John Oliver, “Last Week Tonight,” and Social Media

By Angela Hart

John Oliver, the British comedian, former “The Daily Show” writer, and host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” has been paving a new path for satirical news programs. Incorporating pop culture jokes, running gags, and in-depth investigative pieces, Oliver has created a unique program. Additionally, “Last Week Tonight” utilizes what I call, "The YouTube Disaster Phenomenon," to encourage laughter, which is consistent with the show's satirical nature. 

YouTube

The thirty-minute program publishes a majority of their segments on YouTube, allowing people to access the content for free. As of August 24, 2015, “Last Week Tonight” has 2,143,926 YouTube subscribers, making it extremely popular. This online element allows people, who may not have an HBO subscription, view the program.

The piece Oliver did on the Televangelists was twenty minutes long and published on YouTube as a whole.

The statistics for the video are as follows:

Twitter

The “Last Week Tonight” Twitter account has over half a million viewers, 532,000. Oliver not only utilizes his Twitter account for advertising “Last Week Tonight” and the program’s content, but also tries to garner interest utilizing celebrity references and culturally-related jokes. For instance, on June 21, 2015, @LastWeekTonight tweeted #HALF A HEMSWORTH.” This tweet was meant to correspond with the joke Oliver told on air in reference to the Hemsworth brothers. Liam Hemsworth, who stars in “The Hunger Games” alongside Jennifer Lawrence, and Chris Hemsworth, who portrays Thor in the “Avengers” series by Marvel Comics. These two actors had nothing to do with the monologue, but provided a break in the dialogue in an attempt to make the audience laugh. “Last Week Tonight” then created the hashtag #HALFAHEMSWORTH in an attempt to engage the viewers on Twitter. Once a person went onto the “Last Week Tonight” Twitter account, to favorite this tweet, they may be more likely to continue scrolling down the page and view additional content.

Other instances of utilizing celebrity names included #KEEPITTIGHTTATUM and the ongoing joke pertaining to the casting of Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. Oliver will reference Dornan every so often and always cite the hashtag #NotMyChristian.

The “Last Week Tonight” team also attempts to utilize the Twitter platform to make the viewers laugh.

Additionally, by the normality of Twitter accounts, "Last Week Tonight" shares contact information for people to utilize prompting engagement among viewers. For instance, they shared the Iran Deal handle to encourage questions. 

Oliver even did a segment on corporations invading Twitter conversations. With the hashtag #WhyIStayed, DiGiorno tweeted, "You had pizza" and this infuriated Oliver who cited the inappropriate nature of trying to advertise one's product utilizing a domestic violence hashtag. 

To try and put a stop to corporations taking advantage of hashtags, "Last Week Tonight" developed a one hundred and forty-character tweet that companies could use.

This further prompted an online discussion of issues such as domestic violence, marketing techniques, and ethics. This tweet was retweeted 1,755 times and favorites 1,843 times, demonstrating that people were interested in the topic and became aware of companies advertising products utilizing hashtags that are not their own.

"Last Week Tonight" has created numerous hashtags to promote interest. #GoGetThoseGeckos, #noprankpledge, #jeffwecan, #jeffwestillcan, #jeffwheezecan, #notmychristian, #rejectedsharkmovietitles, #showusyourpeanuts, #lastweektofright, #realanimalsfakepaws, #mutallyassuredhumiliation, #rejectedscottishballots, #goodbyegeckos, #gogetthosegeckos, #gecku, and #chickentinders.

Vine

Interestingly, the “Last Week Tonight” Vine account only has one post, which was an attempt to get John Boehner’s attention. In the video, Oliver asks, “Mr. Speaker, how specifically would you raise revenue for the U.S. Highway Trust Fund?”

As of August 24, 2015, this video had 11,500 likes, 1,454 reshares, and 2,641,469 loops. “Last Week Tonight” created a Vine account specifically for their segment on infrastructure, in which John Boehner oversees the issue. Since Boehner has a Vine account and updates it frequently, it was logical to try and contact him via Vine, since no other method of contact had been successful; email, Twitter, and so forth.

Leap Second Countdown

Personally, my favorite social media element was creating a website to honor the leap second. On June 30th at 11:59:59 PM (UTC), the atomic clocks added an extra second to the day. The website consisted of a single button in which a person could click it for a random one-second video.

By having something this simple offered, “Last Week Tonight” encouraged people to take a moment to learn what a leap second was, educating them in the process, and also have fun in the process. After clicking on it several times, I saw one-second videos that included Mariah Carey’s dog and cat fighting, Nicolas Cage in a bear suit, Bob Ross saying, “We will make a happy little cloud,” and a mascot falling on its face. The commentator ended the video saying, “Thank you for wasting it with us.” All of the videos were of a humorous manner, falling under, what I call, “The YouTube Disaster Phenomenon,” in which people watch all sorts of embarrassing and injury-related videos. “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has been airing segments such as this for over twenty-five years. Now, MTV has “Ridiculousness,” which follows a similar format. By having such short humorous clips, “Last Week Tonight” wants viewers to laugh, which consists of the show’s satirical nature, and remember what a leap second is for future reference.

Conclusion

Unlike previous satires, Oliver has expanded the realm of his show’s reach. “Last Week Tonight’s” extensive use of social media promotes engaged and informed viewers, wide-reaching appeal, and additional information to enhance one’s learning. By offering links to conduct one’s own research, Oliver and his team are further promoting a call to action wanting people to participate in politics and important events around them.