John Oliver came back Sunday night with a brand-new Last Week Tonight and did not waste any time with unpacking the news of the week. From the woman in the swamp creature mask during the David Bernhardt confirmation hearing to the Mueller report fallout to how Vince McMahon failed the wrestlers of the WWE, Oliver came flying in with the vengeance of an elbow drop from the top turnbuckle.
He started off by pointing out how during oil lobbyist-turned-acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s Senate confirmation hearing there was a protest happening quietly in the background. Oliver called him “swampy,” which protestors drew attention to by wearing swamp creature masks in the background. But Oliver wanted to clarify that the masks were of the lagoon creature variety rather than swamp creature — just to avoid backlash from the “gross aquatic goblin community.”
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Then it was on to the Mueller report. William Barr’s four-page summary revealed that there was not any criminal conspiracy between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, but it did not exonerate him from obstruction of justice. Even so, Oliver points out that all of the president’s reporters took one piece of good news and “rounded it up to two.”
“Trump was not completely exonerated … the report literally says ‘does not exonerate him’,” Oliver pointed out. “The only way Mueller have been clearer on that point is if he put hand-clap emojis between each word.”
Oliver says that would normally do a deep dive into all of this, but no one — including Congress and the president — has not seen the details of the report.
“We only know what Trump’s own attorney general thinks we need to know,” he said. “A man who, unsolicited, before he got his current job, sent top DOJ officials a memo ruling out obstruction of justice charges against the president. There are plenty of qualifiers and questions left here.”
He went on to play clips of Trump’s supporters celebrating and ranting about how the investigation was a waste of time, money and resources. “Even if the investigation didn’t conclude that trump conspired with the Russians, that doesn’t mean the whole thing was a waste of time,” Oliver rebuked. “It’s easy to forget just how much we have already learned directly or indirectly as a result of Mueller’s investigation.”
Oliver said that if the results of the report came out at once it would be a flood of overwhelming details and would give people a different understanding. He explained: “Try and imagine that it all came out at once and that a single headline said: Russia confirmed to have interfered in election and president’s campaign manager, lawyer and multiple advisors convicted of crimes and Trump and his team lied about business with Russia, contact with Russians and Trump may have committed campaign finance violations to cover up affair with adult film star shortly after his wife gave birth and which he also attempted to continue but ended up sitting next to the adult film star in a hotel room and watching ‘Shark Week.’”
Oliver took a turn from Mueller and Trump to the world of professional wrestling — the WWE and its boss Vince McMahon to be specific. With WrestleMania 35 a week out, Oliver unpacked the horrible work conditions faced by wrestlers in the WWE under the reign of McMahon, who is seen as a villain during telecasts of WWE events.
He showed some outrageously entertaining — and violent — clips of the WWE including the villan McMahon, who, at one point used the N-word in a sketch in an attempt for comedy. That didn’t turn out well.
“While the character Vince is an asshole, it’s important to know that the real Vince is also an asshole,” Oliver bluntly said. “Many fans legitimately hate him. While the WWE has made him a billionaire, many wrestlers say he’s treated him terribly.”
Oliver goes on to unpack the horrible contract presented to WWE wrestlers employed by McMahon — who aren’t even employees. They are considered independent contractors. Because of that, they lack a lot of health benefits, annual paid leave and benefits that are crucial for people in such a high-risk profession. Oliver points out that all other professional sporting organizations treat their employees better.
“It made sense when there were multiple [wrestling] organizations to call them contractors,” he said. “Now that the WWE has a chokehold on this industry it makes just as much to call them that as it does to call Jimmy Carter a ‘panty-dropping f*ck machine…it’s just clearly not true anymore.”
He also pointed out: “Even the NFL, for all its massive faults, now offers players health reimbursement accounts and has legitmate funding for older players who may be dealing with health issues. When you have lost the moral high ground to the f*cking NFL you are morally subterranean,” he jabbed.
He played many clips from retired wrestlers who have worked under McMahon. Bret “The Hitman” Hart, whose brother Owen died after a WWE stunt went wrong in 1999 (it was called the WWF back then), said that McMahon treated them like circus animals. Jesse “The Body” Ventura appeared on The Howard Stern Show to air out grievances during his time with the league. Oliver also pointed out that Ventura tried to unionize the WWE, which would have made working conditions better, but “McMahon stamped it out hard.”
Because there is no union, McMahon calls all the shots with ridiculous contract stipulations that include year-round work and the risk of getting terminated from work even if you are injured and can’t perform.
Although there has been some positive movement with working conditions, it still isn’t enough. Oliver points out that WWE’s caring and loyal fans of the power to make change. They have helped wrestlers like Jake “the Snake” Roberts (who also appeared in SXSW hit The Peanut Butter Falcon) get medical funds via an IndieGogo campaign when WWE wouldn’t. In fact, there have been many crowd-funded campaigns to help with healthcare and funeral arrangements for wrestlers — but “fans shouldn’t be shouldering that responsibility.”
With WrestleMania happening next Sunday, Oliver encouraged fans in the audience to make their voices be heard via signs and chants during the event so that McMahon can give these wrestlers better working conditions.
“Given that ‘business Hulk’ here is a billionaire on the broken backs of his non-employees, the very least he can do is show the same dedication to his wrestlers that they have shown to his company,” Oliver said.
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