Dear John Oliver,
First of all, I’m a huge fan.
I loved the Carlos Danger dance and sometimes recreate it in public. I’ve seen you perform live twice: once at my alma mater the University of Missouri (you chased an unknowing student out of the auditorium) and once from the front row of the Warner Theater in DC (you expressed horror at the fact that burritos fall from the sky of the Verizon Center like manna from heaven). My karaoke team (yes, that’s a thing) paid homage to your new show Last Week Tonight while singing “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies.
And as a socially conscious consumer and writer for Groundswell, I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to “steal” each other’s ideas from time to time. (Wink!)
Your segments on McDonald’s and the pharmaceutical industry have inspired my coverage of fast-food marketing fails and prescriptions for dealing with doctors who may be influenced by drug reps. Conversely, we at Groundswell covered the perils of fast fashion from multiple angles, so you can imagine how thrilled we were when you made it the main story on you show this May—and how relieved we were when you didn’t buy us lunch the next day!
You’ve used your celebrity to give a huge signal boost to issues that the public wouldn’t normally consider “sexy.” By appealing to consumers with comedy, you’ve been able to raise their conscience on a large scale. How many people knew—or cared—about the prison industrial complex or the horrors of FIFA before your show? Not many in America, that’s for sure.
But you haven’t caused this social shift with your superior wit and dashing good looks alone. Last Week Tonight encourages its audience to get involved in the issues they care about—through hashtag activism, content creation and sometimes by just getting creative with a diseased lung in a cowboy hat.
People feel empowered when they watch your show because it makes them realize there may be thousands, maybe millions, of people out there who feel the same way they do about social issues. And you encourage your audience to laugh and fight with you, not for you.
Last Week Tonight has become a brand of the people, and that’s powerful. When a brand celebrates the little guy’s values in the face of insurmountable odds, suddenly that guy doesn’t feel so little anymore.
For instance, when the Federal Communications Commission sought public comment about proposed net neutrality regulations, you summoned the Internet—trolls and all—to give their misspelled two cents to the FCC. And it worked! Not only did you get a shout-out by name in a later net neutrality hearing; but also, President Obama ultimately declared that the Internet is a public utility and net neutrality is here to stay.
You played an enormous role in making us take action, and that’s so powerful.
What I’m trying to say is: I hope we can continue to keep playing off each other’s messages. Groundswell loves you—and we’re so happy you’re making media more responsible. In fact, here are some issues I’d love to see brought to satirical light on Last Week Tonight. If you want, I’ll even help you write the bits!
1. The drought and water crises in California
This is the perfect example of an “un-sexy” topic that needs more national recognition. Most corporations don’t know what to do about the water crisis, but some unfortunately do know how to profit from it.
2. Ugly produce
Produce is like people; it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
You could give viewers an ethical reason for hating Brooklyn, and the tools to do something about it.
4. “Nude” clothing (How is that still a thing?)
If you really think about it, nude isn’t even a color; it’s a state of undress. And everyone’s skin is a different color once you get them down to their birthday suit. Calling one shade “nude” excludes people of color from feeling like a piece of clothing is made for them.
Thank you for doing what you do. By standing up to corruption and corporate interests through comedy, you’re truly doing your part to keep the little guy—and girl—out of danger.
All the best,
Stephanie Levy is a writer, editor, and web producer living in the D.C. area. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she has covered everything from education policy to dumpster-diving for beer (seriously).