Comedian John Oliver has talked about wrestling more than once on his weekly HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The first time it was to criticize their ongoing deal to run shows in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Saudi government’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and then he criticized WWE’s treatment of their wrestlers a few months later, which warranted a statement from WWE claiming he’d “ignored facts,” even though they didn’t really have any alternate facts to present.
This week Oliver’s topic was sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pro wrestling was only a small part of the discussion, but he did bring up Florida’s designation of wrestling as an essential business:
The state of Florida early on designated professional sports and media production with a national audience as an essential service, so long as it’s closed to the general public. So the WWE has continued staging shows in Florida, holding matches in front of empty chairs, but that requires a lot more people than just those two wrestlers. You need production crews working together in close proximity. And while the WWE maintains its safety measures are as comprehensive as they can possibly be, one employee wrote an anonymous letter to a Florida county commissioner asking them to shut the tapings down because “despite sanitary precautions, we cannot maintain social distancing and have to touch other people.” But it’s easy to see why CEO Vince McMahon doesn’t mind them taking that risk, as he told investors on a recent earnings call, viewers want to see new matches.
The quote from McMahon that follows is so comical that I thought it was a bit when I read it, but when you watch the segment it turns out to be an actual audio clip in Vince’s distinctive voice:
I think new content is always a driver in terms of stimulating interest and what have you, and obviously everyone is pretty much starved for new content. It could very well be that you’re tired of watching Netflix and you want to see, you know, strong men running around in their underwear.
From there Oliver veers into a continuation of his running joke about wanting to homoerotically fight Adam Driver:
Okay! Um, well first, I would argue that the risks of creating content like you are seem to outweigh the benefits right now. And second, no one on that call registered your point there because you just said ‘stimulating’, ‘strong men’, ‘underwear’ and crucially, ‘driver’, all in the same sentence, at which point everyone’s minds turned immediately to getting absolutely bone-crushed by Adam Driver. Chokeslam me to hell you nasty shed. Jam your mandible claw down my throat you irredeemable steer.
And after a bit more of that, he briefly brings up AEW before pivoting to a discussion of UFC.
And it’s not just the WWE. Their competitor AEW is also taping shows in Florida, and the UFC just last week started hosting matches in Jacksonville.
I would like to have seen him bring up the fact that WWE is apparently not even testing people for the virus, which AEW and UFC, but as usual he makes solid points and weaves them into a larger narrative over the course of the episode. You can watch the whole thing below.