I don’t recall specifically where I saw it, but I remember when John Oliver started Last Week Tonight, he spoke about a certain freedom he had on HBO that he didn’t have on Comedy Central, specifically how he didn’t have to worry about offending advertisers on pay cable. That’s why, in last night’s episode, Oliver could go completely off on Bud Light without fear of repercussion. If he were working for a regular cable network with advertisers to keep happy, do you think he could’ve said these things about the biggest advertiser in America?
“Bud Light tastes like a beer that someone already threw up … it’s like a liquid John Mayer song … it tastes like the scared urine of a rabbit … if a nickel could urinate, it would taste like Bud Lite … basically, if water could go bad, it would taste like Bud Lite.”
But there’s more to it than that. John Oliver is not only unafraid of pissing of potential advertisers, he’s brave enough to challenge his own network and its parent company. In fact, there were several instances in last night’s Last Week Tonight where I actually flinched, thinking “Dude! Watch yourself, man. You’re going to piss off the wrong people!”
Take, for instance, this jab John Oliver made at Floyd Mayweather and his history of abuse:
“It’s like saying Floyd Mayweather is a smidge assault-y. It’s technically correct, but it’d be more appropriate to say he’s a woman battering human landfill.”
Why is that a big deal? Because HBO and Showtime were behind the pay-per-view deal for the Mayweather-Pacquiao the night before, and obviously, made millions on Floyd Mayweather. But that’s probably a two on a scale to 10 in terms of pissing off his bosses because John Oliver was not saying anything that a lot of people don’t already think.
But later, on his standardized test segment, Oliver noted that the average student has to take 113 standardized tests by the time they graduate. “One hundred and 13 is approaching the amount of tests you’d ask your doctor for the morning after you woke up from a one-night stand with Colin Farrell.”
Of all the celebrities you could make an STD joke about, John Oliver chose Colin Farrell, the lead in HBO’s upcoming series, True Detective.
Maybe HBO executives winced at that, but it’s hardly worth getting bent out of shape about, right? But then Oliver dropped this, in discussing Pearson Education (the company behind 40 percent of standardized tests in America):
Pearson is the educational equivalent of Time Warner Cable. Either you’ve never had an interaction with them and don’t care, or they have ruined your f*cking life.”
That statement could also apply to Comcast, and yet, John Oliver chose to make fun of Time Warner Cable, and who is the parent company of HBO? Time Warner, the company that also owns CNN, which Oliver made fun of in the opening segment, when a CNN reporter (wrongly) insisted that a black man marching during the Baltimore riots was Russell Simmons.
Taken individually, maybe none of these jokes mean anything. But taken together? That’s ample evidence to demonstrate that John Oliver has balls of steel. In an era of corporate conglomeration where everyone is owned by the same four or five media companies, John Oliver is not afraid to call out and/or make fun of those associated with with his own network, even if it means pissing off the people who ultimately write his checks.
And remember who was one of Oliver’s biggest targets in his segment on Net Neutrality? Time Warner, of course.
And who would net neutrality favor the most? Netflix, HBO’s biggest competitor.
“Yes, Bank of American took my home. Yes, Taco Bell gave me diarrhea. And sure, GM tried to kill me,” John Oliver said at the time. “But Time Warner and Comcast are the worst. They are the worst.”