RECENT PERSONAL IDOLS#1: JOHN OLIVER (PART 3)

Now, I like to highlight what is almost everybody’s favorite part of Last Week Tonight, the “main story”.  It’s a good thing that these segments are saved on the show’s YouTube channel, then generate watercooler conversations all around–invariably news organizations would report about it, just like the Miss America piece I highlighted previously.  Here are more of my favorite pieces:

Food Waste.  It is quite appalling the amount of food America wastes–the amount can easily eradicate hunger in that country, and leave some to feed other hungry folks around the world.  It is revealed that there was a bill passed in the U.S. congress to provide tax incentives for manufacturers and restaurants to give away their uneaten food so it can be sent to those who need it most, but the tragedy is after it was passed in congress, the Senate changed the law entirely by adding other provisions and removing the very purpose of the bill as it was originally passed in Congress.  It may be more serious than amusing, but still very educational and I hope the outrage can stir people to take action to make the lawmakers finally do the right thing.

Gay Rights in Uganda.  I’ve known for a long while that there are a lot of African countries that are homophobic, and the proposed policies in Uganda were no exception.  But that it was fueled by a discredited American evangelist?  Yikes!  One of the standout sequences was a filmclip of a hysterical commentator debating and trying to discredit a sober gay rights activist, to the commentator’s discredit.  That activist, Pepe Julian Onziema, was then present in John Oliver’s studios and sat down for an interview.  But it was abbreviated for time constraints but good that they featured a web-exclusive extended interview here.

Transgender Rights.  Even with Caitlyn Jenner’s media blitz and the rising celebrity of Laverne Cox, America still has a long way to go to understand transgender people, and John gave very useful basic tips that everyone should be able to follow, like: 1) Asking one if he/she had gender reassignment surgery? “It’s none of your f***ing business!”; and 2) How to address them?  “Call them whatever they want to be called,” and cited U2’s the Edge and rapper/mogul Puff Daddy as examples.  It’s eye opening what a transgender person endures, and how patronizing attitudes need to be changed as they are human beings, too.  In his most recent episode, John also touches on the fact that there is still strong LGBT discrimination laws.

Takedown on Dr. Oz.  I remember Dr. Oz when he was a guest resource person in Oprah.  He was very credible then, and he was a big hit.  He has since gotten his own talk show but he recently was probed in Congress over dubious medical claims aired on his show, particularly nutritional supplements.  This made John explore how supplements are not properly regulated, mainly because of lobbying by those companies in Congress.  There was a follow-up about a year later here.

IRS.  It’s genius how John made people view things in the perspective of the IRS, an institution that is almost universally reviled (though I can argue that my countrymen probably revile this institution even more especially with what is common knowledge about the lifestyles of our public officials and politicians).  What hassles they have to endure in the US, but what important role they play in the country.  As John puts it, they are the country’s “asshole” and without them, the whole country would “go into s**t.”  He then closes this with a performance by Michael Bolton singing a rewritten version of his smash hit ballad “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?”

Sex Education.  It is woeful how sex education is handled in US schools, mainly to try to appease any possible very conservative parents and communities, and because of the inadequate education in many areas, needless to say, there were troubling consequences.  John makes strong arguments that simply teaching abstinence only is impractical and does not prepare students when they mature and get out of school, and came up with a solution–with the aid of celebrities like Orange is the New Black transgender star Laverne Cox, The Talk’s Aisha Tyler, Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjani, 30 Rock’s Jack MacBrayer, Last Man on Earth’s Kristen Schaal, husband-and-wife comedic actors Nick Offerman (Community) and Megan Mullaly (Will & Grace), they came up with a sex education video that effectively covers almost all of the basics, with some juicy wit (first, at first Will & Grace fans may not recognize the way Megan Mullaly looks now, but wow, she is for me the comic MVP of this clip–love her bits about how hand and mouth can be erotic, and her comments while putting a condom on a banana, that it’s “less curvier” than she’s used to, and then cut to a reaction shot by her husband).  The video ends with Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star Jonathan Banks, who disavowed the message of a previous sex education video he was in (which was highlighted in the beginning of the piece) about how menstruation makes women “better at bowling”.  Another related topic that I like you guys to check out is his piece on standardized testing.

