Things you didn't know about John Oliver

John Oliver has become one of the most prominent and highly respected figures in comedy since leaving The Daily Show in 2013. As the host of HBO'S Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he has firmly established himself as a leading voice in the late night scene with his unique brand of biting satire, clever wit, stupid antics, and nuanced sociopolitical commentary.

At the time of this writing, he's also gearing up to hit the big screen, voicing Zazu in the live-action remake of The Lion King. (No big deal.)

Following a three-month hiatus, Oliver made his triumphant return to television in the fifth season premiere of Last Week Tonight in February 2018, after extending his contract with HBO through 2020. The main segment's take on President Donald Trump's reputation around the world was met with immediate praise by fans and the media alike — but more on that later.

For now, let's take a moment to get to know this guy a bit better with some fun facts you may not know about John Oliver.

He had a steady career in the UK

While Oliver's career didn't take off as explosively in his home country as it later did once he immigrated to the States, he had created a steady path in comedy, as outlined by Splitsider. Most notably, during his early years, he established an extensive partnership with fellow British comedian Andy Zaltzman. The two performed as a stand-up duo and hosted two radio programs on BBC Radio 4: The Department (also featuring Chris Addison of The Thick of It and Veep) and Political Animal.

The former ran from 2004-2006, and was billed on its website as "an eccentric three-man think-tank with the brief to brainstorm new ideas on solving society's problems." The latter began at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which Oliver and Zaltzman frequented for years, as a live political stand-up show. They co-hosted it in 2004, performing bits in between each stand-up act they introduced. The show later transferred to radio in 2006 and ran until 2008.

According to Splitsider, he also appeared multiple times as a guest panelist on the comedy news quiz show Mock the Week between 2005 and 2006. That show gave Oliver a place to flex his comedic muscles, putting his inclination for topical observational comedy, sharp satire, quick-witted improv, and absurdist tangents on display.

He has the best real life meet cute ever

Oliver met his now-wife, Kate Norley, at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. — romantic, right? As the Daily Beast details, he was there filming a piece for The Daily Show, and she, a former Army medic and Iraq War veteran, was there as a member of a veterans' rights advocacy group.

As Oliver later told Andy Greenwald on an ESPN podcast, "It was very, very strange. I was definitely not expecting to meet a wife in one of the worst places I'd ever been." He then explained that he and his film crew were quite literally running away from security after being found in a restricted area. Norley and her colleagues came to the rescue and hid them in their room. This kind act was no small thing for Oliver, who at the time was in the country on a temporary work visa and risked deportation if arrested.

As more recently exposed in The Daily Show (The Book), Oliver kept finding reasons to go back and visit Norley throughout the convention, and the two immediately hit it off. What began with an email exchange soon flourished from a strong friendship to a loving relationship. A few months later, Norley "finally made a move," as she told People in October 2010 (to which Oliver jokingly added, "I got seduced.")

He co-hosted a podcast with Andy Zaltzman

About a year after leaving the UK to do The Daily Show in New York City in July 2006, The Times approached John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman with an opportunity to continue their partnership through a weekly political satire podcast called The Bugle.

Taglined as an "audio newspaper for a visual world," it launched in October 2007, and has since become one of the most popular and longest-running comedy podcasts. With the undeniable charm fostered between Zaltzman's love of ridiculous "facts" and zany pun-runs and Oliver's deadpan delivery and silly bits, the BBC Comedy review show What's So Funny, rightly called it "the benchmark in satire" in May 2011. According to TV by the Numbers, the podcast garners more than 500,000 downloads per month.

In December 2011, The Guardian announced The Bugle would be leaving The Times. However, it soon relaunched in January 2012 as an independent podcast, funded by fan donations and merchandise purchases.

Sadly, in June 2016, what many fans suspected was officially confirmed in an episode titled "VIB — Very Important Bugle" — Oliver was leaving the podcast. This mutual decision followed several hiatuses and intermittent releases due to the time constraints of Oliver's other commitments. However, Zaltzman relaunched The Bugle in October 2016 under a format that now features a set of rotating co-hosts to fill in for Oliver.

