John Oliver reckoned with public shaming this week. As he explored over the course of the episode, the phenomenon has gotten exacerbated by the internet and social media, but also definitely predates them.
This is an interesting question to ask yourself as the host of a weekly late-night comedy show, as Oliver readily acknowledged. He explained some of the criteria that he and the Last Week Tonight team use when they’re determining if and how to make fun of someone.
“We make fun of people constantly on this show. It’s a comedy show. Although, for what it is worth, we do think, probably more carefully than you might imagine, about who we’re making fun of, why we’re doing it, and how,” Oliver said. “We ask ourselves questions all the time: Should we use their name? How much power do they have? Do they have a soul patch? That last one can be a real dealbreaker. I’m not saying we’re perfect at all. You might disagree with decisions we’ve made, but we have thought about it.”
As an example, Oliver brought up the recent college admissions scandal — or, as he described it, “Aunt Becky from Full House allegedly spends half a million dollars so a guy will pretend her daughters are good at boats.” Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade has become a major character in media coverage of the scandal thanks to her social media presence, and Oliver wondered aloud whether that was fair to her.
To round out the segment, Oliver talked to someone who has survived the worst kind of public shaming imaginable: Monica Lewinsky. Late-night comedians dined off the Lewinsky scandal for years, and Oliver took a particular focus on Jay Leno’s many cruel jokes about her — not least since Leno recently gave an interview to Today bemoaning the lack of “civility” in late-night comedy. Bringing up an old Lewinsky parody book Leno once made called The Slut in the Hat, Oliver presented his own parody Dr. Seuss book: Oh, the Places You Can Go F— Yourself, Jay Leno.
Oliver then sat down for a one-on-one with Lewinsky and talked about her experience being so personally associated with a massive scandal like Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
“This sexist thing happened, which is that the scandal became named after me,” Lewinsky said. “So it meant that any time this has been referenced, every single day in the past 20 years, it may not be a direct reference to me, but because the investigation and the scandal has my name, I’m therefore attached to it.”
Watch the full clip above.