John Oliver Should Replace David Letterman Because They're Basically The Same Person
John Oliver, whom Jon Stewart has dubbed "someone whose accent falsely makes you believe you can trust him," may be the next big thing in late night entertainment. David Letterman announced this week that he will be retiring in 2015 to marry Paul Shaffer, his band leader and musical director (we're sure Shaffer's wife of 25 years won't mind). This news has making waves in the world of late night television, and various names for new Late Night hosts have been thrown into the mix. Oliver's is one of them.
Interestingly, however, Oliver recently turned down a late night spot on CBS. Instead of signing on to replace Craig Ferguson if the host didn't renew his contract, Oliver chose to stay with his show on HBO, which premiers on April 27. The man sticks to his network guns. Even though he has effectively rejected a potential "grooming" opportunity for CBS, here's why they should continue to keep him in their thoughts: he has the teeth, the deadpan, and the nationality to take late night television to new heights.
First, we must acknowledge the teeth. Oliver has a charming, if somewhat toothsome, smile. Who better to replace Letterman, who could fit a straw between his two front teeth? Yes, I know, I'm hitting appearances first. How crass. The importance of Oliver's teeth, however, is how they contribute to his overall look. He's obviously still handsome, but he has an approachability necessary in a successful host. His smile conveys "I'm an everyman, but smarter and funnier. And you don't have to be afraid of me because of that." My British roommate says, "His smile also conveys the wonders of English dentistry."
Secondly, Oliver has the ability to roast a person to their face without inciting fisticuffs. Like Letterman, he can make an interviewee feel at ease before slipping in a facetious comment that blows them out of the water. In fact, his deadpan may be even more developed than Letterman's, who has adapted a persona more comfortable for his superstar guests. Watch Oliver's "best of" compilation from The Daily Show. Standout verbal trickery moments include his conversation with a citizen of New Jersey (at :33) and his interaction with a human microphone during the Occupy Wall Street protest (at 1:05). The voices falter a bit at the end, but they follow through and faithfully repeat: "The human microphone, while well-intentioned, is incredibly annoying and embodies everything that people find frustrating about movements like this."
Finally, there's Oliver's nationality. As a Brit, he has the unique ability to act as a (supposedly) neutral observer in American politics. Obviously, his comments about Fox News belie this perception, as he reports, "They don't even have a teleprompter at Fox News, it's just a man jangling his keys above the camera." In a larger sense, however, Oliver can be as brutal as he wants to be about our government and culture; if everything crashes and burns here, he can always seek refuge in England. And in staying here to contribute to the conversation, he is following in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G.K. Chesterton, and other great thinkers who have visited America to report on its practices and idiosyncrasies. His continued residence here is a choice, and it reflects his choice to invest himself in us and our ongoing national story, however self-involved and polarizing we may be as individual citizens.
In short, John Oliver is a rare and wonderful bird in the world of late night. Even if CBS takes his rebuff to heart, it will be a joy to continue watching his thoughts and observations play out on screen. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, here we come ... unless, of course, CBS wises up and puts a woman in that seat.
Image: Comedy Central