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Getting to see what I had dubbed the Daily Show host trifecta was one of those dream 'if only' things to do in New York City. I was lucky enough to get tickets to both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart a couple of months ago, which in hindsight wasn't that hard in that the shows were both in work schedule rather than on break, and they do four shows a week. Getting a ticket to John Oliver, the brand new so-hot-right-now show that's only on once a week on Sundays, and I had exactly one Sunday in NYC? That was far dicier. The tickets for each show are made available online three weeks ahead of time, and disappear in minutes. Being in Switzerland my attempt at signing up meant discreetly ducking out of a friend's dinner party for a few minutes, but while I got through the sign-up process all I received was an email that essentially said, "Thank you, we'll get back to you if you get a ticket but if you don't hear from us by two weeks before the show you haven't got one." Which wasn't heartening.

I didn't end up getting an email. Then again I had a lot of other things to deal with - packing, moving, finishing up at work, etc., I chalked it up with an "oh well maybe another time" and jumped on the plane across the pond to JFK. I went straight out for dinner with my brother, then drinks with friends who had just arrived for their first USA trip, and then more drinks with said friends who I met again the next morning bringing brother along. Despite the rain my brother and I took them to check out Fifth Avenue and after lunch brought them to T-Mobile in Times Square to sort out SIM cards for their upcoming travel adventures. While that was being organised I logged into T-Mobile's free wifi to check emails, and then I saw it.

"We just got some more cancellations than expected. Sorry for the very last minute notice. Please get back to us immediately or as soon as you can to confirm or cancel [your ticket request for Last Week Tonight]."

I hit 'reply' so fast I made a typo in the confirmation header and had to resend it. Within minutes I had a reply saying "Confirmed! We look forward to seeing you at the show tomorrow!"

There may have been a little victory dance in the T-Mobile store as I triumphantly showed the message to my friends and brother.

* * *

The rain of Saturday morning had disappeared completely by the afternoon and left Sunday with clear blue skies, perfect for heading over to Brooklyn for lunch at Smorgasbord. We ate ramen burgers and ice cream sandwiches by the water and worked it off walking across the Brooklyn Bridge back into NYC. It tired me out enough to catch a nap in the afternoon before bouncing up again to head to the Last Week Tonight TV studio on 57th Street.

The email confirmation said line-up was from 5:15-5:30p.m. Unlike The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which overbook ticket numbers meaning you need to line up at least two hours ahead of time to be sure of getting a seat, the tickets for Last Week Tonight are guaranteed entry. That being said, I turned up at 4:30p.m. out of curiosity only to find that the queue was already going through security, so I quickly joined in and passed the time chatting with other people in the queue until we were called into the studio to be seated. The advantage of attending TV show recordings solo is that the floor managers often use you as a tiny Tetris piece to fill any spare single seats, which in my case meant a spare single seat front row and centre. I did a little squirmy victory dance in that seat. Once the studio was filled the audience was told the usual ground rules: no photography, no recording, turn off cell phones, no walking onto the stage, and emphatically no sitting at John Oliver's desk.

The warm-up comedian came out to get the party started by picking out members of the audience. The first fellow he picked turned out to be a fellow Aussie who was in New York City working in banking, the second was a woman from LA - and then there was me. I had been trying to point to the woman beside me who had her hand up but no, bad idea, that put me in the spotlight especially as I was sitting in the front row with an obvious red hat. So I ended up explaining from-Australia-via-Switzerland to everyone in the studio, and, in reply to the comedian's comment about how everything in Australia can kill you, deadpanned that kids in the Northern Territory get lessons on how to get away from crocodiles while schools in Sydney have classes on swimming away from sharks. It took him a moment to realise I was joking.

The warm-up for Last Week Tonight also involves a t-shirt gun being fired into the audience. I didn't get one, but that didn't matter because with once the t-shirt shooting range was over that was the signal for John Oliver himself to come out.

He bounced. Literally. I had seen John Oliver do stand-up comedy in San Francisco years ago when he bounced in jeans and a t-shirt, now on Last Week Tonight his hair was slicker and he had a sharp business suit on, but he still bounced. And looked at us cheering with the biggest grin and air of disbelief that he this bespectacled Brit really is headlining his own successful show in New York, the United States of America. It's incredibly adorable and also an interesting contrast to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report is playing a character and it's emphasised how much he needs and psychs himself up with loud audience support so he comes running out into the studio; Jon Stewart on also needs the audience but has been doing The Daily Show for well over a decade so there's a sense that he's seen it all. Last Week Tonight being a brand new show in its very first year, and a very successful first year? John Oliver probably pinches himself every morning to make sure he isn't dreaming.

To our cheers he grinned, he did a little awkward dance (still so British) and thanked us all for coming was there anyone who wanted to ask him questions. Me being front row and centre with a red hat shooting my hand up like Hermoine at Hogwarts, I got the first question. I said hello from Australia (reply, "G'day, mate!"), thank you so much for the gun control piece you did while you were at The Daily Show and also for the hilarious Last Week Tonight piece on Prime Minister Tony Abbott (I made him laugh to remember it), and pleaded please please pretty please do another piece on Australian politics because we have so much to make fun of right now. (I may have mentioned that Tony Abbott is Australia's politico-cultural equivalent of George W. Bush). John Oliver replied that actually, yes he and the show's team have been following what's happening in Australia (his sister is moving to Melbourne) and there's a good chance they'll do another Aussie piece in future.

There were other questions about The Bugle ("No, I'm not doing anymore puns!") and what Backstreet Boy are you, which was hilarious because it meant John Oliver started trying to awkwardly, adorably dance like one. He also pointed out that the cityscape behind him has the castle of King's Landing from HBO's Game of Thrones. (They originally wanted Hogwarts but Disney didn't let them.)

And then the show began. The role of the audience is to cheer and laugh as much and as loudly as possible, and generally enjoy John Oliver do his thing. Which he does, and all that experience at The Daily Show and his stint behind Jon Stewart's desk comes through wonderfully well. John Oliver ran through every segment without a slip, except one small one where he jumped a line or something whereupon he swore and collapsed into laughter on his desk. And then got it together in a heartbeat to do a second, flawless take.

The long-form piece was on civil forfeiture laws in the United States. Like all the long-form pieces John Oliver has done it's fantastically executed and horrifying in the subject matter it explores. But it did include a sketch video Law & Order style where they teamed up with the actual *Law & Order* cast to create "Law & Order: Civil Forfeiture". I had to rewatch that segment when it aired because when it was playing in the studio I spent most of it watching John Oliver who again, adorable, was laughing trying not to make too much noise at his own desk because he was just that pleased with what he had created. The only thing more adorable than John Oliver? John Oliver holding a King Charles Cavalier spaniel wearing a crown on its head. Yes, that is a thing and it's more adorable than all the kittens on the internet.

Then it was over. John Oliver thanked us all and bounced out, and we the audience patiently filed out of the studio and back onto the streets of New York. I found the King Charles cavalier spaniel guest star hanging around outside and had a moment to play with him and chat with his handler, which was a great way to end the show. Every time I visit New York I find people are happy to chat and say hello welcome to our city. To be able to say to friends and family back home that I've had the opportunity to watch and speak with John Oliver in person is the icing on the cake, and with The Colbert Report wrapping up I'm glad to have Last Week Tonight on air, and hope to be watching it for years to come. Possibly in person again if I can manage it!


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May 2016

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