The smartest joke on John Oliver’s brand new show got no laughs — just like he planned

Thanks to his alleged success filling in for Jon Stewart this past summer, John Oliver landed himself a brand new The Daily Show-style show on HBO. Last Week Tonight lasts half an hour — just like The Daily Show — but thanks to the business model of its corporate host, it doesn’t need to pause to pay the bills.

Even though Oliver gets the benefit of thirty minutes uninterrupted, trying to fit a full week’s-worth of news into that slot can be challenging. Oliver devoted the first few minutes of his show — viewable in its entirety here — to the usual suspects, like Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling (although that pair probably has an altogether different conception of “the usual suspects”), before — somewhat unexpectedly — proceeding to a detailed dissection of India’s ongoing Presidential elections.

Oliver focused on the candidacy of Narendra Modi, and particularly on allegations that he bears some share of responsibility for religious riots that killed approximately 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, over ten years ago. Oliver made an earnest case for why Americans and their media “should care about this story”:

John Oliver

[If you do not wish to embiggen, the subtitles read: “If polls are to be believed, we might be throwing steak dinners for this guy.”]

No laugh. Nothing. Not a peep from the audience.

John Oliver had just explained that Modi is the nominee of India’s Hindua Nationalist Bharatiya Janata, so I can virtually guarantee that no one is planning to serve him a steak dinner anytime soon:

cow in india

Sure, and Obama’s favorite thing to serve Bibi is ham with a side of pork.

Then again, this is America. Maybe I shouldn’t put it past us. After all, Americans are the very same people who hardly started at the possibility of serving a Hindu nationalist steak dinner.

So I prefer to think of the audience’s muted reaction to the gratuitously tasteless (pun intended) joke as proving Oliver’s point, rather than as evidence that Oliver actually said “state” and the transcription service is just terrible (and as I hopefully just demonstrated, unintentionally hilarious on occasion).


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