“I’ve made my choice,” John Oliver told me. “I’m never going back. I’ve given my resignation to the Queen.”
You can see right away why the British satirist and HBO star wouldn’t be in a huge rush to return to Blighty.
It’s doubtful that he could show up unshaven at a posh, black-tie banquet in starchy London—as he did Wednesday night at Manhattan’s St. Regis Hotel—in a mushroom soup-colored, rumpled suit, wrinkled blue-checked shirt and possibly gravy-stained tie, all of which looked like they’d been stowed under his bed, and not get the evil eye.
But in New York City, in the big-hearted, unsnobby U.S. of A—where Oliver did a standup routine about jet skis, Halloween costumes for pets, Larry the Cable Guy, the trashy movie Showgirls, T-shirt cannons and other choice bits of Americana at a fundraising dinner for the Museum of the Moving Image—everybody was delighted to see him.
Especially happy to have Oliver on hand to amuse the audience were CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose and HBO chief executive Richard Plepler, who had agreed to be the night’s honorees—aka the lamb chops in the window—in order to attract a crowd that included Rose’s CBS co-hosts, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, and a passel of HBO stalwarts such as Sopranos creator David Chase and director Tim Van Patten, Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi, Girls actresses Allison Williams and Zosia Mamet, and Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel.
“This is the perfect room for comedy,” Oliver told the dinnergoers, surveying the ornate ballroom on the hotel’s 20th floor. “There’s a minimum number of chandeliers needed to make jokes work and that minimum number is six”—the exact number of heavy crystal clusters hanging from the sky-blue ceiling.
The preternaturally tanned Plepler was toasted by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who liberally quoted lines from William Shakespeare plays and speculated what a pitch session with Plepler might have been like if the Bard had been under contract to HBO.
Shakespeare, pitching Macbeth: “It’s about a very good man compelled to do really bad things; has this cold wife, and it’s gonna end badly.”
Plepler: “Bill, it’s a great idea, but AMC has done Breaking Bad. What about that Danish prince who can’t make up his mind? Let’s go with that.”
Plepler, meanwhile, in otherwise sweet and light remarks that included fulsome praise of museum co-chairman Herb Schlosser, the long-retired former president of NBC, trotted out his impressions of Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger.
Rose was given an introduction worthy of This Is Your Life —featuring biographical details such as his upbringing in his parents’ grocery store in Henderson, N.C., and his behind-the-camera work as a producer for Bill Moyers—by O’Donnell, King and Yvette Vega, the longtime of executive producer of the Charlie Rose Show, his nighttime interview show, based at Bloomberg Television.
“We’re all here because with Charlie Rose, one woman is never enough,” O’Donnell quipped—a not-too-veiled reference to the 72-year-old Rose’s reputation as a lady killer.
King, meanwhile, recounted that in order to prepare her toast, she had phoned Rose’s ex-wife, Mary Rose Taylor. “I said, ‘I was wondering if you would share some stories that tell us about Charlie’s heart.’ And she hung up.”
King was joking, of course: Rose remains close to his ex (and, indeed, in his own remarks, he gave a shout-out in the crowd to several relatives of Amanda Burden, his on-again, off-again ladyfriend.)
Rose marveled at his great good luck to have spent his professional life surrounded by “women who were smarter, more thoughtful and more eloquent than I was.”