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Johnsplaining
March 18, 2019

"Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to pile on to a public shaming," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "In fact, it's now one of America's favorite pastimes," and "you've probably participated" in this "golden age of internet shaming," he said. "And you may be expecting me to say that all public shaming is bad, but I don't actually think that. When it's well-directed, a lot of good can come out of it."

Oliver held up Fox News host Tucker Carlson as "a good example of an internet pile-on being merited: He's a public figure, he made his comments publicly, they are appalling, and he's standing by them. But clearly it's not always that simple. Because when misdirected, internet pile-ons can completely destroy people's lives," and "often it is not a public figure who's on the receiving end of it."

Oliver and his writers think a lot "about who we make fun of, why we're doing it, and how," he said. For example, it's fine to pile on the parents who allegedly paid serious money to cheat their kids into college, but "it gets more complicated" with their kids. "When millions of people all feel the need to weigh in, and do it potentially for years, the punishment can be vastly disproportionate to the offense," he said. "And perhaps the best example of this is Monica Lewinsky."

To imagine Lewinsky's experience, "think of the dumbest thing you did when you were young — not the dumbest thing you go caught doing," Oliver said. "Now imagine hearing about that every single day for decades on end." Public shaming is complicated, he said, "but Monica Lewinsky might actually be the perfect person to remind all of us what the consequences can be to a misdirected flood of public anger." So he sat down and asked her, and you watch their interview below. (Some of the clip has NSFW language.) Peter Weber

March 11, 2019

"Everybody is annoyed by robocalls — hatred of them might be the only thing that everyone in America agrees on now," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "And if you've been feeling like you've been getting more of them recently, you're actually right." Robocalls increased by 57 percent in 2018, to nearly 50 billion in the U.S., according to the Federal Communications Commission. "Sixty percent of all complaints to the FCC are about robocalls, so they're definitely aware of the problem," he added.

Most of Oliver's show was about "why robocalls are on the rise, and what can be done about them," and the "why" has to do with cheap technology, cheaper phone calls, and lax regulation, including a feckless National Do Not Call Registry and "something called 'spoofing,'" which allows robocallers to pretend to be calling from your areas, or even from your contact list.

"Experts advise you not to engage with robocalls at all — don't pick up, and don't talk if you do answer," Oliver said. Still, "it should not entirely be up to us to deal with this bulls--t. The FCC has the authority to police robocalls, and a few years back, they actually put some guardrails in place with a set of rules designed to limit them." The rules were successfully blocked by a trade group, and robocalls skyrocketed.

There are still things the FCC could do, but "unfortunately, their current chair is this guy, Ajit Pai," who "opposed those rules that we mentioned earlier and was extremely happy when they were overturned," Oliver said. Now, experts are really worried that Pai will "bow to pressure from groups like telemarketers and banks, and draft a new, narrower definition of what constitutes auto-dialing," essentially limiting what would count as a robocall. "If only there was a way to get the FCC's attention on this issue," he said. Of course he had one, and you can admire its brutal simplicity below. Peter Weber

March 4, 2019

"Jobs were a major theme in Donald Trump's presidential campaign — along with, of course, walls, taco bowls, allegations of sexual assault, and admissions of sexual assault," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "But Trump's primary focus as candidate and president has been on jobs — specifically, who was stealing them." He ran though a list of potential job-stealing countries that Trump might be mispronouncing, in sometimes NSFW ways, and Russia. "And look, some manufacturing jobs are gone because they went overseas, but Trump is completely ignoring another major factor behind job losses: automation," Oliver said. "Its impact has been massive."

"You wouldn't know it from how Trump talks, but our manufacturing sector now produces twice as much as it did in 1984, but we produce it with one-third fewer workers," Oliver said. "Many of those jobs aren't being stolen, they are disappearing because machines are now doing them. And thanks to advances in AI and robotics, there are concerns that this sort of job loss could accelerate."

But "while people often talk about automation in apocalyptic terms," it's complicated, Oliver said. For example, machines "have had hugely beneficial effects — they've made goods cheaper and jobs easier and sometimes safer," and automation sometimes transforms jobs instead of eliminating them, like ATMs and bank tellers. Still, for employers, "the big selling point for automation is that it increases productivity and it maximizes profits," he said. and it isn't going away.