Paid Family Leave.  This episode was aired during Mother’s Day, but John pointed out how hypocritical Americans are by all those commercial platitudes honoring mothers when these same companies do not even allow paid leave for mothers recovering from childbirth–this is one of the few instances that we Filipinos are better off than Americans as we have paid maternity leaves for new mothers.  Only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea don’t have paid family leave.  Capitalist-leaning lawmakers apparently constantly feel that granting such benefits would be detrimental to business, even if there is proof otherwise.  Makes you hiss at how greedy the American capitalists could be…

Televangelists.  You would think that this was a thing of the past, but televangelists preying on vulnerable believers still remain an ongoing concern.  John also pointed out that because they are “churches”, they are exempted from taxes.  John decided to explore and see what can qualify as a church, as he set up the “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” church and comically appealed for “seed” (not real seeds, as they would point out, but money, just like those televangelists) with the help of former Saturday Night Live comedienne Rachel Dratch playing his wife, “Wanda Jo Oliver”.  (Take note:  John’s wife in real-life is Kate Norley, a US Army medic who had a tour of duty in Iraq and is doing a lot of service in disaster zones with veterans’ groups–yes, she was also here in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan; she’s also way more attractive than “Wanda Jo Oliver”).  The fundraising was reportedly a big success, and the proceeds will go to a legitimate cause: Doctors Without Borders.

Translators.  John reveals how translators who provided invaluable help to the American-led troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are under grave threats in their homeland and need to be protected, but what the American government was doing in return so far was abysmal, forcing them to endure almost insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles before granting them any hope of asylum for themselves and their families.  As us Filipinos would term this, “walang utang na loob.”  If Americans keep doing this, they will not be able to get the valuable help they would need to be able to complete their missions and bring order to this world.

Torture.  It is appalling how Americans had employed inhumane methods to try to get information on their enemies, sometimes employing this method on people who turn out to be innocent.  It is so antithetical to what America supposedly stands for.  There is also proof that these methods are ineffectual.  Still, there are people in power who argue that these methods do generate results and are denial and refuse to read the report, even if John took the initiative of having actress Dame Helen Mirren read passages from that report.  What a rotten society we’ll end up in if we continue pursuing those so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

COMING UP: The utterly very best of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

 

RECENT PERSONAL IDOLS #1: JOHN OLIVER (PART 2)

Highlighting the best of John Oliver’s segments on Last Week Tonight turns out to be an overwhelming endeavor for me, as there are too many gems that I want to mention that whittling them down was impossible.  I intended this piece to be only a one-part item, but then while in the process of composing this piece it then expanded to two parts, three parts, and finally, this four-part epic.

I know most people would consider Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show as the gold standard in this genre of “fake news”, but I can recall watching Jon Stewart’s show about a decade ago when oddly enough CNN in our shores chose to carry this show for a while (it’s quite an ironic move, considering how this show brutally skewers CNN USA’s on-air journalists for their general incompetence).  I watched those shows amused but then didn’t think much about it later on then.  So why does John Oliver’s program, which most people would regard as a “descendant” of Jon Stewart’s show and inherently inferior, resonate with me so much more?

One key difference between The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight is the topics they chose to focus.  The Daily Show of course focuses on the main headlines of the day, and while Last Week Tonight also touches on current news, its emphasis is actually on topics that are typically under the radar from the main news headlines, topics that most media tend to overlook or place in the back-burner, and with the weekly, commercial-free format, John Oliver and his team of writers and researchers are granted a wider perspective and reflection on the topics they tackle.  In a way, his approach is similar to my writings, as I’d like to think I tend to explore deeper on the topics I choose to write than what you would see in most pageant-oriented blogs, and (besides other factors and circumstances) this is a key reason why my own post-pageant reviews tend to come out at a much later time than others.  Another factor that resonated with me is John’s naughty asides and fixations–let’s just say I can relate to some of his comic fixations, for different reasons…

In general the structure of the show will feature comic observations on various news items for the week, followed by an interlude (usually a montage of clips with a theme, like “Whoopi Goldberg defends 10 surprising things“, or sometimes it’s a special section like “How’s This Still A Thing” or “Other Countries’ Presidents”, before he segues to his now-famous 15-to-20-minute monologues on under-heard but pressing issues.  Let me first highlight some of my favority “top-of-the-week” news bits.

Warren G. Harding.  Warren G. Harding’s love letters to his mistresses had been revealed, and it exposes his naughty, randy side–it seems this lesser-regarded president could actually have his reputation enhanced in this day and age because of his revealed shenanigans.  As John Oliver puts it, he’s the “Original Gangsta” whose purple prose presaged those notoriously raunchy R&B song lyrics.  There was a follow-up when long-held speculation about mistress Nan Britton’s offspring has been confirmed to have this president’s genes.

Lese Majeste.  This is a reaction piece to his earlier piece about the excesses of the Crown Prince of Thailand, that it is treated as an offense and John is now treated as persona non grata  in the country and revealed his middle name, “Willam”.  John explained about what a lese majesté law is and the countries still observing it besides Thailand.  He then decides to make “offensive” remarks at the monarchs of those countries–and I wonder what will happen if John Oliver visits Denmark one day?  Will the Danish government enforce the law?

Space Gecko Saga.  A story of a Russian space shuttle using and temporarily losing five geckos as a science project observing how these creatures procreate in zero gravity obviously tickled John and his writers pink that they went overboard with the story, featuring the now-popular space gecko mascot and an impassioned appeal #GoGetThoseGeckos.  While they were off the air, there was a news report that the Russians restored communications and confirmed #WeGotThoseGeckos so John had to do a web-only segment to air the update.  But then, the tragic news, as when the shuttle returned back to Russia, the geckos died.  So John gave a memorable eulogy and accompany it with A Great Big World singing their hit song “Say Something”.

Assad’s iTunes tastes/ Right Said Fred.  Sometimes the news segments come at the end of the program, like in the conclusion of the “Space Gecko Saga” above.  Another memorable news report closer was Bashir Al-  Someone hacked into Syrian dictator Bashir Al-Assad, and got hold of his iTunes downloads which includes LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It”, Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now”, and Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy, and as John puts it, he’s got “the political instincts of a young Joseph Stalin and the music tastes of a 14-year-old girl from Orange County named Tiffany!”  To spite Assad, he invited the band Right Said Fred to perform a special version of their song where they gleefully directly addressed and dissed him as a “murdering mom-fearing asshole” and at the end requested, “Please, stop listening to our song.”

Mascots.  Another news closer John Oliver featured was about Japan’s penchant for mascots–Japan seems to have mascots for almost everything, like towns, prisons, and train services.  He suggested American government agencies may need to also have these representing them so they can present a more accessible face to the public, so he came up with a whole bunch of mascot ideas and presented them in grand style to the audience.  I found it absurd and amusing how actor Bob Balaban was one of them.

My favorite interlude segment is “How is this still a thing?” where the show explores the absurdity of some of the things Americans (or sometimes other nationalities) observe or are obsessed about.  The one I’ll feature here is their piece on Daylight Savings Time–it turns out the modern Daylight Saving Time was first implemented in World War I at the instigation of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II but ultimately it’s actually of no benefit to the public (except perhaps for BPO workers like myself, as it’s much easier for us to figure out the time in the US from our shores when they implement it.  Other “How is this still a thing” segments to check out include The Commonwealth Games, Columbus Day, Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue, and Ayn Rand.

There used to be an occasional segment in the first season of this show where they featured a profile of other countries’ leaders, called “Other Countries’ Presidents of the United States“.  So far they only featured French President François Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Abbott, and they make delicious fun poking at their notorious foibles.  Then, there is “Great Minds: People Who Think Good”, where John would interview some of the greatest living thinkers of our time.  He got to interview Stephen Hawking & Jane Goodall, portraying himself as a bumbling fool and seemingly irritating his interview subjects.  But somehow, their irritated demeanor made them more accessible–it’s a bit of a polarizing thing on John’s part as some viewers may be irritated by his line of questioning, but others may actually consider it genius that he did it this way.  Either way you view it, it’s fascinating viewing.  I wonder if they’ll revive these segments this season or in future seasons?

 

COMING UP:  The Very Best of John Oliver, Part 1

RECENT PERSONAL IDOLS #1: JOHN OLIVER (PART 1)

While the major international pageants are still a few months away (and ditto Miss World Philippines), I am in the mood to share some of my most recent obsessions (besides Pentatonix) as though of you who have been following my blog may now know, my interests go way beyond pageants.

I’ll start sharing people who I regard as my “personal idols”, people that I have the highest regard to, mainly because they have become key role models that resonate with me and if I have the opportunity, would want to emulate.

I will start this series with John Oliver, host of HBO’s comedy-news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  I first heard of him when I saw a Time magazine web article on my Facebook newsfeed buzzing about his in-depth rants about Miss America.  Being a pageant enthusiast, my curiosity was piqued so I played the video (embedded from YouTube) and though I disagreed with his contempt for pageants in general, he made strong salient points about how far off Miss America’s scholarship claims of US$45 million was compared to what it actually gives out (a little over 1% of that declared amount)–I am aware that the pageant world is unfortunately notorious for instances of deception and misrepresentation such as this one, and it is endemic even in the most prestigious of them.  Still, I would defend my support of pageants in this day and age as at the very least, pageants demonstrate in a heightened and entertaining way how this entire world functions based on perceptions–and as long as any form of judgment is based on perception instead of basing strictly on reality and merit, then anyone who criticizes pageants has no right to dismiss them outright.  Still, I was transfixed with the way John Oliver presented the facts–how it was illuminating and entertaining at the same time.  Check out the Miss America piece below:

John Oliver started out as a British stand-up comic who even in his early days his comic material took a satirical look at politics and society.  He was a rising star back in Britain playing in comedy festivals like the annual Edinburgh Fringe (where he debuted in 2001), on comic commentary shows like Mock the Week, and radio podcasts like The Department.  This gotten him such notices that he was recommended by comedian/actor Ricky Gervais to join Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in 2006.  And from then on his career took went to the next level, as besides his regular stint in that show, he also got to star in his solo stand-up show, host a stand-up TV series, acting gigs on TV (Community) and movies (not quite as acclaimed or illustrious as those films were Mike Myers’ Love Guru and  two The Smurfs movies).  Check out his 2008 solo stand-up show, John Oliver: Terrifying Times, below.

In The Daily Show, John proved to be an almost indispensable member of the ensemble of correspondents, with his man-on-the-street interviews, his coverage of the US election campaigns, and in-depth reports on issues like gun control particular highlights.  In fact, when Jon Stewart decided to take a break from the show to direct a film (Rosewater), John was then entrusted to host the show for 33 episodes from June to August 2013 (the most guest hosting gigs for this show, exceeding Stephen Colbert’s 11).  His guest hosting stint was so well-received that there was speculation he could become the logical successor to John Stewart when he chooses to retire from this program (which he eventually announced in April of this year, with his last broadcast this Thursday, 06 August).  But at the end of 2013, it was announced that John would be departing for his own weekly show on HBO.  But as bittersweet as it is, he most likely got his boss’s Jon Stewart’s blessings and was given a warm sendoff as shown from the highlight clips they made for him (and he choked up as the clip rolled–a rare display of emotion for the typically British comic).  I’m also featuring a highlight reel of his witty intros during his Daily Show guest hosting stint.

Prior to premiering his new show, Last Week Tonight on HBO, he underwent a subtle makeover.  Yes, over the years in Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, John’s look got cleaned up from the scraggly medium-length haircut to something a bit neater, but still sporting bangs.  But as his HBO debuted, he sported a much shorter haircut and the bangs are almost totally ditched.  In my opinion it’s his most flattering look to date, and he physically exudes the authority of a genuine news anchorman.  There is an added comic bonus, though–his current look also made me see him as a döppelgänger to Food Network personality and former Queer Eye for the Straight Guy food expert Ted Allen.  Observe the close resemblance between the two personalities below.  I don’t know why other netizens have not seen what I have observed, as I’m now clamoring to see them together sharing the same screen–not in the digitally superimposed effect like what happened with Archie Panjabi’s last appearance with lead actress Juliana Margulies in The Good Wife, but actually be in the same room together.  Perhaps, make Ted Allen guest in John Oliver’s show, or what about a Food Network special where Ted and John travel across New York for Ted to coax John to find a food that he likes (in his show, we hear of foods John doesn’t like, so what about what he likes for a change?).  HBO and Food Network, come on, make this happen!

Ted Allen (top) and John Oliver (bottom):  see the resemblance?
Ted Allen (top) and John Oliver (bottom): see the resemblance?

Obviously Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has significant DNA derived from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (I know even John himself will acknowledge this).  But I don’t know if people can see a thread that links The Daily Show with the pioneering efforts of Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update” segment?  With Last Week Tonight‘s once-a-week format, the link between those two classics are made more obvious–the “Top-of-the-week” rundown of some of the biggest news of the week makes me recall those classic “Weekend Update” segments, particularly those from the Dennis Miller and the combos of Jimmy Fallon/Tina Fey/Amy Poehler/Seth Meyers eras, while the way John Oliver effectively delivers the unvarnished truth while making it funny, accessible, and enlightening to the public in his main story segment is obviously in the same tradition that Jon Stewart does on The Daily Show–when Jon Stewart departs from the show, I know most people will feel this show is going to pick up where Jon Stewart have left off.

COMING UP: My favorite John Oliver takedowns/segments