John Oliver routinely spends each episode of Last Week Tonight expertly running down the manifest faults of a boorish, bullying billionaire with suspect if not outright criminal business and hiring practices, a shady past regarding sexual harassment, and a callous disregard for human life. But Sunday’s show saw the host shift gears by talking about Vince McMahon, owner and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and, by a crazy happenstance, good pal and supporter of punchline set-up, Donald Trump. (McMahon’s wife, failed Republican political candidate, and former WWE exec Linda McMahon just left a Trump administration post to head up Trump’s reelection PAC.) And, as Oliver explained on Sunday, the similarities between Trump and McMahon don’t just stop at the fact that both of them have almost indisputably used racial slurs while appearing on their own reality shows. (Oliver in fact shows a clip of McMahon thinking it was hilarious to say “nigger” in a WWE skit. Sadly the present Booker T did not break character and Spinaroonie his boss through a fucking wall.)
Oliver’s gone after the WWE on the eve of a particularly high-profile event before. And, with Wrestlemania coming up on April 7, Oliver once more strapped on his fighting tie and jacket, just as he did in pointing out the wrestling company’s cosy ties with the journalist-murdering Saudi government right before its big, Saudi-hosted showcase last October. Now why would Oliver take the time to choke-slam a piddling pro wrestling concern when he’s got a real-life heel in the White House? Well, for one thing, Oliver legit loves wrestling, telling his audience succinctly after one especially awesome clip, “Wrestling is better than the things you like.” But, for another, Oliver loves nothing more than stirring up some shit, and with Wrestlemania’s live, mic-ed crowd already rumbling over some serious issues in Mr. McMahon’s monopolized empire, the shit is ripe for stirring.
Oliver ran through a litany of the ways in which the WWE under McMahon’s decades-long stewardship has blatantly flaunted health, safety, and employment laws in order to keep its stable of “independent contractors” grinding themselves down for 200-plus nights a year. Luckily, as Oliver explained, McMahon’s camera-hogging presence as the cartoonishly villainous Mr. McMahon character in his own spandex-clad stuntman soap opera offered numerous juicy clips of McMahon himself taking painful, humiliating, and no doubt cathartic abuse from said overworked and exploited not-employees. WWE wrestlers have a shockingly higher death rate than the public at large (or even the NFL)? Cue The Rock smashing McMahon’s melon with a trash can lid. WWE dodges federal workplace, healthcare, and retirement law by making wrestlers sign exclusive contracts as “independent contractors” and signing away all claims due to injury and death? Superkick to McMahon’s face by Shawn Michaels. Wrenching interview from former WWE superstar Roddy Piper knowingly explaining that he’ll never live long enough to collect a pension? (He didn’t.) That calls for the infamous Stinkface, from massive-rumped former WWE star Rikishi.
And while the sight of Vince McMahon having his face shoved into Rikishi’s ring-sweaty taint on national TV might be considered just desserts, Oliver noted that McMahon (seen mocking an HBO reporter’s question about premature wrestler deaths by making Trump-style schoolyard bullying gestures and flicking the journalist’s papers from his hand) has one weak spot in his dictatorial reign. Explaining that the notoriously vocal WWE fans have been successful in pressuring McMahon to make some token positive changes to wrestlers’ well-being in the past, Oliver called upon the throng once more, telling them he’s totally not saying the live, un-bleep-able crowd should chant mercilessly about wrestlers healthcare or employment status, or make signs, or even make lots of signs. Besides, when has Oliver ever affected change through some silly TV stunt?