Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver gives the big, beautiful dialing finger to the FCC over robocalls on Last Week Tonight

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

For all his trenchant, Emmy-winning political satire, Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver delights most in coming up with inventive ways to fuck with all the right people. Using the power of his and his writers’ imagination—and HBO’s cash—to do some cheeky and creative good in the world clearly makes Oliver, and us, very happy. Whether it’s calling out the New York Yankees elitist premium seating policies by selling on-camera seats for a quarter to people who promise to sit there all game in Katy Perry shark costumes, or publishing a gay-friendly children’s book to knock noted homophobe Mike Pence’s similar bunny-themed book off the best-seller charts, or buying up (and forgiving) consumers’ debt for pennies on the dollar, or setting up his own tax-exempt megachurch to prove how easy that scam is, Oliver makes the world a better place, one ingenious “screw you” at a time.

Well, as Sunday’s main story was all about robocalls, you kind of had to see this one coming. After a typically riotous and informative 15 minutes spent examining the problem of scammers, corporations, and corporate scammers using every semi-legal trick in the digitized phone book to steal your mom’s social security number and tell you all about that credit card problem you don’t have, Oliver unveiled his plan. Noting in his piece that the FCC, under current head, enemy of net neutrality, corporate shill, and “goober,” Ajit Pai, opposed rules intended to curtail robocalls, has done literally nothing about them since taking over that agency, and, in fact, is proposing making robocalling easier, Oliver swung into action. He did take time along the way to, once again, taunt HBO’s new overlords at AT&T for their lackluster service. (“You like that, business daddy? Johnny’s getting spicy again!”) And to mock Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins for one particularly contrived phone stunt of her own. Showing testimony where Collins pretended to get an IRS call during a hearing, only to show that it was her staff spoofing the IRS number, Oliver noted, with signature acid deadpan, “Cool.” And said that “temporarily pretending to be one thing and then disappointing everyone when you reveal who you actually are” is a perfect encapsulation of faux moderate Trump-enabler and Kavanaugh-booster Collins’ voting record.


But we’re here for the reveal, as Oliver explained that the phone numbers of the FCC commissioners are all publicly available, the technology to set up a mass robocall took his people 15 whole minutes to enable, and that HBO had sprung for a giant red button and an even more giant replica hand, with it’s button-pushing finger pointed ominously earthward. With a pre-recorded message urging the FCC to stop the tsunami of robocalls (some half of all calls, according to figures), some soothing bagpipe music, and an opt-out agreement hidden in the rapidly scrolling first chapter of Moby Dick for the officials to find, Oliver pushed his own, smaller button, triggering the giant finger to press the bugger button to “unleash hell,” in the form of one automated call to each commissioner every 90 minutes until the end of time.

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

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