Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver teaches kids (and Trump) that robots aren't that scary on Last Week Tonight

Laura, John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

The enduring entertainment value (and just plain value) of the Emmy-winning Last Week Tonight is host John Oliver’s surgically bombastic method of turning even the driest-seeming subject into a searingly thought-provoking, meticulously researched, and yet utterly, laugh-out-loud hilarious half-hour of television. Take Sunday’s main topic, automation. Long the main force behind the evolution of labor, the introduction of more and more specialized technology to replace human jobs is a social and economic phenomenon where, Oliver states, “everything about it is more complicated than you think.”

Or you can just blame the Mexicans, as is Donald Trump’s rabble-rousing strategy for swaying voters rightly concerned about the possible, very real impact the use of everything from robots to artificial intelligence may have on the lives of their families. Wait, that’s unfair, as Oliver shows in clips from Trump’s totally normal pre- and post-election “Worship me!” rallies, he also blames, let’s see: China, India, Vietnam (“that’s the new one”), Japan, and “other countries, some of which you’ve never even heard of.” Oliver, noting that reliable reports have Trump referring to countries like Nepal and Bhutan as the sovereign nations of “Nipple” and “Button,” then takes a full 90 seconds of airtime speculating further on just what Trump’s customary scan of other tough country names transforms them into. Travel tip: You should really check out the local color in “Ballsinya and Hate-a-vagina.” (Or Bosnia And Herzegovina, if you’re a nerd.) Oliver punctuates his deliriously silly list with the joke that Trump damn sure can remember the name of Russia and all its recently annexed territories, though.


And yet, Oliver isn’t all clever wordplay at the expense of the historically, geographically, and morally deficient current president. He’s also got time to goof around with adorably puzzled little kids, as Oliver concluded his segment about how the challenges faced by the American workforce can be attributed to complex historical and technological factors with real, practical governmental and industry solutions, and not by bellowing about job-stealing brown people. Bringing back a gaggle of adorable (they really are) children who’d earlier explained their suitably sensible dreams of having a single dream job for the entirety or their grown-up lives, Oliver confronted them with the sobering fact that some day robots might be doing those very jobs. (That one girl who wants to be a “mermaid doctor” might have global warming to really worry about, but Oliver didn’t want to break that to her. Because she’s so adorable.) Underscoring the ever-changing needs of human labor with his signature brand of acidly helpful humor, Oliver got the kids to promise to think about a working life consisting of “a series of non-routine tasks that require social intelligence, complex critical thinking, and creative problem solving.” That since—Oliver setting up the Donald Trump punchline with expert precision—creating and transforming jobs in America requires “someone nimble and forward-thinking.” So, yeah, good to get to people when they’re young enough that them mistaking Kosovo with “Queso Bowl” is just a cute malapropism and not the result of a lifetime of entrenched xenophobia and willful ignorance.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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