John dreamed of being a footballer

Oliver's actual lifelong dream was not to be a comedian, but rather a footballer for Liverpool FC, a team he's loved his entire life. He noted as such in a July 2016 video titled "Why I Love Liverpool FC": "Supporting Liverpool was very much not a choice; that was pointed out to me pretty strenuously at an early age."

This unrealized dream is one he shares with his father (whose family hails from Liverpool). As Oliver explained on Late Night with Seth Meyers, his father is still holding out hope for what could be, "even though I'm now older than the entire Liverpool team. What's even truer is I still want it for myself, as well. This [being a comedian] is not what I wanted – this is a distant plan B."

And as they say, never meet your heroes. In a 2012 appearance on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Oliver disclosed an embarrassing yet endearing impromptu meeting with soccer great David Beckham, who later kindly sent Oliver a signed ball, which is now proudly displayed in his office.

Oliver has even shared his vast knowledge of the sport in appearances on Men in Blazers in February 2015 and December 2016, and December 2017.

He's a 'disciple' of Jon Stewart

John Oliver adores Jon Stewart, calling him "one of the people I admired most in the world." He told Rolling Stone, "I guess I'm as much as a disciple of his as it's possible to be. The fact that there is nothing so far that he has not taught me. So I feel like he is my DNA."

Oliver hosted The Daily Show in the summer of 2013 while Stewart directed Rosewater. Just before his hosting stint, he told The New York Times: "I'll do anything for him, whether it's hosting this show or disposing of a body. I guess I was just happy it was the first of those two choices, and I wasn't taking a trip to the East River under the cover of darkness."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was Stewart who advised Oliver to take HBO's offer for Last Week Tonight, even thought that meant leaving Stewart's show. Recalling his emotional response to Stewart's surprise send-off on his last day, Oliver told Jimmy Fallon: "I love that man; that was a hard day. I've worked there for seven and a half years, you know; he's one of my favorite people in the world."

He's a workaholic

It seems like John Oliver is always working — and happily so. During his time at The Daily ShowRolling Stone detailed how he somehow managed to balance his responsibilities as a writer and correspondent for the show with his commitments to The Bugle, weekend stand-up gigs, and various charity events.

In the same piece, Jon Stewart chimed in to rationalize Oliver's intense level of dedication to his work: "I prefer to think of it as he has a wonderful work ethic. I prefer to think of it in the positive. John and I share that two-dimensional ability to focus on the thing we're probably most happy and comfortable doing, which is working." He added, "He and I are similar in that sense — we're not that comfortable socially."

In February 2017, Seth Meyers attested to this fact during Oliver's appearance on Late Night, noting that even when Last Week Tonight is on hiatus, "You guys work pretty much all the way through … so, no vacation; people should not think you've been kicking back." 

Oliver cracked up in response, emphasizing, "No, I'm not sure I've ever 'kicked back' in my life. I don't think I have the personality to 'kick back.'"

The 'John Oliver Effect'

Oliver will have you know he is not a journalist — he is a comedian. His jokes are based on fact, but that doesn't make him an investigative journalist. 

As he rationalized to NPR: "You can't build jokes on sand. You can't be wrong about something — otherwise that joke just disintegrates … You try to be as rigorous as you can in terms of fact-checking because your responsibility is to make sure that your joke is structurally sound." 

Still, the real impact Oliver's show has on the world has been so significant that Time dubbed it the "John Oliver Effect" in 2015. The Huffington Post even compiled a list of the policy changes Last Week Tonight has reportedly engendered.

But Oliver remains exceedingly uncomfortable with the idea that people turn to him as the country's "comedic conscience," telling Rolling Stone: "If that's true, the canary in the coal mine is dead. It's way too much responsibility, and I have no interest in accepting that."

The most over-the-top example of Oliver poking fun at these ideas came only four months into the show's existence, when –- in a truly impressive show of self-awareness -– Last Week Tonight released a web exclusive during a short hiatus titled "John Oliver Literally Destroys Piñatas." Well, you'll really just have to watch it.

'Last Week Tonight' is raking in the hardware

Since its 2014 premiere, Last Week Tonight has gone on to win several awards and critical acclaim. At the time of this writing, the show has been awarded eight Emmys, including outstanding variety talk series two years in a row. In his 2016 acceptance speech for best variety talk series, Oliver notably thanked his staff, his wife, his son, and "Jon Stewart for everything", before jokingly cutting off his own speech, motioning to the orchestra to "please play me off, I've never had the chance to do this before."

