If newly popular terms like “cryptocurrency,” “bitcoin,” and “blockchain” have left you utterly confused, you’re not alone. For aside from the increasingly larger (and louder) community of advocates for digitally mined currencies free of governmental and corporate oversight, very few people actually know what a “Dogecoin” is or why it’s total valuation reached $2 billion. Hence why Last Week Tonight dedicated Sunday’s deep dive segment to the wider world of “Cryptocurrencies.” Or, as John Oliver joked during his introduction, “everything you don’t understand about money combined with everything you don’t understand about computers.”
While acknowledging how annoying the more fervent cryptocurrency supporters can be, Oliver adds that their basic ideas about bitcoin — and the plethora of other types of digital currency — are “kind of right.” Specifically, he explains that “like most currencies, the fundamental reason that bitcoin has value is because people agree it has value.” What’s more, Oliver continues, “it’s really being treated more like a speculative investment than a currency.” By way of example, the host offers an instance of a rare Beanie Baby being listed for sale at $15,000 on the website Etsy. “It’s owner thinks that someone will pay that for it,” he concludes.
There’s obviously far more to cryptocurrencies than a general agreement about their worth, especially when it comes to the blockchain technology that makes it possible. “From speed to security,” Oliver says of the decentralized technology behind blockchain, the platform offers a lot of “theoretical advantages” since transactions are not controlled by, or located solely within, central banks or banking systems. Even so, hackers have managed to steal troves of bitcoin before, while others have taken advantages of its largely unregulated infrastructure to scam users out of their money.
The mostly serious, 25 minute-long explanation of cryptocurrencies notwithstanding, this wouldn’t be a Last Week Tonight deep dive without some kind of comedic sendoff. So Oliver enlisted Keegan-Michael Key’s help in recreating the viral (and much maligned) rap (?) of Bitconnect investor Carlos Matos. “The last time I saw someone that irrationally exuberant about a major commitment,” the comic joked alongside a shot of Tom Cruise’s famous Oprah Winfrey interview, “he was roughly seven years away from divorcing Katie Holmes.” Needless to say, Key’s performance is actually quite informative.