Comedian John Oliver gives students a laugh

Lauren Caruba

“I came to America much like Eddie Murphy,” John Oliver said. “I too am a fictional African prince.”

The British comedian entertained a sold-out crowd in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Friday night as A&O Productions’ Spring Speaker.

Known for his work as a correspondent for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and as a recurring character on the TV comedy “Community,” Oliver also writes and performs stand-up comedy around the country.

During his stand-up routine at Northwestern, Oliver told jokes ranging from his hatred of the city of Orlando to “Tebow mania” to this year’s Republican presidential candidates, referring to Herman Cain’s presidential campaign as “a book tour that got out of hand.”

However, Oliver consistently circled back to the central theme of the struggling American economy, which he said still needs to hit “rock bottom” before it has an official intervention. Throughout his performance he repeated the mantra “Everything’s going to be fine” to jokingly reassure students.

Oliver also made jokes specific to NU, poking fun at the dismissive scoff of an NU student when he asked her if NU has a rivalry with Loyola University Chicago.

“That’s like asking the L.A. Lakers if they have a rivalry with a high school volleyball team,” Oliver said of the relationship between NU and Loyola. “Unexpectedly snooty, Northwestern.”

Throughout his performance, Oliver assumed the position of an older, wiser Great Britain imparting knowledge and experience on a struggling United States, because “my people have been here before,” he said.

“My one key piece of advice for you as a country: Steal as much as you can,” Oliver told the audience. “That is not a joke, Northwestern. That is powerful advice.”

Elsa Stahura, co-chair of promotions and public relations for A&O, said she thought Oliver kept the audience entertained from the beginning of his act to a standing-ovation finish by being engaging.

“Each show hits on a different type of humor, and I think John Oliver went for that more intellectual comedy,” the Weinberg senior said.

Stahura said Oliver’s work appeals to a wide range of audiences, noting that his performance drew not just undergraduates but also graduate students and faculty members, such as Mike Stroming, a senior software developer for the University.

Stroming said he knows Oliver’s work from both “The Daily Show” and “Community” and also from his weekly podcast, “The Bugle: Audio Newspaper for a Visual World.”

“He’s very funny,” Stroming said. “He has the sharpest wit of any political commentator.”

Medill sophomore Craig Davis said he was excited to see Oliver as this year’s spring speaker and puchased his ticket in advance when he decided to attend last week’s A&O Ball. He said NU students especially would be able to relate to Oliver’s politically- and culturally-oriented humor.

“People here are pretty familiar with his work,” Davis said. “He speaks for a demographic.”

Nominated for both Emmys and Writers Guild Awards, Oliver won the Breakout Award at the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. Oliver told The Daily he became involved in comedy while studying English at Cambridge.

“It became clear like a year in – we have three years at college – that I was only really interested in doing comedy and that I was going to piss my degree up the wall,” Oliver said.

In addition to serving as the “senior British correspondent” for “The Daily Show,” Oliver also writes for the show, a process he described as a “cathartic experience.”

“We always start with the writer’s meeting at 9 in the morning and watch quite bleak footage of quite dispiriting stories,” he said. “It’s a process of trying to channel that into something funny by six o’clock.”

Performing stand-up comedy and a recurring role on “Community” are nice changes of pace from The Daily Show, which can be exhausting at times, Oliver said.

In accordance with the theme of optimism he reiterated throughout his performance, Oliver said college students often get too high-strung and sometimes just need to relax.

“You put so much pressure on yourself, and when you get older you realize that sometimes that stress is completely unnecessary and entirely counterproductive,” Oliver said.

[email protected]