Last Week Tonight also received a Peabody Award in 2014. As journalist Charlie Rose said while acknowledging Oliver, "to know him is to know that he cares as much about the news as any journalist that I know, but he has a way to bring home a serious point with great humor." To which Oliver quipped, "I didn't hear what Charlie said; I can only assume it was bulls**t."

The show also won the GLAAD Media Award for best talk show and the Television Critics Association Award for outstanding achievement in news and information in 2015, the Critics' Choice Television Award for best talk show in 2016, and its third Writers Guild Award for comedy/variety series in 2017. The following year, Last Week Tonight received the Producers Guild Award for outstanding producer of live entertainment & talk television for the third year running. Not too shabby in TV land.

He called out Dustin Hoffman

When Oliver publicly challenged Dustin Hoffman about sexual harassment claims made against the actor in December 2017, it resulted in an infamous verbal sparring.

"This is something we're going to have to talk about because … it's hanging in the air," Oliver said while moderating a panel discussion at an anniversary screening of Wag the Dog, before quoting Hoffman's response to the allegations. "It's 'not reflective of who I am' — it's that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off," Oliver said. "It is reflective of who you were … Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?"

"First of all, it didn't happen, the way she reported," Hoffman replied. "Do you believe this stuff you read?"

"Yes, because there's no point in [an accuser] lying," Oliver said, to which Hoffman retorted, "Well, there's a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years." Oliver's response? "Oh Dustin."

The discussion immediately went viral — but to Oliver, who was lauded for refusing to back down to the power of celebrity, it was for all the wrong reasons. "It became such a big story, but it became about my questions rather than [Hoffman's] answers," Oliver told The Russell Howard Hour. "The questions weren't particularly remarkable, but his answers were … not great … I wanted it to become something more constructive. I tried and failed."

He moonlights in stand-up comedy

Oliver's stand-up show, aptly titled John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show, spanned four seasons on Comedy Central. The show featured both established stand-up comedians, as well as newcomers, including Hari Kondabolu, Hannibal Buress, and Wyatt Cenac. Oliver acted as the host, performing a short set at the top of each episode and introducing each act.

As he told Chris Hardwick (who also appeared on the show) during a March 2011 appearance on The Nerdist podcast, "It's kind of a strangely warm, friendly crowd … It's a lot of fun." When asked how he found time to write for yet another project, Oliver said it was a nice break from the intensity of writing for The Daily Show, adding that "we just do it over a weekend, so you accumulate the material and then you do it and then it's done and then you go and write some more."

Hardwick noted that in addition to the entertainment value, the stand-up show also provided a rare outlet for new stand-up comics to perform on television. Oliver agreed before quickly diverting in his typical self-deprecating fashion, "It's a show that I would watch were it not for the fact that I'm in it, so I won't."

Oliver also has two stand-up specials: 2008's Terrifying Times and 2012's The Decline of the American Empire.

Relationship goals

Oliver and Norley are now happily married and have a son named Hudson, who was born in November 2015, reported E! Online. While balancing their busy careers with family life, these two often showcase their love and support for one another.

Oliver told the New York Daily News that Norley, an Army veteran, is one of his "heroes," saying, "I'm incredibly proud of her for everything that she did and has done and is continuing to do and supporting everyone who she has served with." He added, "she went through a lot and I got to hear all the stories what it was like from her."

Norley told People that her experience in the military "was difficult, but right now it's nice that I get to spend time with the love of my life." In that same interview, Oliver joked that "it's the most emasculating thing I could possibly do to go out with someone who has actually done something valuable with their life." But Norley was having none of that excessive modesty and quickly asserted that "he's got a forum" through his comedy.

In Oliver's appearance on The Andy Greenwald Podcast, he admitted, "I am not going to pretend that it's not a slightly odd pairing: A war veteran and a comedian whose job is to basically undermine sincerity wherever he sees it." In a rare display of sincerity, Oliver added, "I did happen to meet the love of my life."

He's a family man

Oliver is pretty private when it comes to his personal life, but when he does talk about his wife and son, it becomes clear just how important his family is to him.

