to work with. If not, there's always Prince Harry's heroics to fall back on. He does great things with the royals.