John Oliver: Transforming News One Laugh At A Time

It is a truth universally acknowledged that news anchors aren’t supposed to be funny. Well, not the conventional ‘ha ha’ funny anyway.  Not intentionally at least (please, no Arnab Goswami memes).John Oliver, however, is the exception. He represents that long-lost brand of comedy that doesn’t treat its audience like halfwits. And of course, the British accent helps.


To those of you who have no idea about what I’m talking about, stop reading, right now and go see the YouTube video I’m posting a link to Or Google ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’. This one is my in my top 3, feel free to browse and pick a topic of your choice.



Now, I speak to the enlightened ones. Coming back to my original question, what is it that makes John Oliver’s format so unique (and in my opinion, better than John Stewart’s) ? It’s not just that he manages to inject humour in seemingly bleak scenarios, it’s that the  comedy itself is not his modus operandi. It’s his ability to deliver news in a manner that is bound to leave a lasting impact on you. It doesn’t matter what he’s taking down – anti-gay legislations, sexism in pageants or erring political leaders – his (verbal) thappad ki goonj is quite enduring.

Case in point,  he talks about Climate Change in the video I’ve posted above and brings a very important topic to the fore (one that is ,unfortunately still not broached in India). For many people, climate change remains a ‘myth’ and is often treated as such by many news channels in the USA.  Oliver quashes the debate with one quip ” The debate on climate change ought not to be whether or not it exists. It’s what we should do about. There is a mountain of research on this topic.” See the end of the video for the best part.





Some of my top picks for Last Week’s season 1 and season 2 run (till now).

  1. The Ms. (Shame-on-you)America Pageant

The episode that cemented my love for this show, Oliver trashes this beauty pageant, which markets itself as being a ‘scholarship program exclusively for women in America.’



The amount of research here is mind-blowing  and should remove any reservations you have about whether or not this program delivers on ‘serious’ news.

For example, the Miss America foundation claimed to provide about $45 million as scholarships to young women on an annual basis. When John Oliver’s crack team found out that the total amount spent on a national level (in 2012) was only $0.5 million, they literally pulled up tax forms for every state level competition conducted by the organization to find out where the remaining $44.5 million had gone. Phew.

Quotable Quote :

Currently, the biggest scholarship program exclusively for women in America requires you to be unmarried, with a mint-condition uterus, and also rewards working knowledge of buttock adhesive technology, which is just a little bit unsettling!

  1. Drone Strikes aren’t cool, USA

This one is….unsettling. Perhaps because it reveals the extent of secrecy and espionage that seem to go hand in hand with a mention of the United States of America. Some of the bone-chilling facts he revealed about predatory drone strikes carried out by the United States in Middle-Eastern countries :


  • The military does not require clear evidence that an attack on the USA is about to happen.
  • Often, US officials themselves are unaware about the total number of people killed by a drone strike.


See it for the heart-rendering drone strike survivor, 13 year old Zubair Rehman, whose statement will leave you shaken, or at the very least, more aware.


Quotable Quote : It is completely natural for us not to want to think about the consequences of our drone program .But when children from other countries are telling us that we’ve made them fear the sky, it might be time to ask some hard questions


  1. Native Advertising

Important for Indians, since news outlets have begun to implement native advertising in all the news we see/read. That ‘sponsored content’ tidbit you see in your morning newspaper ? Where they say that content of certain organizations has been promoted ? That would be native advertising.

Though he talks mostly about the American scenario, there’s a very important point he makes that is the very essence of news reporting : independent journalism, which is often referred to as the distinction between Church and State.

Moreover, he pinpoints the entire problem in the native advertising model, which is the inability of consumers to differentiate between ‘biased’ and ‘unbiased’ journalism. Watch it below.


Quotable Content :

Ads are baked into content, like chocolate chips baked into a cookie. Except it’s actually more like raisins into a cookie.

There’s much more of course. You can check out the official YouTube channel. It’s called  Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (kind of obvious).  If our fellow countrymen (especially those belonging to certain right-wing organsations) can learn to laugh at themselves, maybe we’ll get ourselves a John Oliver too.

– By Gauri Gaur


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