During an interview with Rolling Stone, he said that fatherhood had cracked him open emotionally. "Definitely — and I'm British. So you're cracking a pretty dormant volcano," he said with a laugh. "[My son] had a pretty difficult time, and it was not the easiest pregnancy as well. It was a level of trauma throughout his gestation and birth, and in the aftermath. So, yeah, it did feel weird doing a comedy show during some of that. And you probably feel things more keenly."

Sometimes, this means that his family life will cross over into his work. The show's children's book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, was inspired by his then 2-year-old son. "Part of the reason of writing this book was so I could read something to him which kind of paints the world in the light that you want it to be," Oliver told Ellen DeGeneres, "rather than how it's currently being painted."

Oliver said he relies on his family to unwind after being immersed in the news cycle all day, telling the Los Angeles Times, "The honest truth is that I don't have much. My family would be a palate cleanser. And watching English football. That's probably it."

He was sued for defamation

Last Week Tonight segment on the coal industry got Oliver into some legal trouble in June 2017. The story largely focused on Murray Energy Corporation. Criticizing the notoriously litigious Bob Murray for mistreating his employees and attempting to weaken industry safety regulations, Oliver referred to him as a "geriatric Dr. Evil" while a man dressed in a squirrel costume told him to "eat s**t."

"Bob Murray, I didn't really plan for so much of this piece to be about you, but you kinda forced my hand on that one," the comedian said, explaining that the company had sent a cease and desist letter before the taping. "And I know you're probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said."

The coal magnate promptly hit Oliver, HBO, and Time Warner with a defamation lawsuit. While the ACLU released an amicus brief hilariously stating, "You can't sue people for being mean to you, Bob," a judge dismissed the case in February 2018, citing Oliver's First Amendment rights.

"Now is not the time for victory laps. It's not a time for gloating," Oliver said, celebrating the legal victory on-air while promising to tell fans all about the lawsuit as soon as he could. "It's not a time for saying, 'Hey, we won,' and just rubbing it in the face of the person who lost over and over again. That time will come. Oh, it will come!"

A call to arms: 'This is not normal'

Oliver was one of Trump's most vocal critics throughout the 2016 presidential election — so much so that he cathartically and nihilistically blew up a massive 2016 sign in a stadium following the election results.

More importantly, however, Oliver issued a proverbial call to arms to his viewers: "If we don't get actively involved to at least mitigate Trump's damage, things will not be okay … So keep reminding yourself this is not normal."

Oliver's reminder became a running theme as the comedian continued to call out the administration following Trump's inauguration. Its Season 4 premiere segment, "Trump vs. The Truth," laid out a cleverly comedic plan to reach the president through the news media he consumes. The gag continued even after the season ended.

That said, late-night comedy's renewed prevalence in the national conversation was nothing but disconcerting to Oliver. "That's probably not a great sign of national health," he told Sky News in 2018. "If there's a canary in the coal mine it's choking at that point. When late night shows are just a side show, generally things are going better."

Perhaps because of this awareness, Oliver and his team remained committed to churning out the deep dives the show has become synonymous with amid the relentless news cycle of the Trump presidency. As Oliver bluntly noted in Rolling Stone in 2017, "I hope we'll be able to protect the majority of the show from the president."

Back and better than ever

In February 2018, Last Week Tonight made its highly anticipated return to late night with its Season 5 premiere. At the time of this writing, Oliver and his team have managed to strike that coveted balance between Trump administration coverage and the show's infamous deep dives, with its main segment topics ranging from Trump vs. The World and the Italian election to NRA TV and cryptocurrencies.

Still, the show made headlines with its March 2018 story on Vice President Mike Pence. Criticizing Pence's well-documented history of anti-LGBTQ views, the segment resulted in what can only be described as trolling activism: Last Week Tonight released a children's book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, which coincided with the release of the Pence family's own book.

"[The] family has written a book about their bunny [Marlon Bundo], so we on top of that have released our own book about his bunny where his bunny falls in love with another male bunny," Oliver explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "Unfortunately we have sold out because we did not anticipate people really buying it." 

With proceeds being donated to The Trevor Project and AIDS United, the parody book, which was penned by Last Week Tonight writer Jill Twiss, caused a media frenzy as it soared to the top spot on Amazon.