'The Daily Show' Tackles American Soccer
The World Cup often brings out journalists who don't pay too much attention to soccer during the intervening years, and while we're used to Comedy Central's fake news show targeting vapid politicians and blowhard pundits, soccer runs in its veins. Host Jon Stewart played at William & Mary in the early 1980s and Oliver, a "senior correspondent," is a huge fan of the game who will be going to South Africa this summer.
Oliver and his crew spent two days at Princeton University having a bit of fun at the expense of some players, with the laconic Brit doing his best to remind them that as Americans, they had little business being any good at soccer. The bits were very funny, but FanHouse felt the need to step in and defend our national honor. Oliver was kind enough to respond to our questions and criticisms -- but only after attempting to teach a few of his World Cup-bound interview subjects how to juggle a ball.
The conversation is below. The episode is scheduled to air June 10, just two days before Oliver's homeland faces off against the U.S. in their World Cup opener.
FANHOUSE: So you've been out here for a couple of days talking to the players. How does the American player compare to those in England? Friendly?
OLIVER: Very friendly.
FANHOUSE: More sober?
OLIVER: That's right! Everything that the English squad are not. No one headbutted me the whole time I was here. There were no Spice Girls around either. So it was a refreshing change from what we're used to.
They were extremely nice. They have no real ego about them. They played along great. So, it's strange. I wanted to be a football player.
FANHOUSE: So did we all.
OLIVER: Yeah. That's the thing. This is the first time I've been interviewing someone who I'd really like to be. I would like to be the person having to endure some a**hole Englishman asking them stupid questions.
FANHOUSE: Jon Stewart played.
OLIVER: Yeah, he's pretty good!
FANHOUSE: So whose fantasy MLS team is better? Or do you just knock the ball around the studio?
OLIVER: We actually played outside the studio a couple of months ago. He was definitely pretty good!
FANHOUSE: You're a Liverpool fan.
FANHOUSE: That has to be tough.
OLIVER: It is. My family's from Liverpool. I grew up in Bedford [roughly between London and Birmingham]. In England you inherit your father's team. More than any other kind of rebellion, to not take your father's football team would be a real slap in the face.
FANHOUSE: So I heard you tell Stuart [Holden] you're a fan of the U.S. national team. So what's tougher, supporting a humble team that people have lower expectations for, or a team like England, which has immense delusions of grandeur and always disappoints?
OLIVER: That's tougher! How is that not tougher? You have to understand, my whole life has been just a procession of every four years being hopeful and then having those hopes dashed.
FANHOUSE: Where does that hubris come from? England has only made the World Cup semifinals one more time than the U.S.
OLIVER: Even hearing that out loud in an American accent makes me so mad. All of my hooliganness is bubbling out.
FANHOUSE: You're also one ahead of Spain, if that makes you feel any better.
OLIVER: Yeah, except Spain should probably win this World Cup.
FANHOUSE: So, where does the English sense of entitlement on the soccer field come from?
OLIVER: We invented the game! It's our game. It's our game.
FANHOUSE: But you're not very good at it.
OLIVER: No! We have stayed the correct amount good at it. It's just that other countries have arrogantly got better. When we invented it, we invented it to be played at a certain level, and when you start going over that level you're basically cheating. So that's my problem with your Spains, your Brazils, your Argentinas.
FANHOUSE: Jerks. So how close are we? Where are we on that continuum of improvement?
OLIVER: You know, it's going to be tough for U.S. soccer. It's going to be tough. There's no real space in people's hearts here, it seems, for it. But the standard is, they're decent! If they don't get out of the group, it'll be a disaster. So I'll definitely be rooting for them to get out of the group.
FANHOUSE: I've always wanted to know this. Why do the English get so upset when we use the word "soccer?" The English coined the word. It's short for "association football." It's your word. Why do you get your panties in a bunch about it?
OLIVER: I'll tell you where that comes from, and thank you for using the phrase "panties in a bunch." It is that when you've lost an empire, you tend to hang on tightly to the things that mean the least. So, the Falkland Islands, Bermuda and the word "football." That's basically all we have left. That's why it's so important to us.
FANHOUSE: The Italians call it "calcio." They don't call it "football." And they kick your butts.
OLIVER: Hey, when? They do not. They dive a lot.
FANHOUSE: They do. And they've won four World Cups. And beat you for third in 1990. That was big. The word "football" isn't magic.
OLIVER: Are you suggesting that we're focusing on the wrong thing?
FANHOUSE: The record speaks for itself.
OLIVER: You might be right. Also, this will also be the first time I've ever been to an actual World Cup game. So this is a dream come true. And I'll be standing with the Americans!
FANHOUSE: What are you expecting from this event? We're hearing South Africa's a dangerous place. Are you going to even be able to set up a camera without having it "nicked," as you would say?
OLIVER: Now hold on. I'm guessing that their heavy-handed policing is going to stop that from happening. And so we'll benefit from that.
FANHOUSE: Brits don't really respond to heavy-handed policing at other events though, do you?
OLIVER: We see it as a challenge, to be honest. Having heavy-handed policing is just like saying, "Let's see if you can outwit us here." And then the bottles start flying.