As the American news and comedy worlds succumb to the perpetual circus of the Donald Trump White House, John Oliver wants to remind everyone that there are other important issues worth probing.
“There’s other things happening in the world,” the comedian told reporters at a press event in New York on Monday (Feb. 12). “It can be hard to remember that just because [Trump] is so all-consuming.”
For Oliver, whose HBO political comedy show Last Week Tonight returns from hiatus on Sunday (Feb. 18), avoiding the 24-hour news cycle of American politics to focus on lesser known injustices around the world is nothing new. When the rest of the news media were covering the US president’s baseless accusation that his predecessor wiretapped Trump Tower, Oliver was discussing human rights in Tibet. When cable news reveled in the report that Trump’s secretary of state Rex Tillerson allegedly called the president “a moron,” Oliver was investigating the Equifax security breach that impacted 150 million Americans.
Rather than get sucked into the increasingly crazy antics of a presidency now in its second chaotic year, Oliver plans to double down on his commitment to spotlight global corruption—a tactic even more imperative at a time of American isolationism and xenophobia.
Such issues may be “pretty irrelevant in terms of the week [of news],” Oliver said, but nonetheless “extremely relevant in terms of the concept of being alive.”
As Oliver does this, the rest of the political comedy world will likely do the opposite. From Saturday Night Live to Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, American comedy for the past year has largely been a reaction to Trump’s administration. Last night, for instance, the latest in what’s seemed like an endless barrage of Trump impressions and parodies debuted on Showtime: Our Cartoon President, an animated series that depicts the daily buffoonery of Trump and his aides.
Oliver has never flat-out ignored what Trump does—he’ll still devote quick news segments at the top of his show to reporting on the latest in the Trump circus—but he thinks it’s reductive to pour so much energy into covering the minutiae of the president’s day-to-day, especially when that comes at the expense of examining deeper problems.
“It’s such a fire hose of bullshit,” Oliver said, referring to the news surrounding Trump’s White House. “What you don’t want to do is narrate things that he said and then just tell a joke off each thing. You want to try and show why that actually matters.” Oliver made a point of saying he hopes his show at least points to narrow solutions for global problems, instead of just “taxing people to the edge of despair and making them get out.” And, indeed, Oliver has tried prescribing solutions before, from his suggestion of a “nuclear toilet” for America’s nuclear waste problem to his proposed alternative to Confederate monuments in the US.
While he doesn’t pay much attention to what other comedians are doing, Oliver is still keenly aware of his role in the conversation, and his responsibility to both entertain and inform viewers seeking solace from the never-ending nightmare that is modern American politics.
“Every time [host of NBC’s Late Night] Seth Meyers finishes taping, I’m like, ‘Fuck, now it’s us,'” Oliver joked. “We pick up the immensely depressing relay baton.”