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John Oliver explains how the looming Brexit blight won't be avoided by Boris Johnson's bigoted buffoonery

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

“Unfortunately, the U.K. is about to be completely fucked,” began John Oliver on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight. Well, he actually segued to that from a soon-to-be-running gag about the phenomenon of the “fearless mating foxes of Kent,” but he got the point across throughout his main story of the night, as Oliver ran down just why the choice of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is both very like America’s sort-of choice of Donald Trump, and actually nothing like that at all. Not that Johnson—“a clownish figure with silly hair and a passing relationship with the truth,” according to Oliver—is any better than Trump, but that Great Britain’s new buffoon-in-chief couches his own bigotry, incompetence, and duplicity in a much more complexly insidious public persona.

You know Boris Johnson, of course, since media reports are inexorably drawn to the external details of Johnson’s camera-friendly parade of bad hair, zip-line gaffes, and, as Oliver puts it, casual sartorial choices that make him look like “a raccoon who’s just emerged from David Foster Wallace’s trash.” But Oliver notes that Johnson, who displays a goofy bonhomie toward his bumbling and fashion disasters, is nothing like Trump in how calculated that all is. Oliver shows how assembled reporters—gathered outside Johnson’s house to press him on racist comments he’d just made about Muslim women—were disarmed into chummy laughter by the spectacle of Johnson, hair in careful disarray and wielding a breakfast tray of teacups and biscuits, playing the fool.


Oliver, significantly less beguiled, noted that Johnson’s greatest asset throughout his spotted professional and political career, has been putting on “Britface” at every opportunity to make himself look silly in order to deflect attention from the inescapable fact that his words and actions are less eccentric than deceitful, rash, and ugly. Oliver also pointed out that, on the “Britain’s Trump” comparison front, there’s no fucking way that pinprick-fragile ego-monster Donald Trump would or could ever allow himself to appear foolish or incorrect, regardless of how foolish and/or incorrect practically everything he does or says is. “Can you imagine Trump having that level of self-reflection?,” asked Oliver, and—go ahead and try—you simply cannot.

But, as Oliver notes, Johnson’s “failing upward” tumbling act is about to send him (and Britain itself) hurtling right into an active volcano. That’s because Brexit—the nativist and isolationist movement of which Johnson was a chief architect—has a hard, Britain-croppling deadline looming in less than 100 days. And that Johnson, whose diplomatic skills have seen him referring to England’s French trading partners as “turds” and the European Union as, collectively, Hitler—lacks the Mr. Bean-esque nimbleness to fall ass-backwards into anything but complete economic and social disaster come Halloween. (The E.U. rejected Johnson’s terms on leaving within minutes of Johnson being sworn in.) Shown in a clip proudly admitting his ignorance of the details of the economic realities of Brexit by a decidedly un-charmed interviewer, Johnson is, according to Oliver, “shit out of luck at this point,” in over his calculatedly mussed hair in a racist, knee-jerk lie he himself perpetuated. Saying “there’s no reason for much hope here,” Oliver—who’s covered the whole Brexit boondoggle at length in the past—told his British viewers candidly, “Johnson cannot get what he wants or what he’s promised you.” As Oliver laid out with a stark matter-of-factness that Johnson himself congenitally hides from behind a screen of savvy nonsense, Great Britain isn’t going to be able to clown its way out of this one.


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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.