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John Oliver will annoy the hell out of you until you pay attention to your Attorney General race

Bagpiper, John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver knew he was fighting a losing battle with his main story segment about Attorneys General. For one thing, the proper plural of “Attorney General” is the sort of pedantic detail that eminently punchable grammar nerds love to say. (Cue picture of pedantic grammar nerd Oliver in high school.) For another, as Oliver notes, many people historically leave the Attorney General slot on their ballots empty on Election Day, thanks to the fact that—as several shots of bored and/or nonexistent audiences at Attorneys General conferences attest—few people pay much attention to that particular race. And then there’s the fact that, Jesus-Clodhopping-Christ, we’re already voting our asses off in a desperate effort to save democracy from a racist, treasonous sociopath and his toadying enablers and you expect us to have time to research Attorney Generals—oh sorry, your majesty, Attorneys General—too?!!?

Ahem. Anyway, as Oliver note in his wonted acid slyness on Sunday’s show, state AGs have a whole lot more power in our political system than most people think. From their increasingly partisan proclivity for suing the sitting president, to their occasional criminal cosiness with special interests and corporations they are supposed to be policing (like disgraced former Trump EPA head Scott Pruitt, revealed to have issued verbatim rulings written by oil company Devon Energy when he was Oklahoma’s AG), Attorneys General influence state policy to a surprising degree. They’re also, as Oliver showed, a comedy goldmine, as the position appears to attract colorful folks like Indiana’s Elvis impersonating Curtis Hill, whose chosen jumpsuit is uncomfortably accurate in replicating the old Elvis’ moose-knuckle, and Michigan’s former AG Bill Schuette, whose current campaign for governor would definitely not like you to Google “Bill Schuette 1989 video” to see the vomit-inducing sight of Schuette slimily hitting on a female cameraperson like a blow-dried, live-action Pepe Le Pew.


But, as Oliver notes, the 30 current races for AG aren’t all fun, games, and Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge singing a karaoke version of Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” as if tune, pitch, and rhythm were outlawed in her state. Oliver took us to Texas, where current AG Ken Paxton is hoping to continue his reign of state-sponsored bigotry, gun-nuttery, and anti-choice lawsuits despite being under multiple indictments for securities fraud. (Oh, and Google “Ken Paxton steals $1,000 pen,” just for giggles.) Still, knowing he’s fighting an uphill battle to get people to take two measly minutes to research their AG race on vote411.org, Oliver unveiled one of his signature Last Week Tonight stunts to spur voters into action. Promising that the last two minutes of the show would contain no entertainment value whatsoever, Oliver flashed the vote411.org logo behind him as he introduced, in turn, a bagpiper, accordion player, theremin virtuoso, and six kids playing the recorder, all combining in a cacophonous version of Leslie Rutledge’s favorite song. Sometimes you have to be cruel to save democracy.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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