John Oliver doesn't want his HBO show's new season to be 'all Trump all the time'

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John Oliver, host of "Last Week Tonight," speaks with reporters at HBO's New York offices on Feb. 6.

NEW YORK -- John Oliver would like to change the subject, if that's possible.

As his weekly HBO show, Last Week Tonight, returns Sunday for a fourth season of reporting-driven comedy, "we're very anxious to not make it all [President] Trump, all the time. Both on a level of interest and just on a level of what the human soul can sustain," Oliver told reporters Monday during a press breakfast at the network's offices.  

And in case you're wondering, no, "I didn't really miss  [anything] being off between the inauguration and the election," he said.  "Because for most of that time, until Inauguration Day -- which I understand feels like 300 years ago -- until that time, nothing's really happening. It feels like you needed time to process your thoughts on things, because everything was just hypothetical until the starter's pistol went [off], and all hell broke loose."

The British comedian has long complained about the length and intensity of U.S. presidential elections, arguing that the race draws Americans' focus away from other issues, including some he's spotlighted in the show's first three seasons.

"Last year, we did eight of those main stories that were election-related, which means that 22 weren't," he said. "The vast majority of our show was talking about things other than the hyperactivity of the election cycle," he said. Yet even that was maybe more than he'd intended last year before Super Tuesday results came in and he got a better sense of what we could expect from 2016.

The first couple of weeks of the Trump administration already have touched on some familiar stories.

"This is a really depressing exercise," Oliver said. "Over a period of five days last week, we realized that each executive order related to a story we had done in the previous year. And so we were retweeting [links] ... 'Here's our story on Iraqi translators, you might want to see it,' 'Here is our story on what the actual immigrant vetting process is,' 'Here's the fiduciary rule, wave goodbye to it as it sails away in the distance.' 

"As it happened, by pure chance or by the fact that we might be diametrically opposed to the president's instincts," Oliver said, laughing, "lots of our stories from the last three years have become very relevant."

Relevance is something he seems willing to wait for.

Many weeks, "the obvious stuff has all been taken away; that carcass has been picked clean," he said. The upside is that the show's "been pushed into covering things that no one else in their right mind would try and use for ingredients for comedy ... It's incredibly difficult, but it's some of where we're the happiest."

As for how Trump's presidency might change comedy, "I think you probably have to work harder -- that's not a bad thing," he said. "There's a lot of low-hanging fruit with administrations like this, and you kind of need to reach past that."

Oliver, who's scheduled to do 30 shows this season, with a few breaks that will again take the show into mid-November, insisted he hadn't taken much time off since last season's Nov. 13 finale. "We've been working pretty much constantly ... since the start of January," planning for some of the lengthy main pieces that can take a month or more to report -- and that's before the comedy is added.

It's hard enough for news organizations to be taken seriously at a time when the president himself is labeling those whose reporting he disagrees with "fake news." Oliver, who continues to insist that what he does isn't journalism, does want people to believe what they're seeing on Last Week Tonight, even if it's presented in ways meant to leave them laughing. 

"Everything is rigorously fact-checked," he said. "So I hope that we've earned people's trust. The information that we're giving is, yeah, quadruple fact-checked. We fact-check every single thing we say," doing more work than most people probably realize.

"It's almost humiliating the amount of work we put into it, considering it's just half an hour."


 

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