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John Oliver sends a musical message in a bottle from Weird Al Yankovic to North Korea

Last Week Tonight (Screenshot: HBO)

After starting off this week’s Last Week Tonight by addressing Donald Trump’s tellingly equivocal non-condemnation of the white supremacists, cosplaying fascists, and straight-up Nazis who swarmed Charlottesville this weekend (killing one young woman named Heather Heyer, and injuring many others), John Oliver moved on to yet another insanely frightening and dangerous situation that Trump is completely fucking up. Not to undersell Oliver’s indignant opening, where he called a righteously pissed-off “bullshit” on Trump’s cribbed-from-your-racist-uncle-on-Facebook “on many sides” remarks, which, as Oliver said, put “Nazis and people who oppose Nazis” on the same moral footing. Oliver’s incredulous, “It simply doesn’t get easier than disavowing Nazis” led to his earnest plea for all of us to do the job of fighting against bigotry, ignorance, and hatred because, as he put it, we now have ”a president who cannot be bothered.” (Oliver, playing clips of the many, many chances Trump has had to denounce white supremacists over the last few days, conceded that, perhaps, Trump would have belatedly done so by the time Sunday night’s episode aired. Breaking: Trump did not.)

But North Korea—and Trump’s signature half-bright schoolyard bully’s approach thereto—made up the bulk of Sunday’s show, with Oliver attempting to work through the seemingly inextricable snarl of misinformation, cross-cultural interdependencies, and outright lunatic propaganda that make formulating a coherent strategy toward the world’s current most worrisome nuclear power nearly impossible. That’s “nearly impossible” for generations of thoughtful, well-informed, levelheaded diplomats and world leaders. With two paranoid, irrational, capricious ding-dongs like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in charge of the beyond-delicate situation, all the possible outcomes, according to Oliver are “absolutely terrifying.”


Especially considering what little we’ve been able to glean over the years from North Korean defectors’ accounts of just how the government there has stoked the terror of an imminent American invasion in a country deliberately cut off from any competing information from the rest of the world. As Oliver presents, Kim Jong Un and his familial predecessors have indoctrinated the populace from childhood with tales of American “hyenas” celebrating the end of the Korean War with orgies of graphic cannibalism, taught kids math word problems involving the death of the correct number of “American bastards,” and currently regale nightly news viewers with stories of a xenophobic, bloodthirsty American president “incapable of rational thought.” Which, okay, we’ll give North Korean news a pass on that last one.

It’s a sobering, worrisome segment that, in true Last Week Tonight style, Oliver attempts to turn into a vehicle for real—if decidedly goofy—good. Noting that a deep and abiding love of the accordion seems to be one of the actual facts of North Korean culture that everyone can agree upon, and that smuggled USB drives of American TV shows are often effective countermeasures to state propaganda, Oliver unleashes his own, uniquely suited secret agent—Weird Al Yankovic. With the fervent hope that accordion master and all-American goofball Weird Al can bridge the seemingly uncrossable cultural divide between our two nations, Oliver’s Hail Mary musical missive—complete with Weird Al’s messages of peace and the fact that Americans are really too self-involved and “mostly harmless” to bother invading North Korea—finds Al (picture of universally beloved Tom Hanks unfurling behind him) singing and squeezing as if all our lives depended on it. Because, with Trump’s Twitter-finger and Kim Jong Un’s desperate, deeply loony need to keep his people from figuring out just how badly they’re being deceived “goading each other toward armageddon” (according to Oliver), a six-foot, long-haired, self-described weirdo with an accordion and a Hawaiian shirt might be just the unlikely hero we need.

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