John Oliver attends the TIME 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City on Apr. 21, 2015.
Bennett Raglin—Getty Images for TIME
By Nolan Feeney
April 22, 2015

In the wake of the controversy surrounding incoming The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s old tweets, John Oliver says having regrettable jokes is a part of every successful comedian’s development.

“You want to be embarrassed by the standards of the things you were doing [in the past],” the TIME 100 honoree and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight said at this year’ gala, calling that embarrassment “part of getting better.”

Within 24 hours of being named the successor to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, South African comedian Noah faced backlash over a number of years-old tweets that critics deemed, among other things, misogynist, anti-Semitic and fat-shaming. “I think John Cleese said [that] no one has the right to not be offended,” Oliver said. “Comedy is always going to ruffle feathers.”

Speaking about his own career, Oliver said there’s no shortage of terrible jokes from his past that he hopes never see the light of day again. “Listen, I’m a standup. If you go through the first years of my career, thank f-ck there weren’t camera phones,” he said, referring to his early work as “relentless, embarrassing, incompetent failure.”

Oliver, who said he hoped to meet fellow TIME 100 honoree Joanne Liu of Doctors Without Borders at this year’s TIME 100 Gala, said he was excited by this year’s turnover in late-night television hosts but that Stewart’s departure was “heartbreaking as a viewer” because “he’s the best that’s ever done this.”

Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com.

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