John Oliver avoided two of the hot topics from the past week on Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight — almost. Oliver didn't mention the comic Roseanne Barr's downfall after a racist tweet, but he did make an implicit commentary on the controversy surrounding fellow late night host Samantha Bee. In a segment on senior guardianship, Oliver referenced Samantha Bee's "feckless" Ivanka Trump comment with a joke.
You have to really know what Bee was criticized for to even catch Oliver's commentary on the matter. On Wednesday, Bee had criticized Ivanka Trump for not intervening in the administration's plans to separate children from their mothers who seek asylum at the border and then posting a picture of her with her son in the wake of the announcement. Bee said, “You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another: Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless c*nt.”
That led to a response using the full power of the White House to call out the comedian for "vile" language. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Bee's show, Full Frontal is "not fit for broadcast."
President Trump personally called her out on Twitter. "Why aren’t they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard," President Trump tweeted Friday morning.
With that background, it couldn't be clearer that Oliver was noting the controversy. In his segment on seniors being taken advantage of when they're appointed a guardian, Oliver made a science joke. He then said that joke, about the length of a day on Mars, was only for astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson because no one else would get it.
He then asked Tyson if the joke was funny and made sense scientifically. "I do hope you enjoyed it, Dr. Tyson, because absolutely nobody else did," Oliver said. "Actually, out of interest, did you enjoy it?" The segment then cut to Tyson on video responding to Oliver, explaining why the joke was just not quite right.
Cut to Oliver and his mock rage.
Shut up, Neil! Shut up! Why do you have to ruin everything? Just enjoy something, for once in your f*cking life! What is wrong with you, you feckless — oh, never mind, it’s not worth it. It's not worth it. Bad idea.
This section of the segment can be found on YouTube at about marker 7:45.
Oliver did not explicitly stand up for Bee, though he seemed to imply that he would normally make similar jokes. Bee has seen several other comedians and celebrities stand up for her. Kathy Griffin, went to Twitter, writing a thread of 50 tweets about why the criticism of Bee, like that she received for a picture of a bleeding Trump mask were so problematic. She said it was the president "punching down" at private citizens.
"No other president in modern times has used his power this way and that's why I keep speaking out about this," Griffin wrote in one of the tweets. "I don't want this to happen to others and while it doesn't always make for uplifting interviews — I'm not going to stop shining a bright light on this."
Michelle Wolf, who was heavily criticized after the White House Correspondents' Dinner also defended Bee from comparisons to Barr. Barr tweeted a racist attack on Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to President Obama. Trump's tweet had suggested that she and Bee did were similar.
Wolf on her show, The Break, explained why they're different. "You’re right, it is a double standard,” Wolf said. “So let’s even the playing field. How about we enslave all white people for a couple of hundred years and then even after they’re not slaves anymore still hold them down in society and devalue their existence by comparing them to animals, never apologize, never really make it right and after that there will be no more double standards and everyone will get fired for everything they say?!”
Last week Bee apologized, but she plans to address the controversy again. Perhaps Oliver will further explore the matter then.