There is nothing funny about powerful men using their position to intimidate, harass, and abuse women. That has never stopped American late-night comedy shows of using their platforms to address and ridicule the US presidents, executives, and stars who’ve been accused of such behavior—Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Cosby among them.
That’s why it was odd when the majority of late-night hosts, including Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, failed to mention the bombshell of an exposé published by The New York Times on Thursday, which detailed decades of sexual-harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein—several of which he made disappear with hefty settlements.
Even Saturday Night Live this week left Weinstein untouched, opening the show to shots from critics who claimed the omission demonstrated a liberal bias. A source told The New York Times the show’s cast had prepped and tried out jokes on the topic in both sketches and the “Weekend Update” segment, but left them out of the final broadcast after they fell flat with the studio audience. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, as he left the show’s after-party, SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels said Weinstein was left out because the story was “a New York thing.” (Later that day, news broke that Weinstein was fired from his own company.)
Michaels’ assertion that the story wasn’t of national concern demonstrates a blind spot that many in Hollywood and the New York media are wringing their hands over. As Jim Rutenberg wrote for The New York Times, “the real story didn’t surface until now because too many people in the intertwined news and entertainment industries had too much to gain from Mr. Weinstein for too long.” And as Rebecca Traister attested for New York Magazine, as she recalled a run-in with Weinstein in 2000, he could be positively fearsome.
Perhaps John Oliver’s perspective as a Brit, with a relatively short history in US show business, gave him a bit of an edge when it came to the Weinstein story. Unlike the majority of his late-night colleagues, Oliver tackled Weinstein head-on, and simply let the mogul hang himself with his own words, quoting his response to the allegations:
“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behaviors and workplaces were different…That was the culture then. I’ve since learned it’s not an excuse.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” said Oliver in his HBO show Last Week Tonight. “Your excuse isn’t an excuse! It isn’t even an excuse for that behavior in the ’60s! Well, back then we had no idea that women didn’t want to be forced to look at dicks. That wasn’t discovered by scientists until 1998. It was a different time.”
At least if Oliver has anything to say about it, men like Weinstein won’t get a pass from comedy in 2017.