Getty Images / Mark Davis
Getty Images / Mark Davis

5 Things We Learned from John Oliver on Bullseye

Getty Images / Mark Davis
Getty Images / Mark Davis

In this week's Bullseye interview segment, we hear from the best new late-night host: John Oliver. His HBO show Last Week Tonight rules, and you can often get the best parts for free on YouTube. Let's go!

Listen To the Interview

You can hear the full interview using the SoundCloud player above. You can also jump to the parts we've highlighted using the time codes shown at the beginning of each snippet.

1. He Has More Time to Wallow in Failure Doing a Weekly Show


Jesse Thorn: When you’re doing a weekly show you are obviously not as timely as a daily show, and so it gives you a little bit of a different perspective. Did you think when you were developing this show about what you would do differently when you were making jokes once a week rather than making jokes every weekday?

John Oliver: Yeah. It’s very different. I mean, we’re still developing. We haven’t really done anything yet. We’ve only done three shows, so yeah, I still don’t quite know what the show is or how we should be making whatever it becomes. But yeah, there’s a mental clarity that comes from doing a show every day because you don’t have any time to wallow in your failure. When I was sitting in for Jon [Stewart] over the summer, I realized there was a certain point of the day that I could wallow in failure, and it was walking from the desk at the end of the show, to the rewrite room where we were going to start talking about tomorrow’s show.

So I had about 45 seconds to mentally beat myself up, and so that had to be quite a tenacious 45 seconds, and then you just kind of have to get on with it, and now there’s a different mental process doing it once a week. So every part of it is different and is difficult in a different way.

2. When Oliver Moved to the U.S., He Had Never Even Visited Previously


Jesse Thorn: It’s Bullseye, and I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is political satirist John Oliver. He’s been a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and recently landed a late night show of his own on HBO.

When you first came to the United States, how much time had you spent here? Or I should say, when you first came to the United States to work for The Daily Show?

John Oliver: No time. Zero time. I had not been here before.

Jesse Thorn: How did it compare with what you thought it was going to be like?

John Oliver: I thought New York would be like a mixture of the Friends set and countless Woody Allen movies, and to a certain extent I was not disappointed. So yeah, you kind of project so much from all the cultural exposure you’ve had to New York and to America, and I kind of fell in love with it straight away. Not just New York, but everywhere I went, America was a confounding place, especially because it’s projected as a... you kind of project yourself as a nation, or we do, to play fast and loose again now, like a united front to the world.

I remember every time you watch the Olympics you see Americans crying during their national anthem, waving their flags around, and you assume as a member of the rest of the world that all of those Americans think the same thing about something, which is of course ridiculous. The fact is, at least two of them probably have completely differing views on everything.

And so yeah, that’s what I loved...the complexity of America is one of the things I loved the most about it.

Martin Short and John Oliver attend The Night Of Too Many Stars Live Telethon on March 8, 2015 in New York City. Image courtesy Getty Images / Stephen Lovekin.

3. The First Time He Saw a Gun Was During His First Daily Show Road Assignment


Jesse Thorn: What was the first place that The Daily Show sent you that was way, way outside New York, to do a piece?

John Oliver: Chillicothe, Ohio, that was where. I could answer that before you even get to the end of that sentence. It was Chillicothe, Ohio, and I remember that because I’d never seen a gun before and we were shooting in a diner and a guy pulled up in a pickup truck and he had a rifle in the back of his truck, and he walked in to the diner and he left it there. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, nothing about this seems normal.”

And I ended up talking to him while he was ordering something, and he refused to believe that I had never seen or fired a gun before. He just physically refused. He said, “There’s no way that’s true. How old are you?” And I think then I was 29, and he said, “Do you want to hold mine?” And I said, “No. Absolutely not.” This cannot be my first time with a stranger in Chillicothe. This can’t be it because at this point I still think there’s a thing in my head that I might do something terrible with it.

4. Part of Him Loves American Exceptionalism


Jesse Thorn: I’m always surprised when American exceptionalism becomes a political issue in the sense that it is an accusation hurled against many politicians.

John Oliver: It’s amazing.

Jesse Thorn: That they insufficiently believe that America is the greatest country in the world.

John Oliver: I love it. I love it. It’s amazing, because there was honestly part of me that really does love it because it’s positive. There’s no point to being negative all the time, and that’s been a tough lesson to learn, moving to this country. In Britain you’re fired in the kiln of negativity because everything’s gone, everything’s terrible, what’s the point? There’s something overwhelmingly positive about America saying, “This is the greatest, we are the greatest.”

The problem is when you take it one step further, and where you’ll get like this President saying, “America is the greatest country in the history of the world.” That’s where you want to go, “Whoa there. Whoa.” In the history? That is a much bigger discussion.

Jesse Thorn: Well, it becomes a sort of fight.

John Oliver: Of course! Yeah. It’s a fight. It’s a fight to say the most illogical thing that makes people feel the best, and there’s part of me...I genuinely, there’s part of me that really loves that, that just relentless feeling of number one forever, and in the past as well. I think it’s great. I like it. I prefer living closer to this than to the British idea of, “Life is pointless. We are dust in the wind of history.”

(L-R) Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, John Oliver, and Terry Jones pose for a photo backstage at the 'Monty Python And The Holy Grail' special screening during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Image courtesy Getty Images / Stephen Lovekin.

5. He Met His Wife-To-Be at the Republican National Convention


Jesse Thorn: I only recently learned that you met your wife at the Republican National Convention.

John Oliver: I did. I did, yeah. I did.

Jesse Thorn: Can you describe to me the circumstances?

John Oliver: Well, I was was the 2008 election and so we were shooting at the RNC on a layer of the convention center that we were not supposed to be on because that’s where all the people that you have any interest in interviewing are, so we would put our camera equipment through with the caterers’ equipment each morning and then we would find this back exit, and we’d usually have a few hours of interviewing people before we were chased out of the building. But I was concerned because I was on a visa back then. If you get arrested on the visa, you are gone, you’re done. So I could never get arrested on field pieces which can be problematic because you kind of do want to take it up to that line and beyond it sometimes, just for some jokes that’s where the most interesting thing is. It’s something that is not strictly allowed in the legal sense.

And yeah, my wife was in the Army. She’s an Iraq War veteran, and so she was at both conventions with her veterans' group, and when they saw us getting chased by security, they hid us in their little booth, and then the security guards flew past, Keystone Cops style, and that was it. I didn’t see her again for like six months or so, but yeah, that was it. That was where I met her, in the least romantic place on earth. Whatever the opposite of a romantic story is, that’s what it is.

Where to Subscribe to Bullseye

You can subscribe to Bullseye With Jesse Thorn via iTunes or any podcast player you like. It's also on various NPR stations across the country. You can also hear the complete interview on SoundCloud.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Getty Images

Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”


According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.


Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”


Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.


It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.


Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.


Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."


A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.


If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.


Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.


According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.


Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.


It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”


In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.


Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.


In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.


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