5 Brilliant Times John Oliver Won The News, Because He's Totally On A Roll
For the last couple of years, John Oliver's been killing it. The former Daily Show correspondent turned HBO star has turned heads with a dynamic flair for digging deep into some of the darker corners of the news, devoting extended time to issues few other shows would ever take the time to unpack. And, of course, he's all about the yuks: Here are five times John Oliver won the news, because he's kind of at the top of his game right now.
The thing that's been really impressive about Oliver's Last Week Tonight is its ability to transcend traditional comedy TV and leave an impact in the real world — perhaps even more impressive than its reliable, eight to 10 belly-laughs per 30-minute episode, to say nothing of bemused giggles. And if you factor in ideologically simpatico chortles, it might just be the most effective comedy news show ever.
Over the course of nearly two seasons (the show's currently in the midst of its second), Oliver has spoken up on a variety of important issues that you might not have heard of otherwise, giving them a much-needed bump in the cultural consciousness. Here are a handful of the best examples.
1. Net Neutrality
Back in the inaugural season of Last Week Tonight, this was the first real indicator of what TIME would refer to as "the John Oliver effect" — when there's a surge in public interest on a topic from one of Oliver's so-called "#longrants." In the case of net neutrality, he laid out the broad contours of the problem in fairly typical, relatable ways — emphasizing the multi-tiered Internet speeds that could take hold in an Internet devoid of net neutrality protections — and then compared FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to a ravenous, babysitting dingo.
2. Civil Forfeiture
The stories that are ripest for comedy, obviously, are the ones where the facts seem most dystopian and bizarre. For instance: the government taking your money or belongings by charging them — the inanimate objects, not you — with crimes. And yet, that's precisely what's been happening countless times at both the local and federal level. Oliver dedicated the bulk of the episode to this topic, ruminating on how and why such a thing could be legal. And lo and behold, it brought some results: then-Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a raft of new limitations on civil forfeiture months later.
3. Working Conditions In Qatar
There might be no more glaring human rights nightmare highlighted by Last Week Tonight than this one: Construction being undertaken in Qatar, some of which resulting from Qatar's 2022 host gig, is literally killing migrant workers. The weather is so searingly hot in Qatar, and the construction work so grueling, that The Guardian estimated one death every two days in 2014, and that's without a number of migrant communities accounted for. It's not a problem strictly confined to soccer, either — Qatar's policies turn migrant workers into practical slaves.
Oliver didn't only talk about Qatar, also touching on corruption within FIFA, and his profound loathing of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, but this is about as noble a cause to use one's platform for as any — there's no telling for sure where the death toll will land by 2022.
4. Payday Loans
Payday loans are a brutal enterprise, geared towards the most vulnerable people in their neediest of times. That's part of why they remain so popular, in spite of their sky-high interest rates and the cycles of crushing debt that so often come with them — even if the penalties might be steep, if you ask someone who's very poor if they should be able to take out this kind of an emergency loan, there are sensible reasons for them saying yes.
But the fact that someone under duress might want to make a bad deal doesn't exonerate the process, nor does it make the companies that offer them any less exploitative. This is yet another case where Oliver's public spotlight shone on a very important issue, and one that would've been so easy to overlook for more sensational stories.
5. Rapacious Televangelists
This is the delightful kick that Oliver's on right now. It's apparently become an ongoing experiment, somewhat in the mold of that Super PAC Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert created during the 2012 presidential election. Basically, out of a well-earned disgust for cash-hungry televangelists and faith healers, Oliver decided to launch his own church to see just what he could legally get away with.
It's called "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption," and it's been a feature on the last two episodes of the show, although for my money the real joy is in watching Oliver shred long-discredited preachers like Robert Tilton. One of the familiar themes of Oliver's show is that he always shows a legitimate, interested care in showcasing people who're being exploited or abused, whether by people or systems, and exploitation is the name of the game for many televangelists.