John Oliver’s TV Debut Was as a Dickensian Orphan

Before ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘Last Week Tonight’ there was ‘Bleak House’
John Oliver’s TV Debut Was as a Dickensian Orphan

John Oliver, the award-winning host of Last Week Tonight, has selflessly sacrificed his once-youthful appearance over the past nine years purely for our entertainment — seemingly because reporting on the state of America in the 21st century is a little like peeking inside the Ark of the Covenant. 

Of course, a lot of us were aware of Oliver prior to his popular HBO series, thanks to his work on The Daily Show, a recurring role in Community, and in what we can only assume is the crown jewel of his career, the time he portrayed “Dick Pants” in The Love Guru.

But Oliver made his TV debut long before all that, way back in a time when Wham! tunes and coked-out stockbrokers reigned supreme: 1985. No, Oliver isn’t some kind of bespectacled Highlander; he was a small child at the time, appearing briefly as an orphan in the BBC miniseries adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

One might think that Oliver landed the gig because all kids in England are required by law to perform in publicly funded costume dramas at some point, or that he was simply the British equivalent of Macaulay Culkin. But Oliver wasn’t a child actor; as he has told Seth Meyers, he got roped into the production because it happened to be filming near his school, and the producers “wanted a kid with dark hair and brown eyes — and I was two for two on that.”

Oliver also claimed that, despite the fact that he was sharing the screen with acclaimed actors like Dame Diana Rigg, he “didn’t know what was happening” and only agreed to participate because it meant missing school. So he was basically a proto-Ferris Bueller, but instead of disrupting parades and totaling classic cars, he was pretending to be a 19th-century literary character.

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