"I studied English in college, which seems like cheating when you're already English," Oliver says in his familiar accent over the phone in New York. But while at Christ's College, Cambridge, "I started writing sketches, realizing that's what I wanted to do with my life."
While he wouldn't normally think of performing comedy on a stage, he says, "I thought it would be a frightening thing to do, so I tried it. I also got hooked on it. Which I'm sure would be the same case with heroin."
His addiction to comedy led him to his Emmy-winning slot on "The Daily Show," host of the "John Oliver's New York Stand Up Show," also on Comedy Central; a recurring role on the NBC sitcom "Community"; several movies, from "The Love Guru" to the upcoming "The Smurfs"; and a standup career that brings him to Comix at Foxwoods in his Connecticut debut Saturday, June 4.
He describes "a comedic pedigree" at Cambridge, where he was a member of the Footlights troupe, from which Monty Python had sprung decades before.
"I thought I'd try it and I liked it a lot straight away," Oliver says of the comedy troupe. "I spent a lot more time there than on my degree, to the frustration of my tutors. By third year, I was a lost cause. I began thinking I had come there to learn comedy."
He developed an act at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival but had never been to America before he got a call to come to the "Daily Show" in 2006.
"It came out of nowhere really," Oliver says of the show. "I didn't even know they were looking for someone. I guess Ricky Gervais met up with Jon Stewart and recommended me. I came out straight away, so quickly that my stuff is still in storage in England. I came over with two bags and have rarely been back since then."
Oliver had heard of the "Daily Show. " "It was my favorite show. I watched it online and it had just started being aired in England. I'd never been to America at that point and thought it would be so remote that I'd ever get on. It all happened very quickly."
Oliver brought with him an interest in political humor and quickly flourished in a position where Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms and Rob Corddry had preceded him, especially in filmed interview bits, where his English roots came in handy.
"An accent gives you an air of authority," he says. "If you're pretending to be an arrogant newsman, it's quite useful. People mistakenly believe you have some in-depth knowledge because of your accent. And you can get away with more, either because the words sound nicer or you're getting politer than you really are."
Therefore his questions can be more and more outrageous, as when he interviewed immigration advocates and told them that his immigration experience was exactly the same.
Sometimes it's not easy to be such a jerk interviewing people, Oliver says.
"I try to keep it up most of the time. I spoke to Stephen Colbert and he was good in teaching me how to stay in focus; that you have to think about the edit. Sometimes it can be difficult to say things you know you're about to say. But if you know you'll be in edit bay wishing you'd said it, it becomes more annoying not saying it."
By now, he says, the "Daily Show" is so well known, interview subjects "know we're going to come at them there's going to be stupid questions." But because "we choose people because they have a fervent point of view," they usually agree to come on the show anyway. "And the interviews that are most contentious are the ones where they call up and ask for 30 copies for their family."
Oliver is amazed at the access the comedy show continues to get. "We have better access than we've had in the past. We're given journalist credentials even though we have no journalistic qualifications. We're invited to [political] conventions and debates even though we probably shouldn't be allowed in the same room."
As for actual journalists with whom they sometime share press areas, "usually they're really welcoming, saying they love the show until you start messing with them," Oliver says. "Then, as soon as you start annoying them, they realize no, we're not on their side, and that we're there to ruin everyone's day."
Journalists also tell him confidentially they wish they could do the kind of reporting they do on "The Daily Show," where quotes from leaders are often contrasted to things they said on video years ago that are often the opposite of what they said.
"The fact of the matter, they could do what we do, with much more ease than we do it," he says. "We do it with five guys and a stack of TiVos."