The British Are Coming
John Lithgow’s portrayal as Britain’s prized and most affable bulldog, Winston Churchill, in The Crown was thoroughly engrossing, making the business nomad second-guess whether or not he was indeed British. I replied, of course not, and pre-meditating his next query, confirmed his shock that for once, an American actor had indeed assumed a British role.
Hollywood productions are wrought with the British invasion; in fact, this made me wonder why The Beatles’ premier North American tour was titled “The British Invasion?” – probably to denounce or announce their un-American-ness. In addition, the use of the word “invasion” could suggest the disdain Americans felt for foreign talent and in particular the Brits (there was that little matter of independence attained from them two centuries ago). Nowadays, whenever we encounter a little-known actor in a break-out movie or TV role, only to discover, along with the perplexed late-night show host interviewing them, that he or she too, is British, firstly the compliments are thrown out for mastery of the American twang and secondly, we are seduced by the mellifluous accent coo out of them. I might have watched and re-watched Notting Hill, ten times too many, on the fantasy of being a foreigner and falling in love with that accent (Hugh Grant was not the attraction to me at all).
John Oliver vs. HBO’s finest
What got me musing about those Brits and their sultry accents? I came across the latest promotional advert for Last Week Tonight (hosted by John Oliver – another import from across the Atlantic) – parading as the pride of HBO but, as the announcer shrewdly informs him – he is in no way bigger than their crown jewel, Game of Thrones, nor is he as comically loved as Silicon Valley’s nerds (re-affirmed by one of the show’s stars, Kumail Nanjiani) nor is his return as anxiously anticipated as Curb Your Enthusiasm (a crushing blow delivered by the man who seems to be doing pretty, pretty good himself, Larry David). John Oliver, as much as I love you, I might have to agree with Larry with the last one, though. Now, during this promo, Nanjiani mouths the same sentiment that a lot of other people hold of the British talent: “no one likes a British man yelling at us;” this was very visibly expressed by a dejected Jimmy Kimmel when he appeared on stage at the Emmy’s last year (after the award in his category went to Oliver) and he woefully moaned, “shouldn’t they be giving these awards to Americans?”
Another titillating clip of John Oliver, humorously promoting his upcoming season, was on the Billy on the Street show, where Billy Eichner, the shrill host, asks a very important question to strangers on the street, “do gay people care about John Oliver?” For this episode, Billy singles out gay people (I was rather mildly impressed with Billy’s pin-point gay-dar) to ask them in particular, and over the course of many minute exchanges, it becomes glaringly obvious that Wendy Williams is the more beloved talk-show personality. Even Cookie from Empire has more esteem in the community than poor old John. However, John shouldn’t mind the affront of being un-American, of being a British man, of being less important than Wendy Williams (to a particular audience) or of being less-anticipated than Larry. Because, he’s John Oliver, the man who managed to start his own church and earned a cool 70k dollars out of it – proving that some do, refuting Nanjiani’s claim, like a British man yelling at them.
Sadia Sarwar is an upcoming author with plenty of opinions and rarefied tastes. Follow her on @sadiamhsarwar.