I want to plug a TV show. You should be watching Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. If you keep up with the news in any form or fashion, I implore you to seek out this show. It’s a show hosted by John Oliver that recaps the big news stories from the previous week with a humorous bent. I hate to compare it to The Daily Show With John Stewart or The Colbert Report, as such a comparison would immediately turn away half the country. The only real similarity is that it is a news show with jokes. Not a parody news show with fake journalists like The Daily Show or a satirical news show with an overblown, infallible conservative host like The Colbert Report, but just a straight news show with jokes.
What makes this show very different from those is that this show uses facts to discuss broken institutions and controversial issues that are rarely or never discussed in a popular forum. For example, since it began airing in April of this year, top stories featured in the show have included the Indian general election, capital punishment, the General Motors recall controversy, net neutrality, FIFA, LGBT rights in Uganda, Dr. Oz and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, income equality, incarceration in the United States, payday loans in the United States, the militarization of police in the United States, Scottish independence, the Miss America pageant, sugar and the United States food industry, state legislatures in the United States, and state lotteries within the United States.
This is only a handful of the stories they’ve run. They are all incredibly thought-provoking and force me to wrestle with issues and concepts about which I know next to nothing. For example, I didn’t have a clue what civil forfeiture was before they ran a segment on it. Scary stuff. Scary enough pique my interest in researching it. Same with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the landmark Supreme Court case ruled upon earlier this year.
Oliver and his research and writing staff are not concerned with skewering one party; rather with shedding light on controversial issues and the people who are involved. For this reason alone, I would highly encourage you to watch the show if you can, or at least watch the segments you can find online. They post most of their segments on their YouTube channel.
I also want to make very clear: while this show is incredibly informative on a wide variety of global and domestic issues, it is also an absolutely hilarious show. Jokes on jokes on jokes, and Oliver has a very unique, slightly Americanized British delivery that helps these jokes lands. The great thing is that he can take a seemingly serious issue and pull out the rug from under it, exposing the often ridiculous nature of these institutions. It makes for very funny television. Please refer to the final video I post below for proof.
As a slight disclaimer for those with more sensitive tastes (basically my mom), the show does air on HBO. This has two major implications.
First, and far less important, the censorship normally associated with broadcast or cable television is nonexistent here. However, if you watch on YouTube, some (not all) of the segments have language bleeped and any incidental nudity (a bare butt or whatever from a third party news clip) blurred (at least I think so on the nudity, I’m not 100% sure).
Second, and far more important, Oliver and his team only have to answer to HBO in terms of content. The lack of censorship from the last point kind of comes into play here as well; since they don’t have corporate sponsors who buy ad time, they don’t have to filter their content to adhere to those companies’ demands. They really only have to answer to HBO, who certainly have seemed to give them free reign on whatever they want to air.
Another very interesting aspect of this show is that it has a much more global perspective than is common in news directed at 20-somethings. Like I previously listed, the main story on the premiere episode to air was about the general election in India. This is a story with an inherent click-away-ability in our culture of frighteningly short attention spans. If I saw Brian Williams start to report on this story, I’d almost immediately get bored and turn the channel. Yet, Oliver and his staff make stories like these compelling and educational.
Here is the segment on the India general election (warning: some strong language).
Here is my one beef with the show: I wish they sourced their research more. From what I gather, most research is done through consuming other media shows and news outlets. Most of the clips shown that provide information on a topic come from other news shows. The way the show is laid out inherently makes my brain ready to accept what I hear as fact, much more than Stewart’s or Colbert’s shows do. But John Oliver has made explicitly clear in this interview that he considers his show a comedy program, not a news program. His team does their due diligence and fact checking, but at the end of the day, don’t get your news from just this show.
However, if nothing else, watching the show might give you a new perspective on an issue you think you know backwards and forwards. The best thing about a new perspective is that it helps you understand your own perspective even better. So if you don’t know much about politics or find yourself fed up with our current system (and honestly, who is happy with the state of politics in this country), this show will discuss issues you probably don’t know much about but will challenge your critical thinking skills. And if you’re one of those hardline lefties or righties who will go to their grave before changing their political stance on an issue, wouldn’t it wise to try and understand that stance to the very best of your ability? This show will help you do that.
Here are the links to just a few of my favorite segments the show has done, along with an interesting NY Times piece on John Oliver himself and the show:
Dr. Oz and nutritional supplements:
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby:
Supreme Court with animals: