Olympics make John Oliver laugh (and cry)

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
10:35
AM ET
John OliverJason Kempin/WireImage/Getty ImagesJohn Oliver hopes his native England doesn't embarrass itself during the 2012 opening ceremonies.

It's a big couple of weeks for comedian/actor/"Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver.

On Friday, his program "John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show" returns to Comedy Central (11 p.m. ET). One week later, the Olympics' opening ceremonies kick off in his native England.

Surely he's looking forward to the former. But the latter? Well ...

"It's very exciting for British people," the Birmingham (not Alabama)-born Oliver deadpanned. "It's very exciting whenever you buy something that you cannot afford.

"Our country is in an economic s---storm at the moment, and what better way to spend your money than to host one of the best sporting events in the world? ... Especially four years after China did it spectacularly."

Yes, this is about more than financials. Oliver is a bit fearful his home nation might get embarrassed in front of millions.

"The pressure is just unbelievable," he said. "I remember four years ago watching that Beijing opening ceremonies, and [I had three] instincts: One being, 'That is incredible'; two being, 'China are about to run the world'; and three being, 'Oh [expletive], London is next.'"

And of course ...

"I think we're going to be doing some kind of sheep's meadow thing. And I wish that was a joke, but I think that's true."

[Editor's note: It is.]

Enough about the fear and/or ironic excitement. In truth, Oliver really is hyped for the London Games, even if the New York transplant ...

  1. Hasn't really seen what's happened since England's capital won the event five years ago ("I went back and made fun of the royal wedding," he said, "but I was there for two days and working the whole time, so I've seen nothing of it"); and ...
  2. Won't be attending the Games. "I would like to," he said, "but it's in the run-up to the Democratic and Republican conventions. I'll probably pretend I'm there on 'The Daily Show,' but I won't actually be going."


For non-Brits watching the Games, Oliver expects their attention to be grabbed by unusual locales. For example, the beach volleyball competition will be held at historic Horse Guards Parade, and archery at Lord's Cricket Ground.

"There will certainly be some venues with some historic windows and walls that could be broken with an errant arrow or ball," Oliver said. "You break it; you buy it. Maybe that's how they plan to make money!"

For his country, Oliver hopes for medals. "Britain is a sports-crazy nation," he said. "We mobilize best around sport -- and royal weddings and funerals, but mainly sport."

For himself? Yes he wants Great Britain to succeed. But there are times while watching the Games -- in London, in Beijing, in any place -- that the comedian loses any sense of cynicism and just gets caught up in the spectacle.

"It's basically awesome," Oliver said. "It's so easy to get sucked into things that you basically know nothing about. I only need to watch 30 seconds of the diving competition before being hugely emotionally involved and becoming an impromptu Olympic judge. 'Very little splash on that dive!' Of course, that's all they're looking for is a splash.

"I'm a real sucker for the human [spirit]. I'm so easily manipulated by human-interest stories in athletics. ... All I need to see is a two-minute profile on an athlete and the life that they've had and the struggles that they've encountered, and I will be in tears. I don't cry basically at all, and yet something like that set to a powerful, soaring, 1980s power ballad ... I will be crying my eyes out."
Patrick Dorsey is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor for ESPN.com. He has worked for the Web and newspapers. He also played in one Division-III golf tournament (he shot 105).

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