Did John Oliver ruin a potentially great bit — some good new-fashioned Siri-meets-NSA American humor — by making yet another British joke? Last night, in the second night of his summer-long substitution for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, the correspondent once again took on the hot topic of the NSA's surveillance program, supposedly a perfect story for his brand of humor. And while the segment didn't really call for it, Oliver also once again resorted to cracking up about his own British accent.
It was a simple setup really: "Is the advancements that technology give us worth having PRISM invade our lives?" he asked Siri. His on-set iPhone responded by correcting his pronunciation of "privacy." Siri was then accosted by PRISM. Sure, it was funny, but just look at it — it's littered with the whole this-guy-talks-funny thing:
Oliver's first solo outing Monday night was met with steady ratings, and pretty good reviews. Tim Molloy of The Wrap praised Oliver's hosting, saying The Daily Show was in "in good hands." Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly, however, was a little more concerned about Oliver's over reliance on the I'm-British jokes: "But once he started riffing on how to tell the difference between Americans and foreigners ('I guess you could ask, do you want to walk or drive?') the conceit was wearing a little thin," she wrote. "By the time the other Daily Show correspondents started complaining that an immigrant got the job they wanted, it had gotten repetitive."
Maerz, though she ended on a positive note, also took issue with Oliver's interviewing skills. In his first try, the fill-in hoped to engage Seth Rogen on the subject of the NSA. Last night, Oliver was better on the newsy banter front with guest was Armando Iannucci, the British creator of Veep, who had the benefit of being Oliver's personal hero and having a great story about teaching comedy to MI5. But, and of course, there were British jokes. When Iannucci mimicked holding a teacup, Oliver told him "you're making us look like the parodies we are."
In that context, at least, the British joke made sense. As for Siri, well, it wasn't really necessary. So maybe he should just lighten up on the British jokes; they'll be funniest when they actually mean something.