Stand up specials are rarely a complete bust and you’re almost always guaranteed to spend the hour or so of its runtime laughing at a myriad of topics, whether social or political. With the recent onslaught of Comedy Central specials, it’s proven to be a network that is not only brimming with talent, but talent that can singly handedly turn an hour of television into one of the most entertaining events of your life. With The Daily Show proving to be a breeding ground for fantastic talent, with Demetri Martin receiving his own special shortly after appearing on the show and now John Oliver joins the ranks of The Daily Show correspondents-turned-television-specialists.
Originally airing in April, John Oliver’s “Terrifying Times” piece was hailed as a fantastic piece of stagework, not only for his own contributions to his show but for also the incredibly random and hilarious appearance of Andy Zaltzam during it. Oliver didn’t take the usual approach to stand-up specials and instead worked in a video screen and on-stage assistants, giving it a much more communal feel and less all-about himself. By the end of the performance, Oliver had the audience in a perfect state of laughter and political awareness that you just don’t find from many other places.
Well you find it at The Daily Show, but Oliver’s stand-up was not a mere replica of what he plays on the show. Indeed the two characters are incredibly different, with the stage Oliver playing a more straight-up and level headed version of himself, versus the overblown version on The Daily Show. While Oliver keeps things political throughout his special, it’s never so in-your-face and annoyingly so as other comedians can take it. Whenever Oliver ridicules the President, he follows it up with a joke about himself, England or some other country that’s screwed up somewhere else. He’s very evenhanded with his political satire and that’s what makes the special so easy to swallow, since it’s never overly abrasive and hard to sit through.
An element of the special I really enjoyed was the use of the monitor behind him. Pulling up humorous graphics and things like “Kenya Has 3 Apples” just worked so well. You may say they seemed like they could have been ripped straight from an episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, but when it’s what you know, if you can make it funny then more power to you. Oliver keeps everything humorous from beginning to end, never letting up on the jokes and with every one hitting their mark.
I think what was key in Oliver’s performance extending throughout the entire segment was the self-deprecating humor that gets mixed in with the holier than thou rhetoric. His opening piece about how we could all talk with a British accent if we just didn’t throw the “****ing tea” in the river was absolutely hilarious. From then on the audience was putty in his pocket and he ran with it, mixing in his own brand of humor and political satire into his show.
There’s only so much to talk about for an hour long segment, especially when it’s a comedy routine, but Oliver really surprised me. I thought he was a bit of a one-trick pony with his generic portrayal on The Daily Show, but he really impressed me with his stand-up show. Not only because of how he didn’t miss a beat, but also just because of how superbly he just pulled everything off. If you pause and wonder if his stand-up is worth watching, don’t hesitate. John Oliver is hilarious and his Terrifying Times is well worth watching. Recommended.
Thankfully with these stand-up specials, Paramount takes the time out to load up the disc with extras so it’s not such a barren wasteland. For Terrifying Times we get the film itself presented in a standard DVD case with an insert for other Comedy Central releases, as well as the disc itself (with disc art reminiscent of the cover art). The video transfer is a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image that looks as good as one would expect, nice and clear and a good level of detail. Audio is of the Dolby Digital Stereo variety, so don’t expect the room to be filled with auditorium laughter—its front focused and clear, as it should be.
Moving onto the extras we first end up with a hilarious opening menu dialogue that, against all of his wishes, I watched all of. The full run is around 5:36 and the mere fact there’s no cuts and he’s able to keep it together (for the most part) with just coming up stuff with on the spot like that is absolutely hilarious. Even if you don’t think you can, watch all of it—it’s an extra all into itself. Next up is “Some of John’s Appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (four clips), followed by “Behind the Scenes at a Political Animal taping at the UCB Theatre” (28:45), which is a nice meaty extra where we get to see him testing out some of his jokes for the first time on a crowd. The extra is also mixed in with backstage footage as well, so it’s almost as much of a special as the main standup sketch on the disc is.
“John and Andy On”: Interviews with Andy Zaltzam (8:58) is a back and forth interview between the two and wraps up the “official” extras on the disc. There’s one more extra, hidden on the special features menu, titled “Click Here if You Didn’t Mean to Buy this DVD” (0:47), which is Oliver apologizing to someone if they bought this DVD by accident. It’s a humorous and funny little bit that’s worth checking out if you enjoy the rest of the disc. As a side note, Oliver has a great quote about DVD extras in general, not just his, in that “Extras are like lotteries in that you lose most of the time.” After watching so many DVDs since creating this site, I can wholeheartedly agree with him on so many levels. Thankfully his extras were a solid win.
Overall John Oliver – Terrifying Times is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of standup comedy, The Daily Show or of John Oliver period. Avoid it if you just don’t like to laugh, in which case I question your sanity. Recommended.
John Oliver – Terrifying Times arrives on DVD on August 12th.