John Oliver

Note: This review is from 2003

Review by Steve Bennett

These are good times for protests: anti-globalisation, anti-war, pro-countryside, there's hardly a layer of society not getting in on the act.

John Oliver discovered the power of direct action at an early age, when childhood belligerence forced his mum to stop making a much-hated meal. Adult protests tend not to end in quite such obvious and instant success, but Oliver still relishes small victories whenever he finds them.

In that vein, he moulds apparently innocuous observational routines to give them a political edge. The tale of a hapless commuter becoming trapped in the closing doors of a Tube train, for example, is twisted into a modern parable about sticking it to The Man.

This is what Oliver does. He's a comedic craftsman, taking sometimes unpromising raw materials to create a thing of art. Semi-autobiographical tales a pantless childhood rebellion, an odd story of a man whose penis becomes frozen to a bus shelter and satirical proof that Morph is linked to the Al Qaeda network are all seamlessly woven into the fabric of his message.

He does it all with an underplayed intelligence - not with furious politicised ranting or a smug, self-satisfied smirk; but by telling clever and imaginative stories well.

The low-key approach means laughs are sacrificed for ambience, producing a witty and subtle polemic rather than a laugh-out-loud tour de force, but an impressive display of smart stand-up nonetheless.

Review date: 1 Jan 2003
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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