The John Oliver Effect
The power of a comedic take
The only person allowed to mock the king is the jester. For thousands of years comedy has been used to expose problems with society and people in a way that’s non-threatening and socially acceptable. Recently a new phenomenon has occurred in comedy, and it’s called the John Oliver Effect. John Oliver (A liberal talk show host for HBO’s hit late night show Last Week Tonight) has been using his comedic genius to call attention to previously dormant issues, and inspire people to create real change. Oliver’s uncanny ability to motivate people to action has been witnessed before from other comedians, but in the age of internet and globalization people can respond to issues in quicker and more unified methods, which leads to better results. The John Oliver Effect has only been recently discovered, and little is known about the power of comedy as a medium to inspire change.
The irony of nuclear bombs is that if countries use them in warfare, everyone wins, and everyone loses. The United States has amassed an arsenal of 4,804 nuclear warheads, and has some serious issues involving the maintenance and oversight of the nuclear bombs. Oliver introduces the topic by exploring the irony of the public’s feelings on nuclear warheads, and he reminds viewers that 60 years ago citizens of the United States lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation. In contrast, people in modern society rarely consider the threat of nuclear warheads to our country, and instead consider nukes a problem of the past. Oliver then displays a clip of a door in a nuclear facility being propped open carelessly with a crowbar, and another video showing a news report were a food delivery man infiltrated a nuclear launch facility with ease due to a sleeping security guard. This displays a disconnect between the danger of the warheads, and the level of security assigned to guard the facilities, which adds to the comedy of the sketch. Also the technology in the launch facilities is 40 years outdated, and John Oliver exposes the irony that the most dangerous weapons the US possesses are run by technology barely powerful enough to run Oregon Trail. To end the show, John Oliver exposes the US nuclear negligence throughout history by citing an event were a US B-52 bomber carrying a payload of 2 nuclear bombs exploded over the city of Goldsboro, North Carolina, which nearly obliterated the entire town. The fact that the US dropped 2 armed nuclear bombs on its own country, and most citizens don’t know about the event adds to the comedy of the show, because the result could have been catastrophic. Since an entire section of North Carolina was almost obliterated, John Oliver uses the release theory of release comedy to appeal to people’s fear of death, and thus increase the likelihood that people will take action. Since John Oliver exposed the problems with America’s nuclear warheads, several key officials have been removed from office, and citizens are banding together and demanding change from their congressional officials. Oliver’s comedic take on the reclusive topic of nuclear weapons has reinvigorated the public’s interest in the subject, and will likely inspire future change in the treatment of nuclear weapons.
Soccer, the world’s most popular sport, is run also run by FIFA, which is the most corrupt professional sports organization. Due to the media’s release of corruption in FIFA, John Oliver decided to do a sketch analyzing FIFA’s illegal activities in even more depth. Oliver opens with a hilarious analogy comparing FIFA to sausage, because although people like the taste of sausage, when the components are examined closely everyone becomes disgusted. After years of corruption, officials at a hotel in Switzerland were arrested due to information discovered by Americans’, and in order to preserve the officials’ reputations hotel employees covered the officials in hotel sheets. Oliver’s inclusion of the photos of officials being arrested under bed sheets appeals to the superiority theory of comedy, and it’s extremely ironic that the most powerful members of a dominate professional sports organization are shamed into hiding their faces and reputations under hotel bed sheets. Oliver then reveals that FIFA is analogous to hotel sheets, because although people pretend that hotel sheets are clean, deep down everyone knows the truth. This analogy is powerful because it’s used to relate FIFA to hotel rooms, and since everyone has stayed at a dirty hotel, it makes the analogy relatable and therefore funny. Oliver then reveals further corruption and neglect in FIFA because of their decision to let Qatar host the next World Cup. The decision is a mistake because Qatar has a problem with overworking migrant employees, even to the point of death, and while 1200 people have already died constructing the stadium, 4000 people will die before its completion. These solemn numerical values, although they aren’t comedic, are necessary for the John Oliver Effect because numbers effectively portray the extent of the problem, and inspire people to action. At the end of the episode Oliver gives the US and FIFA’s sponsors a call to action. He explains that if the US dismembers FIFA’s corruption, the country will receive praise from the rest of the world. As for the sponsors, Oliver makes several promises to the sponsors if they pull their support for FIFA: for Adidas he will wear any of their shoe models, he will eat every item on McDonald’s dollar menu and he says he will even drink a Bud Light Lime if Budweiser pulls their support. Although the sponsors won’t pull their support for John Oliver, they have since received public outcry to pull their sponsorships’ because of John Oliver’s call for change.
As both a candidate for president of the United States of America and controversial celebrity, Donald Trump was heavily scrutinized by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. In the opening of the show Oliver compares Donald Trump’s campaign to a back mole, explaining that at first it wasn’t a concern, but every week it’s getting bigger and more of a problem. The previous statement is comedic, because Oliver is mocking Trump by making him analogous to an annoying medical problem. Donald Trump’s immaturity is further exposed by a tweet he sent to give his best wishes to haters and losers on 9/11. Oliver uses incongruity to create humor, because the potential leader of the free world is acting like a teenager, which is unexpected from a presidential candidate. The majority of Trump’s campaign funds are coming from individuals, as well as the Republican Party, but Donald Trump claims he has self-funded his campaign with 25 million dollars. John Oliver dispels this myth with a calculated estimation that Trump has only committed 250,000 dollars, which is 1/100 of his false estimate for his personal contribution. When Vanity Fair mocked Trumps short fingers he sent letters to the Vanity Fair CEO complaining about a comment written in the magazine, that he has below average sized hands. The letter was written with gold sharpie, which Oliver points out as being similar to Trump, because they both look rich but on inspection they’re both just cheap tools. The presidential candidate’s net worth is often heavily disputed, and when asked about it, he will often give different values. Oliver examined a quote from Trump as he explains how he estimates his net worth, John Oliver puts focus on the statement that Trump estimates his net worth differently based on his mood. The comedy from the previous quote stems from the fact that a wealthy educated man ironically chooses to ignore facts, which is incongruent and unexpected. At the end of the show, Oliver points out that the Trump name and brand are what make the products so appealing and valuable, so Oliver had his researchers uncover the fact that Trump’s ancestor changed the family name from Drumpf to Trump. With the new found knowledge, Oliver reinvents the Trump brand my mocking it, and replacing Trump with Drumpf. He creates a call to action to ruin and mock the Trump brand in several ways: a hashtag titled #MAKEDONALDDRUMPFAGAIN, a website DonaldJDrumpf.com, a Drumpfinator Chrome extension (changes every Trump to Drumpf in your browser), a hat with the slogan Make Donald Drumpf Again and a large golden sign with the rebranded name Drumpf. With so many options, anti Trump supporters are overwhelmed with ways to express their hatred of Donald Trump.
The future of the John Oliver effect is unclear, and the full power of a comedic take is still unknown. However, one thing is certain, as Oliver’s Last Week Tonight viewer base increases so too will his power. Donald Trump’s campaign has already been negatively affected due to John Oliver’s mockery, and his comedic take might have change the course of the 2016 US presidential election. Key FIFA officials’ corruption has been revealed, and his show could lead to the cull of corruption within the organization. Nuclear warheads have not been a concern of US citizens for 30 years, but now due to Oliver’s comedic take citizens are banding together to demand better maintenance and oversight of the deadliest weapons known to man. John Oliver’s comedy is inspiring action, and the limits of comedy’s power to polarize people and create change is still unknown.