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Samizdata quote of the day

John Oliver seems to do extremely well out of telling sophisticated, educated Europeans and Democrat-voting Americans how thick Americans are. But he’s preaching to the converted: they’re not laughing because he’s funny, they’re laughing because he is telling them what they want to hear and allows them to feel smugly superior. A decent joke shouldn’t depend on who you want to win an election.

Tim Newman

39 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Here is a quote I like from Victor Davis Hanson in National Review: “In theory, there are nominally still such things as a D.C. establishment, the Republican party, still abstractions known as “fact-checking,” still something in theory called “debate moderators,” still ex-presidents’ “foundations.” But, in fact, after this campaign, these are now mere radiated shells.”

  • Fred Z

    John Oliver is a con-man, selling the left rubes a good false story, and for that I admire him. It is immoral to let a sucker keep his money.

  • Laird

    To be fair, John Oliver can be pretty funny at times. I can laugh even when I disagree with his politics.

  • Mr Ecks

    Oliver proves that Britain’s export drive has never faltered.

    As far as worthless, sanctimonious leftist shite goes.

  • Alsadius

    Honestly, I don’t much agree with Oliver’s views, and still find him hilarious 90% of the time.

  • As far as worthless, sanctimonious leftist shite goes.

    When life gives you lemons, a wise man makes lemonade. And when it gives you a constant stream of worthless sanctimonious shits (not just leftist shits, but shits of many odours, to wit Piers Morgan for example), well Mr. Ecks, a wise man exports them to America, wouldn’t you agree? 😉

    EDIT: hehe, I see Thailover has a similar person in mind as well.

  • Thailover

    I personally think of John Oliver as a man who intentionally tells distortions and half-truths in order to appease the evil left in their quest for their agenda. I think even less of him than I do Piers Morgan, if that’s possible. At least Morgan doesn’t pretend, “Oh, I’m really here just to entertain you”. Morgan is upfront about attempting to influence his audience’s world perspective. Oliver pretends to be a clown, but he’s about as much a clown as John Wayne Gacy.

  • Edward MJ

    I find him a bit smug and irritating, but when he’s on good form it’s pretty funny. His coverage of the NZ flag debacle was good, and then there was this particular highpoint

    Pity it doesn’t happen to more politicians really…

  • Laird

    This was pretty good, too. (And there were two sequels!)

  • Alisa

    He is indeed funnier than most talking heads passing for comedians these days – but that is a pretty low bar to begin with.

  • bobby b

    “You can’t just watch videos of (the geckos) f**king and then toss them aside! They’re not Kardashians!”

    Okay, I don’t normally like this guy, but that was funny.

  • Tarrou

    I have a question for the brits and assorted others here. Is it a thing in your country to hire foreign comedians/journalists specifically to criticize your country? Seems to me it’s fairly common for people to joke about their own country, less common for people to get really involved in the intricate domestic politics of other countries.

    We have John Oliver doing what he does

    We got Jim Jeffries (an aussie comic whose current special is entitled “Freedumb”)

    We had Piers Morgan for a bit

    Does the BBC hire Americans to come over and criticize British council housing policy, or hold forth at length about the Welsh language? Or is this an american thing?

  • Tarrou October 18, 2016 at 6:53 pm: “Is it a thing in your country to hire foreign comedians/journalists specifically to criticize your country?”

    My impression is that we do not do this much; we produce the stuff locally and have no great dependency on foreigners. We don’t object to foreigners thinking we’re mad – in fact we rather like it. “There are so many madmen there, one more will scarce be noticed” says the King before dispatching Hamlet to England (quote from memory); that line got an appreciative laugh in Tudor times, and still does. But (perhaps for that reason), we don’t need foreigners to do either that or the more bitter PC-style “we are the baddies” commentary.