"So the big question here is how do you harness what is good about automation while minimizing the damage to those hurt by it?" Oliver said. "Well, the best thing would be if America were in the hands of someone nimble and forward-thinking." He pointed to Trump's Carrier debacle and shook his head. Oliver had some ideas for helping workers displaced by robots but said we also need to prepare "the next generation for the possibility that they may need to be more flexible in their career plans." Watch Oliver try to explain that to adorable kids below. Peter Weber

February 25, 2019

John Oliver took great delight in deflating psychics on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "Now, chances are you haven't thought about psychics in a while — which is weird, there's not really a whole lot else going on," he joked. "But if you watch daytime TV at all, you'll see that they pop up all the time."

"I am not going to be litigating whether psychics are real in this piece — for one, they're not," and if you believe they are, "there is nothing I could say that will convince you otherwise," Oliver began. "And look, it is easy to dismiss psychics as a joke — really easy. Fun, too. But the fact of the matter is, one recent poll found four in 10 Americans believe in psychics," and "the psychic industry is both larger and grimmer than you might assume. By one estimate, it's a $2.2 billion industry, and there has been a lot of predatory behavior."

Oliver focused his show on "one of the most insidious parts" of the psychic industry, mediums, or "people who claim to be able to communicate with the dead." He ran through their two main tricks, "cold reading," or "taking high-probability guesses," and "hot reading, which involves doing prior research on a subject." He also showed the human costs psychics can inflict and chastised daytime TV hosts for enabling them.

But it wasn't all cold water. "Every now and then, when handled responsibly, a psychic on television is a delightful thing," Oliver said, and he specifically had in mind "humiliating them with a ghost boy in a Denny's parking lot." To drive his point home, he created a fake daytime TV show, Wakey Wakey, a fake psychic — who also happened to be his "wife," Wanda-Jo Oliver (Rachel Dratch), from when he founded a for-profit church — and a website to fill your psychic needs free of charge. Watch the entire, occasionally NSFW show below. Peter Weber

November 26, 2018

John Oliver closed out the current season of his HBO show Last Week Tonight last week with a disquisition on the rise in authoritarianism, but over the Thanksgiving break he also released a high-octane coda to one of his long-running jokes from the season. "By now, you probably know that we like to buy stupid things," Oliver said, pointing to the five wax presidents Last Week Tonight bought last year — plus, of course, the Russell Crowe divorcee auction items Oliver bought this year, including, most famously, the leather jockstrap Crowe wore in Cinderella Man.

"To his immense credit, Russell Crowe used the money that we paid to fund the John Oliver Koala Chlamydia Ward at the Australia Zoo," Oliver noted, calling that "a burn so harsh that only koalas with chlamydia can sympathize." And he had an update on the purchased items, which Oliver had donated to a now-defunct Blockbuster Video store in Alaska. "If you are wondering what happened to all of Russell Crowe's merchandise, I have good news and bad news," he said. The good news is that the Crowe items were sent to the last remaining Blockbuster, in Oregon, and the bad news is that Russell Crowe's leather jockstrap was not among those items.

Not to worry, Oliver said. "Not only do we know where that jockstrap is, we asked ourselves, 'What would be the single dumbest possible way to pay tribute to the most wonderfully stupid thing that happened this year?' And the answer, we hope you will agree, was this." The video he introduced, featuring not just Armie Hammer but also some special guests — both waxy and very much alive — is something to behold. Also, probably a better use of HBO's money than Russell Crowe's jockstrap. There is NSFW language. Watch below. Peter Weber

November 12, 2018

John Oliver began his look at President Trump's swampy administration by grimacing at Trump's Razzie-winning cameo in the 1991 film Ghosts Can't Do It. "That kissy face is the single most disgusting thing that's ever been in a movie, and I'm very much including The Human Centipede," he said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight.

Oliver didn't have a problem with Trump's two-year-old campaign promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington. "Limiting the power of industry lobbyists and special interests is a genuinely good idea," he said. "But as much as people have taken to Trump's 'drain the swamp' promise, it won't remotely surprise you to know that he has not drained the swamp even one little bit."

