John Oliver

On this date in 1977, John William Oliver — humorist, TV show host and cultural commentator — was born in Erdington, England, to Carole and Jim Oliver. His mother was a music teacher and his father was a school headmaster and social worker. Oliver played the viola as a child.

He graduated in 1998 from Cambridge University with an English degree after participating and serving as an officer in the school’s theatrical club. He had numerous TV and radio comedic and dramatic roles exhibiting his penchant for satire and mordant wit. His first major stand-up appearance was at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Oliver became widely known to U.S. audiences in 2006 as a correspondent on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central. He appeared on 356 episodes and was a writer on 962 episodes. In 2013, while Stewart took a leave of absence to direct the movie “Rosewater,” Oliver stepped in to host 32 episodes.

His TV show “Last Week Tonight” debuted in 2014 and as of this writing in 2024 had aired 305 episodes on HBO and Max. He has garnered 16 Emmy Awards for the show. He has also appeared in a number of films and TV series such as “The Lion King,” “The Smurfs” and 19 episodes of “Community.” He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2019.

Religion is one topic he ably covers. He has talked about attending Anglican services as a child but deciding by the time he was a teen that “I just didn’t believe in it.” He described the church as “very dour, monotone, like, you mumble your prayers and then you return to the holes that you came out of.” The deaths of several schoolmates and his uncle devastated him, and the answer he got that it was God’s will “kind of knocked me out of it. You just think … if that’s true, then I want nothing to do with this.” (“Fresh Air With Terry Gross, March 7, 2018)

In 2015 he announced the formation of Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption as a legally recognized religion in the U.S. with the goal of highlighting televangelists reaping millions in earthly rewards while claiming tax-exempt status. Viewers sent donations that Oliver redirected to Doctors Without Borders.

He later created two spinoffs of the church. Our Lady of Choosing Choice operated a vehicle labeled “Vanned Parenthood” in segments exposing “crisis” pregnancy centers masquerading as women’s health care facilities. Our Lady of Perpetual Health, actually chartered in Florida, owned an unregulated health care sharing ministry named JohnnyCare. These religious nonprofits typically use morality clauses to deny coverage, which is minimal in the first place. For $1.99, Our Lady of Perpetual Health enrollees got a first-aid kit comprised of three Band-Aids.

In 2011, Oliver married Kate Norley, a Virginia native who served in Iraq as a U.S. Army combat medic and mental health specialist. They met at the 2008 Republican national convention when he was working on a story for “The Daily Show” and she was representing Vets for Freedom. She is also involved with Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that sends veterans and first responders around the world to assist after natural disasters. They have sons born in 2015 and 2018.

Asked if he at some point was going to expose his firstborn, then age 2, to religion, Oliver said: “I guess I would be fine with him trying it. I’ll take him to whatever faith he would like to try out. … At the moment, I’m just trying to introduce him to avocados, let alone institutionalized religion.” (Ibid., “Fresh Air”)

FFRF’s Action Fund named Oliver a Secularist of the Week in June 2024 for publicly opposing Project 2025, a 900-page blueprint detailing actions Donald Trump should take if reelected in order to ensure the supremacy of religious and conservative values while gutting representative government.

PHOTO: Oliver at the Montclair Film Festival in 2016; Neil Grabowsky photo under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation