Speed Reads

The Dark Arts

John Oliver valiantly tries humor to make Americans think about the death penalty


On Sunday night, John Oliver's commitment to cover the previous week's big news ran up against his desire for his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight, not to get canceled. His commitment won, and he spent about 10 minutes talking about the death penalty. On a comedy show. He said he knew the risks.

First, Oliver bribed viewers by promising a video of hamsters eating tiny burritos if they sat through the segment (it's pretty cute). Then he mixed humor in with his history and ethics to keep the subject palatable. Here's an example: "The death penalty is one of those things that is natural to want, but that you shouldn't necessarily have," he said at one point. "Like the McRib." If you support capital punishment, Oliver probably won't change your mind. But whatever you believe, he'll make you laugh, often in spite of yourself. (Obligatory warning: There are two gratuitous F-bombs, and a terrible fake Texas accent.) --Peter Weber