The problem isn't limited to the "many swamp creatures" in Trump's Cabinet, running agencies that "could directly benefit themselves and their former employers," Oliver said. In fact, "just focusing on the famous alligators in Trump's swamp is missing some of the most important damage that is getting done by lesser-known bureaucrats" at places like the EPA and Interior Department, where "the swamp runs deep" and "there is real power at every level." For example, the agency in charge of oil-rig safety is headed by Scott Angelle, an offshore drilling enthusiast who loves to give oil lobbyists —and thanks to Oliver, you — his work number.

"Trump never meant drain the swamp," and that's obvious "by what has happened since," Oliver said. "Because he promised to clean up D.C., and instead the guy in charge of the CFPB is holding hands with loan sharks, the EPA might as well be run by a sentient piece of coal, and his head of oil-rig safety wants the industry to blow up his digits like an under-regulated oil well." You can watch the video — which is NSFW — below. Peter Weber

November 5, 2018

President Trump, to the chagrin of a handful of House Republicans, has made immigration his closing salvo for the midterms, stoking terror and sending up to 15,000 troops to counter a slow-moving caravan of Central American migrants. On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver accepted Trump's challenge to make Tuesday's election about Trump and immigration — but not on "hypotheticals," like birthright citizenship or U.S. troop deployments. He focused on family separation.

After Trump ended that policy following a national uproar, "the story kind of faded from the headlines," Oliver said. But new government reports show that while the policy "seemed malicious and chaotic at the time, at every step, it was even worse than you might assume."

The enactment of the policy was unpardonably sloppy, the motives baldly racist, and the whole thing tragically unnecessary, Oliver said. "Contrary to what you might think, most of the parents who were separated from their kids were charged, pled guilty, and served their sentence, all fairly quickly." And the vast majority of asylum seekers show up for their court hearings. Trump and his allies still argue that family separation was a necessary evil, but "we don't have to do any of it," he said. "There is not a war, and the only reason people keep talking like there is one is to give themselves permission to make the choices they want to be forced to make." He showed a real-life example of how family separation traumatized one mother and son. "Yeah, we did that — and not because we had to, but because we chose to," Oliver said. "And horrifically, we may actually be about to do it again."

So sure, let's make Tuesday about Trump and immigration, Oliver said. "Because family separation is perhaps the most emblematic moment of his presidency so far: It was cruel, sloppy, needless, racist, and ultimately exactly what we should have expected." There is NSFW language and heartbreak. Watch below. Peter Weber

October 29, 2018

"State attorneys general — and yes, that is the correct plural, and if you already knew that, I'm sorry that high school was such a rough time for you," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. A show about state attorneys general "sounds like a tedious prospect," he conceded. "But look, it is worth the effort to learn about state AGs because they are very important," even if "most of us probably don't who ours is." Most attorneys general are elected partisan officials, and 30 states will choose theirs on Nov. 6. "Those elections are going to be unusually competitive," Oliver explained, in part because a record $100 million has been poured into them.

"So tonight, let's look at who AGs are, what they do, and why they matter," Oliver said, and he started with what they do: basically, act as the lawyer for a state's citizens. The office has steadily become more partisan, though, especially with groups of Republican AGs suing the federal government under former President Barack Obama. He focused for a bit on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), indicted for securities fraud and apparently caught on camera stealing an expensive pen, but he noted that since President Trump took office, Democratic AGs are the ones filing suit.

Many voters just leave the AG box blank on the ballot, which is "actually a cause for genuine hope," because it means "your vote for AG may technically be even more valuable," Oliver said, pointing again to Texas. "If there is one thing sure to damage Ken Paxton's reputation, it's an awareness of Ken Paxton's reputation. So please, before Nov. 6, just think about your AG race." He provided pointers for some states, then sent everyone else to the nonpartisan Vote411.org. Then, to push viewers to go research candidates, Oliver produced an increasingly discordant cacophony of instruments plus one lovely theremin. Watch the first 18 minutes, which include NSFW language, below. Peter Weber

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