In a frank interview, John Oliver spoke about his Dustin Hoffman discussion and explained why it made him so sad. The Last Week Tonight host spoke with his friend and fellow comedian Russell Howard about his conflicted feelings on the admittedly not-so-productive outcome of asking Hoffman about the sexual harassment accusations against him.
In early December, during a Q&A about the 1997 film Wag The Dog, Oliver grilled Hoffman about the allegations against him. The comedian was presumably referring to an accusation made by a woman in November — in a Hollywood Reporter article, writer Anna Hunter Graham accused Hoffman of groping her butt and making lewd jokes on the set of Death of a Salesman when she was only a 17-year-old intern in 1985. In response, Hoffman expressed regret and said that he had "utmost respect for women," while adding, "I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am."
In the candid exchange on The Russell Howard Hour, Howard congratulated Oliver for "taking Dustin Hoffman down." Oliver seemed to wince at the description and said that he did no such thing — in fact, he said he failed. Oliver said that he felt that it was necessary to mention the circulating allegations against Hoffman, but, unfortunately, the discussion didn't bring any productive outcome — something that he said he wanted.
I knew that the stories were out there and that there were a few more coming, so it felt unavoidable, that we had to have a discussion about it. It wasn't ideal but it became such a big story — but it became about my questions rather than his answers. But the questions weren't particularly remarkable, but his answers were kind of, not great. So I think that was the point of it. But it didn't really go anywhere constructive, so the whole thing just made me feel sad.
It's "not reflective of who I am" — it's that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off. Because it is reflective of who you were. If it happened — and you've given no evidence to show it didn't happen — then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. So it feels like a cop-out to say, "Well, this isn't me." Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?
If you've seen the exchange, you might see why Oliver is disappointed by the outcome. During the conversation with a visibly uncomfortable Hoffman, Oliver asked direct and practical questions. From asking Hoffman if his apology looked like a dismissal, whether it was sincerely self-reflective to trying to see if his response wholly acknowledged the accuser's discomfort, and ultimately encourage others to come forward with their stories, Oliver's questions seemed thoughtful.
In front of a wider audience online, however, Oliver told Howard that the exchange seemed to have been depicted as an ambush against Hoffman. It wasn't — Oliver said that people organizing the film panel discussion were absolutely aware of his plan to ask Hoffman some uneasy questions.
"I felt it was unavoidable and I had spoken to the organizers of this event twice before when it was clear he might be there," Oliver told Howard.
I said "If he is going to be there, I have to ask him about this. I understand you might not want your event to be about this, so you might want to get someone else," and they said 'No no, we want you to do it." And then when he confirmed, I said "I am going to ask him." So it was a collision course was set at that point."
In spite of Oliver's attempt to steer the conversation into a productive direction, the comedian said that he "tried and failed." For some observers, however, it looks like taking the somewhat unprecedented position of confronting a powerful and popular figure was proof of solidarity with sexual harassment victims.