    I recall that Matt Frei’s family was from East Germany (and were apparatchniks there – Matt assured everyone that the East Berliners were annoyed at the lack of bananas and porn, not the lack of freedom, which he had from his relatives who were not very pleased when the wall came down; I still have a copy of the Times article in which Matt says that. :-). But he was the BBC’s choice for Washington correspondent in Greg Dyke’s day, so is just another example of foreigners sent to the US to laugh at it.

  • Laird

    Tarrou, we also have Craig Ferguson, a Scottish comedian who has become a US citizen. He even wrote a book about it. He’s vaguely leftist (I suppose that’s de rigueur in Hollywood), but he’s not at all anti-American and certainly hasn’t made a career out of criticizing the country. And I think he’s one of the more intellectual comics around; I rather miss his late-night TV show.

  • AndrewWS

    @Tarrou: The people we get a lot of on UK TV are the Irish (as well as the Welsh and Scots, who are not actually foreign) largely because their accents don’t have class overtones like English ones do, so they don’t alienate anyone (except the people who can’t stand the Irish and the Scots and the Welsh). I don’t watch TV these days, but I don’t recall any other foreigners making it big on the small screen.

  • Tarrou

    @Laird, I do love me some Ferguson (and I just went to see Dylan Moran). I’m not talking about comedians or journalists who find a home in another country, that’s pretty standard, and I like it. Huge fan of British comedy, and some of our best public intellectuals are/were people like Christopher Hitchens. I mean comedians and journalists whose whole schtick is criticizing their host nation. I mean, I don’t really care all that much, but I’ve been around the world a bit, and I don’t recall anything of the sort in Germany or Russia, certainly not France or Italy, and of course the middle east. But, I’m sure I didn’t plumb the full depths of any of those places, hence my question.

    I guess it would be like Dave Attel having a special making fun of chavs and northerners, and getting a BBC show about it based on that.

    We have Trevor Noah (South Africa) taking over the premier comedy news show in the country (and promptly running it into the ground).

    It’s always easier to take criticism from your own, and harder to take it from others. I wonder why TV producers keep handing out shows for this sort of thing.

  • Tarrou


    There’s a joke to be made from that comment, something along the lines of “Americans are so lazy we have to import criticism! There are jobs Americans just won’t do!”

  • Alisa

    I wonder why TV producers keep handing out shows for this sort of thing.

    Because some of them, as well as their audience, dislike their own country – just like our current President and his wife. And, while that sentiment is not unique to the US, it seems more prevalent among its elites than anywhere I know of.

  • bobby b

    Craig F turned the Drew Carey Show into something great! His book, American On Purpose, was just as good.

    America-despising liberals seem to long for the comforting embrace of European socialism. Thus, they go all orgasmic when they can hear non-American accents making fun of Amurica, and become enraged when they hear a Jeff Foxworthy routine.

  • the other rob

    Because some of them, as well as their audience, dislike their own country – just like our current President and his wife.

    This is truth.

    The other week, the Vietnamese chap who owns the convenience store where I buy my fags was holding forth, in great dudgeon, about the Chinese snub to Obama, the business with the stairs and Air Force One.

    I said “Well, given that he’s spent the last seven years traveling the world and putting us down in front of foreigners at every opportunity, what did he think was going to happen?”

    Back on topic, the whole anti-America shtick didn’t work out too well for Piers Morgan, as I recall. Though he did manage to elevate Jeremy Clarkson to the position of Most Popular Man in America, before he sodded off.

  • Alisa

    Just watched this, and it’s not bad at all:


  • Regional

    Midsomer Murders is a popular comedy.

  • Richard Thomas

    Oliver was much better when kept under control by Jon Stewart who, left leaning as he was, knew there was a fine line to tread between comedy and foaming-at-the-mouth fanaticism. This is also why Larry Wilmore is doing badly (he went off the rails in a more fatal direction).

