“The John Oliver Effect”: Last Week Tonight’s Influence on Society and Politics

More often than not, comedic news shows like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show engage in light-hearted critiques about politics, pop culture, and world events.  However, a product of that industry has turned the tables on his past, and over the course of the last two years, has motivated the American public in ways unseen by a comedian.  Enter John Oliver, a British funnyman and former protégé of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, who each Sunday night has tackled complex social issues ranging from police militarization to mental illness to the death penalty.  On his HBO comedy show “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver mixes comedic acclaim with his now signature condemnatory tone, bashing institutions like the US prison system, FIFA, and even the anti-gay Ugandan government.


“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver

This new wave of comedy has hit home with much of America, and as TIME Magazine’s Victor Luckerson writes: “His show has crashed websites, boosted donations, and inspired legislation.”  His segment on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed changes to net neutrality, an issue which would be an affrontal unto a “free and open internet,” criticized the bureau and its chairman, Tom Wheeler.  Net neutrality refers to how all Internet should be charged evenly and equally, and these changes allow for cable companies to capitalize by making it more expensive to use such heavier data-oriented sites as Netflix and YouTube.  In February of this year, after Oliver’s segment was watched over 10 million times on YouTube and HBO, the FCC announced they were in the process of switching gears and “adopting net neutrality regulations,” showing Oliver’s influence in governmental policy decisions.

Oliver has wholeheartedly embraced his almost 20 minute long exposés each Sunday night.  His most prolific, intense piece was his mid-August condemnation of televangelists and what US tax law can let them get away with.  Oliver criticized longtime televangelists Robert Tilton, Creflo Dollar, as well as Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, who each preach the “Prosperity Gospel” in order to gather donations from unsuspecting “believers” who believe the sincerity behind their preachings and promises of “seed faith.”  These patriarchs and matriarchs have used donations for private jets, ski vacations, and extravagant homes, all with the safety net which leading a “church” provides them in terms of tax breaks and other benefits.  As a result, Oliver did something unprecedented.  He created his own televangelist church, comically named “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption,” and used a lawyer to show the American public how easy it was for individuals to attain special dispensation as a church.  In the weeks following, Oliver gave updates on his “church,” in which he surprisingly received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions and later donated to Doctors without Borders.

“Last Week Tonight” has revolutionized the comedic news landscape over the last two years.  With John Oliver at the helm, the show has taken new lengths to address and often criticize institutions of society, and educate the everyday American who, outside of a well-read community like St. Luke’s, doesn’t keep up with the fine print that may affect their everyday life.  Furthermore, Oliver has made an impact even on the leaders of these criticized institutions, as the big reveal of Oliver’s segments have forced change across the board, and as the show gains followers, the impact will continue to increase.  TIME’s so-called “John Oliver Effect” is certainly here to stay.


Porter Bowman, School News Editor

Posted by on October 13, 2015. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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