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5 Things We Learned from John Oliver on Bullseye

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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

(03:59)

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

(00:10:16)

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

(00:12:02)

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

(00:24:39)

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

(00:25:54)

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 there...it 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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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
iStock

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.

1. IT’S BASED ON A STAGE PLAY.

Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK THOUGHT HE WAS “COASTING” WHEN HE MADE THE FILM.

By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.

3. IT’S HITCHCOCK’S ONLY 3D FILM.

In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.

4. IT WAS HITCHCOCK’S FIRST FILM WITH GRACE KELLY.

Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.

5. IT TAKES PLACE ALMOST ENTIRELY INDOORS.

Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.

6. HITCHCOCK PERSONALLY CHOSE EVERY PROP.

Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.

7. KELLY’S WARDROBE GROWS DARKER ON PURPOSE.

Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.

8. KELLY WON A PARTICULAR WARDROBE ARGUMENT.

For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.

9. HITCHCOCK WAS SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE PIVOTAL SCENE THAT HE LOST WEIGHT.

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.

10. HITCHCOCK MAKES HIS CAMEO IN A PHOTOGRAPH.

Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.

11. IT’S BEEN REMADE FOUR TIMES.

Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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