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Lately, Americans go abroad and defame their own country! Just saw part of the Montreal Comedy festival, and an African-American was talking about how the USA keeps talking about being a Christian nation, but if Jesus, with his brown skin and mid-east clothing, turned up in America, they’d try to arrest or deport him, and his twelve followers!
    And lots of Australians go abroad and call themselves comedians. The best is Adam Hills, who can make jokes about disabilities because he has one, and he is quite funny. He even heads a British show called ‘The last leg’. If you haven’t seen it, it is amusing, especially when he lampooned Trump. I wonder what he’ll do now?

  • Jordan

    Radley Balko summed up Jon Stewart pretty well, and his summation applies to Oliver as well:

    The Jon Stewart dissonance: Brilliantly exposed the absurdity, mendacity of politicians . . . while advocating that we give them more power.

  • The most I’ve seen of John Oliver was when he did a piece on gun control which was basically “Oh why can’t these stupid Americans see how stupid they are?” and it was passed around on Facebook for weeks with every right-thinking European and Americans saying “Oh why are these Americans so stupid?”

    I wish he would go to Africa and do some of these shows: there he’d find some serious stupidity. But then he’d be racist, whereas American gun owners – the legal, law-abiding ones – are hideously white.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Oh dear, Alisa. What is going on with Gary Johnson? I mean, I agree about getting rid of all those government departments but he’s not helping by being so easily mock-able.

  • Alisa

    Beats the hell out of me, Rob. I understand that as a Governor he was better than most, but I guess only he knows what happened to him since then.

  • Alisa

    But I liked what Oliver did to Stein though 😀 Plus, it turns out he’s far from ignorant on economics, too.

  • Paul Marks

    John Oliver is just another leftist – whether he really is a leftist or just playing the game because non leftists are not employed by the “mainstream media” I do not know.

    However, that does not mean that many Americans are not stupid – many Americans (like many people of all nations) are very stupid. The people who nominated Donald Trump were stupid (apart from the “Alt Right” who are more evil than stupid) – after all they have produced President Hillary Clinton.

    I am assuming that the people who supported the joke candidate Mr Trump in the Primaries and so on did not actually want Mrs Clinton to be President. Of course some of them may secretly have been working for the establishment left – in which case this whole election had been a sham from the start.

    A bit like Russia – where Mr Putin controls the “United Russia” and also, unofficially, controls the opposition parties. If Mrs Clinton (and the rest of the establishment) were picking the Republican candidate – they would have picked Donald J. Trump.

  • bobby b

    Paul, while I agree with the bulk of your analysis, let me add one small point of dissent.

    Thinking that Trump was a wise choice of a candidate for beating Hillary was dumb. Wikileaks has shown that Hillary wanted Trump as her opponent, and that she had an impact on his victory.

    If the people who voted for Trump in the primaries were trying to win the presidency, they were dumb.

    But calling someone dumb because the outcome of their acts doesn’t match our assumptions about their goals misses a point.

    Assume for a moment that many Trump supporters had no expectation of winning the presidency. Assume they saw a rigged system, with a completely partial press, and a constituency too lazy to question that press.

    Assume that what they really wanted to do was to give two great big middle fingers to what our supposed two-party apparatus has become.

    You may think their goal is foolish. But their actions do accomplish their desired goal – and if we as a nation can survive four or eight years of Hillary without huge upheaval, then this very popular middle finger to the Republican Party will have much more effect than disengagement.

    We can chose, at this point, to quit and go home, and hope that someone notices our absence and regrets it and changes their future behavior in shame as a result of it. Myself, I think that’s naive. No one is going to notice our absence, or care about it if it’s pointed out. We’ll have every bit as much moral force behind us as the voter who fails to vote because Dancing With The Stars was on that night and she didn’t want to miss it.

    Trump is going to lose, badly, but every vote for him IS that extended middle finger to the Boehners and Ryans and Bushes and Rubios and all of the others who think conservatism means only giving liberals 97% of what they want in exchange for personal power, while every vote not cast is simply quiet assent to whatever happens. At this point, a vote for Trump isn’t as dumb as it was several months ago, when there were better choices.

