Why John Oliver takes ‘Downton Abbey’ personally

BY Anne Davenport  July 14, 2014 at 5:02 PM EDT

“Last Week Tonight’s” John Oliver, formerly of “The Daily Show,” recently spoke to chief arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown in New York about American fascination with British culture. Oliver shared his (somewhat facetious) take on PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” saying, “I think one of the reasons I can’t watch ‘Downton Abbey’ is probably that I recognize those things in myself now as an outsider from where I actually come from.”

In his new program, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the former “Daily Show” member is blowing his comic whistle on the media, politicians and even the American public when it is not paying attention the way he thinks it should.

The new half-hour Sunday night show on HBO uses a variety of devices to make its points including stringing together news clips, “slow jamming” to a tune about democracy, fact-checking politicians’ statements and even using a group of cheerleaders set. Some segments, like the one on the troubles with dietary supplements, last more than 16 minutes. The one on “net neutrality,” 13 minutes.

In a recent interview in New York with chief arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown, Oliver said, “I come from the Daily Show, where we have a high standard of getting things right. You don’t want to build a joke on something that you can then just drive a train through. So, no, it’s very, very important to us that we are, we’re solid, that the whole thing is fact checked, we don’t want to get stuff wrong.”

He says as time goes on, he has learned how to meld substantive topics he cares about and humor to get the audience to laugh: “Once you learn how to make people laugh, then you get to choose exactly how you want to make them laugh, and so then you can get to make jokes about things you actually care about, rather than doing anything to make people laugh.”

He’ll have plenty of more time to explore the news of the day. He’s now completed 10 of the two dozen episodes planned for this first season, which wraps in November.

Tune in to Monday’s broadcast of the PBS NewsHour for more of chief arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with John Oliver. You can watch the show on our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EDT or check your local listings.