John Oliver, a correspondent on The Daily Show alongside Aasif Mandvi, Rob Riggle, Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, gets his own stand-up special with this hour-long offering, and it’s a droll, barbed, quite political thing — comedy that kind of requires a bit of forward-leaning engagement and (gasp!) thought from viewers. Offering up a skewed, distinctly British viewpoint of the last eight years of America’s foreign policy blunders (he compares the United States to “Godzilla in a necktie,” and says that while the country has admirably taken the baton of imperialism from its benefactor, it still has a way to go to match Great Britain’s “more elegantly destructive” colonial history), Oliver pokes and prods and challenges his sometimes skeptical but mostly engaged audience.
Terrifying Times runs just under an hour, but has a crisp energy, as well as a couple performance pieces with a friend that help break up the set. Again, most of Oliver’s comedy here is pointedly political, as when he says of George Bush: “To hear that man speak is to wish physical harm upon one self.” He wholeheartedly embraces America’s penchant for excess, though, joking that Oreo Pizza and inflatable barbecue grilles are the ultimate middle finger to terrorists. Assaying a culture at once self-obsessed and awfully slow to roll up its sleeves and make change, he lobbies for changing Wikipedia entries en masse, saying, “Since we don’t seem intent on providing a future for our children, we can offer the change of a bettered past. It is, in a very real sense, the very least we can do.”
An interesting change-up in the material comes in the form of a shared story from Oliver’s adolescence. Detailing the “metronomic rhythm of a flapping penis” when, as an 11-year-old, a slit in his running shorts dooms his dreams of an athletic future, Oliver draws big laughs. Most of the best material, though, is a bit more worldly, and slightly thought-provoking — not provocative, really, but just twistedly observational and socially progressive. Deploying a few props and some slide show support, Oliver proposes an “unfair trade” sticker (a bowler-hat wearing white man urinating on an aboriginal child) in order to shame people into buying merchandise produced under internationally agreeable labor laws. There’s also a brief bit — featured on the disc’s cover — that cracked me up in its beautiful simplicity: “Kenya has three apples. America wants those apples. How many apples does Kenya have?” Oliver wonders aloud.
Stored in a regular Amray case with snap-shut hinges, Terrifying Times is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, in Dolby digital stereo. In addition to a series of irksome preview trailers that auto-start upon initial insertion of the disc, there are trailers for other Comedy Central releases, and a long-loop animated menu screen in which Oliver urges you to make a selection, lest his introductory banter drone on too long. In addition to a nine-minute segment in which Oliver and friend/colleague Andy Zaltzman sit for a tongue-in-cheek radio interview, there is behind-the-scenes material from the taping of Political Animal, the stand-up show that Oliver and Zaltzman repackage as a BBC radio program. Finally, in a nice goodwill gesture from Stewart and Comedy Central, there are also four brief Daily Show segments, the best two of which find Oliver examining the tortured logic of words’ meaning under the Bush administration, and tackling Republicans’ views on evolution. There’s also an Easter egg, which runs about 45 seconds and expounds upon Oliver’s previous joking apologies for anyone who might have purchased another DVD online, and received this one by accident. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Concert) A- (Disc)