Speed Reads


John Oliver and Trevor Noah think you should know about Turkmenistan's 'compellingly odd' dictator, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov

Turkmenistan is "one of my favorite countries to talk about," Trevor Noah said on Thursday night's Daily Show, and he might have been serious. "You may not know this, but for the last 12 years, Turkmenistan has been ruled by this man, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. He is a dictator with a poor record on human rights, and for the last few weeks, there have been rumors that he is actually dead."

Noah played some highlights of the 25-minute video Turkmenistan state TV put out to try and prove Berdimuhamedov is alive, showing him bowling, recording music, and driving an off-road vehicle around a fiery crater. Aside from the fact that he's "actually known for putting out the best propaganda videos we've ever seen," Noah added, "there are a couple of things you have to know about President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov," most importantly that "he's basically turned his whole country into a cult of personality. Everything he does as leader is about showing off how perfect he is, how everyone loves him, how everything he does is tremendous. And I'm sure Americans can't relate to this, but that's how it works over there."

Berdimuhamedov "is a fierce authoritarian" and under his rule "Turkmenistan remains one of the world's most closed and oppressively governed countries," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "But that is not the reason that we're talking about him — after all, dangerous world leaders are currently a dime a dozen."

"No, what makes Berdimuhamedov unique is that even among strongman dictators, he is truly, deeply, and compellingly odd," Oliver said. "And while this story is going to get very weird, I promise you: In 20 minutes, you're not so much going to be wondering why we talked about Turkmenistan as why we'd ever talk about anything else ever again." Things get NSFW when Oliver talks about how Berdimuhamedov "likes horses; like, a lot; like, the incorrect amount," but he ends with "one last bizarre obsession of his" that's fun and, presumably, tasty. Watch below. Peter Weber