John Oliver, during his fifth annual press breakfast before a new season of Last Week Tonight, addressed his confrontation with Dustin Hoffman at a panel event last fall and insisted that despite probing moments like that and on the show, he doesn’t consider himself a journalist.
“I really respect journalism. I wouldn’t say I’m a basketball player because I like basketball — I can’t dunk,” he said. “Similarly, I’m not a journalist. We have people working on our show who are journalists.” As to the Hoffman exchange, he did not repeat his assessment from a few weeks ago that it was a “failed” conversation, maintaining it would have been “weird” for him not to have brought up the sexual harassment allegations against Hoffman.
“I’m surprised he turned up in the first place,” Oliver said, noting that Hoffman had been honored the previous night at the Gotham Awards but elected to skip red carpet interviews. “It felt like he should have been aware that he was going to have to answer to this. … I’m staggered that he would think that I wouldn’t bring it up. I don’t know how little you would have to think of me.” Luck of the draw, not any kind of Mike Wallace tenacity, was the main driver. “The first person who got to talk to him was going to have to ask him the first questions about it,” Oliver said. “Unfortunately, that was me. But if it wasn’t, it was going to be someone else.” The reason the exchange lasted for an agonizing 20 minutes, he said, “was that his responses were pretty bad. I wanted to try get him to a point of self-reflection, to try to get something out of the conversation at all. That didn’t happen.”
During the hourlong morning media session ahead of the HBO series’ February 18 return, Oliver emphasized the intensity of the show’s research process, noting that the staff has maintained a steady in-office work clip during the show’s three-month “hiatus.” He declined to tease any of the show’s hefty main segments in detail, but said no major changes are planned to the look and feel of the show, which continues to avoid the ensemble-driven correspondent-and-anchor approach common to other satirical programs.
Asked how much cable news he has been watching, he said, “Far less than I used to,” when he was a correspondent on the Daily Show. “Journalism is not cable news. If it was, we’d all be f*cked.”
Given the intensity of the production process, Oliver ruled out the possibility of a companion show on any platform, or any meaningful expansion of his core duties beyond the half-hour weekly Last Week. “I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “It’s hard to overstate how all-consuming this show is. There’s just no space for us to juggle another ball because we’d drop all of them.” He did manage to find time to voice Zazu in Disney’s upcoming revamp of The Lion King, though he cracked, “It sounds a lot like me.”
Oliver is under contract for two more years after the upcoming season wraps. Asked how long he sees the show continuing, he shrugged, “It won’t go on forever because we’d get exhausted.” As of now, he went on, “it still feels like we’re learning. It is odd for this to be the fifth year. It still feels like a new show. I think that’s just because our learning curve is so steep. We’re changing the way we do things constantly.”
While the workload is such that he seldom has time to sample the multiplying number of comedic voices sinking their teeth into President Donald Trump and a range of current events, Oliver did single out Anthony Atamanuik’s impersonation on Comedy Central’s The President Show. “There’s a depth of sadness to” the comedian’s version of Trump, Oliver said. “That kind of nihilism in him, I really liked. It’s a different way to approach it than just ‘his mouth does this,’ ” as in Alec Baldwin’s send-up on Saturday Night Live.
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