Sometimes you get the sense that John Oliver needs a break. Not from Last Week Tonight necessarily, or his reliably skillful vivisection of the farcical horrors of the Trump administration, but from facing down the world’s most intractable problems with seemingly indefatigable cheeky British comedy. That’s when we get an episode’s main story spent gleefully debunking money-grubbing psychics, money-grubbing WWE head Vince McMahon, or the grubbing of whatever counts for money in the cryptocurrency industry. (And sometimes he just goes ahead and writes a sweetly inclusive bunny book to irritate America’s most homophobic Vice President.) Or, just to pick this week’s example, climbing Mount Everest, the chosen sport of “bored investment bankers” who decide to fill the yawning chasm inside their souls by spending all that grubbed money to get a really bitchin’ selfie for their dating profile.
As he’s done with in-plain-sight wastes of the human spirit like the robocall industry, Oliver spent a full 22 minutes on Sunday’s show mercilessly hucking slushballs at the sluggishly trudging but lucrative Mount Everest ascent industry. From luxury climbing excursions (complete with sherpa-lugged dining tables and heated tents), to the “fecal time bomb” of human shit avalanching down the mountain thanks to global warming and luxury climbers’ gourmet climbing rations, to unscrupulous companies (and the luxury-glamper-dependent Nepalese government) letting anyone with a doctor’s note and 11 grand risk their lives and the lives of others, Oliver portrayed the once-notable achievement of climbing the most difficult mountain in the world as an environment-despoiling slog for rich assholes without any concern for anything but their own egomaniacal bragging rights. Oliver at one point compared the sherpa-to-climber relationship to that of Simon to Garfunkel. (“There is someone along for the ride to the top and there’s someone pulling all the weight,” said Oliver, although he declined to say which is which.)
As to those pulling all that weight up and down a terrifying deathtrap of an icy mountain, Oliver not only gave it up for the sherpas, but gave a helpful primer of the capitonymic difference between “sherpa” and “Sherpa.” For the region’s people pursuing the only lucrative work available at the depressingly certain risk of their lives and health, Oliver was less than sympathetic to the British TV presenter who cut off his guide’s “we’re all family” canned speech with a hug before the man could continue, “except that you’re paying me to do all the work while you further your career with a showy PR stunt, brother.” (“That’s one man physically squeezing the white guilt out of another,” pronounced Oliver.)
Now, is a scathingly funny dissection of the Western exploitation of a formidable natural monument and a hardy, impoverished people going to save the world through satire (and some judiciously deployed Rickrolling)? No, probably not. But, as Oliver showed by once more spending HBO’s money to purchase a mockingly clever domain name (thetopofmounteverest.com, in this case), there’s plenty of public mockery to go around for entitled white pricks who use their hard-inherited disposable cash to pay underprivileged people to carry their shit around and risk their lives so said pricks can take an empty, vainglorious picture of themselves doing something they in no way could do by their pampered, smirking selves.