September 26, 2018 | ° F

Oliver, Cenac talk life before fame

Photo by Shirley Yu |

The Rutgers University Programming Association hosted the annual “Homecoming Comedy Show Saturday,” featuring comedians John Oliver and Wyatt Cenac.

John Oliver discovered what best represents the younger generations’ legacy: T-shirt cannons. He said nothing excites them more than a free T-shirt.

“People have died falling out of arenas, reaching for T-shirts fired their way. And yet, we still have T-shirt cannons,” he said. “I don’t recall any discussion of T-shirt cannons getting banned. It’s as if collectively we decided, ‘You know what? It’s not that bad a way to die.’”

Americans are so crazy over free T-shirts, that Oliver said the Philadelphia 76ers have even commissioned a cannon that fires 100 T-shirts in one minute. He even shared a personal experience with a T-shirt cannon.

“We were doing a bit at Union Square, and I turned the power all the way up. I had no idea how far it would shoot,” he said. “[When I fired], T-shirts were being launched over the road. People were running into the streets to get them with no concern for the traffic that was around.”

Photo: Shawn Smith

Wyatt Cenac, previously on ‘The Daily Show,’ performed Saturday at the Homecoming Comedy Show.

Oliver, along with former fellow “Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac, performed stand-up Saturday night at the College Avenue Gymnasium for Rutgers University Programming Association’s “Homecoming Comedy Show.” Oliver is still on “The Daily Show,” and hosted it over the summer. Cenac left at the end of last year.

Before “The Daily Show,” both men began their careers doing stand-up comedy. Cenac said he was interested in comedy before college, but once he got to college, he realized many opportunities were available.

“Once I got to college, that was when I started to realize there were internships … stuff I could do to learn more and get some experience,” Cenac said. “I started doing those and performing when I was in college. Then I moved to Los Angeles for fame and fortune, but I didn’t find it, so I moved to New York for rent money.”

Oliver said his story is similar, without the move to Los Angeles. He started his comedy career in college as well.

“I started in college, did some sketch comedy there, and then I left and started stand-up, and then wrote for TV shows in England,” he said. “I did some stand up shows around England. That’s generally how you find your voice as a comedian, and then I moved over here a few years ago for this job.”

Oliver said he was asked to write a skit for “The Daily Show” after someone recommended him to the show’s producers. After writing a segment for the show, he flew to New York City to perform it and was offered a job.

Cenac said he had auditioned for the show multiple times but was turned down initially. While he was in L.A., the show would have auditions every six months.

“I had auditioned a few times and never got it, and then I got a call, ‘We want you to audition,’ and I was like ‘I don’t want to f------- do it, they haven’t given it to me yet,’” he said. “My manager said, ‘This time they want you to write your own thing,’ and that changed it, when I got to write it and put it in my voice.”

Cenac said by being able to write for himself, he was able to join as a writer and performer.

“We were both writers on the show as well, which is relatively rare. [It was] just us and Stephen [Colbert] that ever did that,” Oliver said.

While they were both writers for “The Daily Show,” they sometimes did not agree on the same things, like favorite foods.

“I’ll take some well-made sushi please. I want it to be delicious, and I want you to make it at home, in front of me, on a barstool,” Oliver said.  

Cenac prefers something a little more beefy, like a rib-eye cooked medium-rare.

This past summer, Oliver had the chance to host “The Daily Show” while Jon Stewart directed a film in Jordan. He said the experience was strange.

“It was very weird, but it was fun,” Oliver said. “[It was] very frightening for a couple of days, but then it turned into a lot of fun. It was great.”

He said if Stewart were to ever direct another movie in Jordan, he would want to take over the show again.

“I don’t know when, or where, or how, or what, but yeah, I would love to,” he said.

Cenac said if he had his choice, he would go another direction and start a cooking show.

“I would host a topical cooking show,” he said. “Just a lot of shows about bacon. I enjoyed my time at the show, and it is my type of humor. I enjoyed writing and performing.”

Another topic they disagreed on was the recent government shutdown.

“It was completely pathetic,” Oliver said. “Completely unnecessary and totally avoidable.”

Cenac disagreed, and said he enjoyed the shutdown.

“I’m going the other way. I’m enjoying it,” he said. “Zoos? Who needs them?”

On a more serious note, Cenac said politics feel like an awful sport that people in Washington, D.C. play with no real points scored.

“It feels that as bad as it is now, what is it going to be in 10 years?” he said. “I feel with this shutdown when you heard people saying ‘Well, during the Clinton administration, it was bad and this is so much worse than that one.’ It feels like this is now a game to people.”

Oliver added that at the moment, 50 percent of senators become lobbyists, and he sees this as a sign of a massive problem with deep-rooted consequences.

“This is not the healthiest time for American democracy,” he said.

After the show ended, Oliver received a standing ovation from the crowd in the gym.

Keerthana Hirudayakanth, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, won a contest and a meet-and-greet after the show with Oliver and Cenac.

“The show was hilarious,” she said. “They were so kind and down-to-earth. It was really cool to talk to John Oliver about his upcoming appearance on ‘Community’ next season.”

By Shawn Smith

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