The words that flow out of John Oliver's mouth, unlike that of a parrot, are generally clever and original. But according to at least one online commenter, the "Last Week Tonight" host resembles the phrase-mimicking bird.
"John Oliver's face does look like a parrot :)" someone opined under a YouTube video of a recent "Last Week Tonight" segment on nuclear weaponry.
Oliver, in a meta move, mocked the commenter and his other YouTube detractors in a YouTube video that's logged more than a million views since Monday. "Why isn't his TV show more about wanting crackers? It makes no sense!" Oliver said, riffing off the parrot insult.
At first glance, the video, cheekily titled “Fan Mail Vol. 1,” seems a tad out of place on the YouTube channel of the latest entry in the fake news game, a genre that usually targets newsmakers, not faceless commenters. But the spot is all too timely, coming amid the online cruelty that pushed Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, to leave social media temporarily after his death and the feeding frenzy spurred by the illicit release of private images of Jennifer Lawrence and other female stars.
The Internet can be a great equalizer – a positive in most respects, for giving everybody with online access a voice. But the downside bubbles up from the ooze, via a vocal minority of bitter trolls trying to drag the rest of us into their mire. We appear to be in a deep muck period, perhaps explaining, in part, why Oliver's video is resonating with YouTube viewers.
Oliver, as a comedian, opens himself up to ridicule – and he’s been called far worse than a parrot (he highlighted a comment in Spanish whose only non-profane phrase translated to "make me sick”). He also poked fun at himself, via a spelling-challenged supporter who said of him, "This guy is BRILLENT!" (“That warms my heart because finally someone saw me for me," Oliver replied.)
He correctly predicted his YouTube video would “amass enough hateful vitriol for us to fill a follow-up." The segment has drawn some 3,000 comments, many of them negative – “So far, you are boring. Just End your Talk Show” is one of the more printable entries.
Oliver doesn’t appear to be leaving his HBO perch anytime soon. While the program began in April looking like a clone of “The Daily Show,” where his star rose when subbing for Jon Stewart last summer, Oliver has worked hard to distinguish his new gig (cases in point: his net neutrality explanation and call to action, and his jamming his set with Bill Nye and other climate change-believing scientists). The "Fan Mail" video, which uses humor to tackle increasingly disturbing online cruelty without being (too) cruel, marks his latest attempt to live up to his “brillent” billing.
As Oliver gets set to return to "Last Week Tonight" Sunday after a short break, check out his video above.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.