Since 2006, John Oliver has proved his mettle as a phony journalist on "The Daily Show." Serving in numerous "reporting" roles on the spoof newscast, but chiefly as senior British correspondent, the Birmingham, England-born Oliver is schoolboyish, poker-faced and emphatic in explaining America to itself, satisfied that his accent from across the pond makes anything he says, however off-kilter, sound authoritative here in the New World.
Recently Oliver said a simple "yes" to his boss, Jon Stewart, who means to take the summer off to make a feature film and asked Oliver to fill in for him at the "Daily Show" anchor desk.
"I'll say 'yes' to anything he wants me to do," Oliver explains at the "Daily Show" midtown Manhattan offices. "I owe him so much -- he brought me over here [to the U.S.] seven years ago -- so I'll do anything he wants, whether it's hosting his show or operating as a drug mule between here and Bogotá.
"As it happens," adds Oliver, looking relieved, "what he wanted was just hosting this show." In the coming months, Stewart will be directing and producing "Rosewater" from his own script based on a book by Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was falsely accused of being a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government in 2009 while covering Iran's presidential election.
And starting Monday night, Oliver will preside on "The Daily Show" (which airs at 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on Comedy Central). He will substitute-anchor for eight weeks of new shows before Stewart's return Sept. 3.
"He's got all the talents, and he's gonna be great," declared Stewart. "And he can handle the speed of it. You want somebody in that position for everybody else on the staff, so they don't feel they have to slow down."
But Oliver has his own assessment of the challenge that awaits him: "You're taking this engine and hoping you can operate it with a lower skill set than the guy who designed it."