  • Alisa


    No one is going to notice our absence, or care about it if it’s pointed out.

    What if the voter turnout drops under 50%? Or 40%?

    Assume that what they really wanted to do was to give two great big middle fingers to what our supposed two-party apparatus has become.

    I don’t think that it needs to be assumed – I think that is what many Trump voters have in mind. However, what makes you think that the establishment (for lack of a better shorthand) will read my motives for abstaining incorrectly, while it will read correctly the motives of the Trump voters? Why wouldn’t the establishment just conclude that those reluctant Trump voters are not reluctant at all, but actually do like Trump and want him to win?

  • bobby b

    What if the voter turnout drops under 50%? Or 40%?”

    The percentage of votes to the Voting Aged Population has hovered around 50% for decades. In 1996, it was 49%. In the hotly-contested 2008 election, it climbed as high as 58%. I suspect this election will see something around 45%. No matter what happens, it’s going to be attributed to the lack of good candidates. But whether it’s 50% or 40%, I don’t see anyone taking any lessons from it that would cause them to rethink their views.

    “However, what makes you think that the establishment (for lack of a better shorthand) will read my motives for abstaining incorrectly

    Because not voting hides you in the huge mass of apathy that makes up the missing 40% or 45% or 50% that just plain can’t be bothered to vote, leaving too many interpretations of your inaction, while affirmatively voting for Trump really leaves only one, or possibly two, interpretations. (Yeah, the second interpretation is “dumb as a doorpost”, but you have at least a 50/50 shot of having it read as “up yours, Republican Party.”)

    Or, it could be that, since the 2008 and the 2012 elections, I’ve been so frustrated and discouraged that I’m just reaching for anything that might be a positive move. 😥

  • Alisa

    I feel you pain…

  • Alisa

    Bobby (and others similarly pained), you may find this idea interesting – I did, FWIW:


  • Alisa

    Following my exchange with Bobby above I was rethinking the voter-turnout issue, and just wanted to note that (maybe unlike Perry), I am not seriously advocating ‘staying home/on the beach’ – physically or virtually, but rather abstaining from the presidential election while still voting for Congress (let alone any local elections or referendums that may be of interest). I wonder how such selective voting would affect The Message to The Apparatus as expressed by Bobby and others, if at all?

  • bobby b

    Alisa, I’ve always thought we should make the Court bigger.

    With nine justices, balance depends on each and every appointment. Before Scalia died, we had four justices firmly on the liberal side, four on the conservative side, and an entire mini-industry devoted to teaching lawyers how to write briefs to appeal to Justice Kennedy, the ninth, wishy-washy justice.

    We’ve had balanced courts upset when a new appointment, thought to be firmly in the X camp, even through the confirmation hearings, suddenly “changes” to the Y camp.

    With a larger court, each individual justice will matter less. Confirmation fights will be less onerous. And in those rare times when a president has a captive Congress (i.e., unable or unwilling to moderate presidential action), the resulting hyper-partisan appointments will matter less.

    Bigger data sets smooth out peaks and valleys, basically.

    Re: McCain’s de-facto shrinking of the court – at some point, we will have a president with a captive Congress. If McCain et al has succeeded in shrinking the court to six through refusing to fill seats, suddenly that president is going to have three seats to fill all at once. Imagine if that president were Hillary. I think we’d be like the Whites in 1922, wondering what hit us.

  • Alisa

    Good points, Bobby – food for thought.

  • Richard Thomas

    bobby, perhaps each president should get to appoint one judge regardless of the number sitting. Per term maybe. (Though just one overall might encourage one term presidencies so could be argued either way). Probably they would have to be appointed on the president leaving office in any case.

    If the minimum age were, say 35 with a mean lifespan of 70, that should actually average out to somewhere around 9 justices on at any one time. If there’s an even number on the court and a decision is divided, just have the most junior justice abstain or they can arm wrestle for it or something.