British comedian and HBO talk show host John Oliver’s reservoir of material for audience yucks must be running dry—because, on Sunday, he resorted to bashing religion, a nonstarter in comedy.
Oliver’s regurgitation of debunked canards about the Church of Scientology, courtesy of has-been-actress-turned-hatemonger Leah Remini, puts him not only on the unfunny side of humor, but on the wrong side of history as well. As the saying goes, “When you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.”
Let this be a teaching moment for Mr. Oliver, whose ratings have plummeted in recent years and who has considered hanging up his comedic spurs after this season: When you throw hundreds of thousands of sincere people under the bus for a cheap chuckle, that whooshing noise you hear is the sound of your audience fleeing for the exits. A hater in the house will empty the place faster than shouting “FIRE!” And why not? Who wants to see someone badmouth a religion? After all, if Oliver is low enough to use one religion as a punchline, why would he stop there? Yours could be next.
“You can’t build jokes on sand.”
John Oliver, hailed by the Times of London last month as “the British comedy failure,” has a tendency to rant. He calls himself a teller of jokes but, in truth, he is a professional ranter. He rants and he rants. Over the years he has made a comfortable living ranting. People tune in and watch him rant, and when he’s done ranting, they tune out and watch something else.
Of his jokes (read “rants”), Oliver once said, “You can’t build jokes on sand. You can’t be wrong about something—otherwise that joke just disintegrates. ... You try to be as rigorous as you can in terms of fact-checking because your responsibility is to make sure that your joke is structurally sound.”
Given that Oliver’s anti-Scientology joke wasn’t “structurally sound” (or sound according to any other adverb), we can see that Oliver, here, has come up with an entirely new concept: “responsibility-based” slander. And when your fact-checker is Leah Remini, and your jokes are based on hate speech and lies, they disintegrate, just as Oliver said they would—and with them, so too does your career, along with any hope you may have had of leaving a legacy amounting to more than, well, sand.
The Bard—himself no slouch on the subject of humor—said it long ago: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” It’s a timeless epigram which we supplement with one of our own: “Bigotry exposes the twit.”