Abortion Rights: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the ongoing fallout from the overturning of Roe v. Wade as the November elections approach.
Abortion Rights Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 16
Aired on November 5, 2023

Main segment: Abortion rights in the 2023 United States elections
Other segments: 2023 New Zealand Bird of the Year Election

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been a busy week. Israel continued to reject calls for even a humanitarian pause until its hostages are returned, while its relentless bombing of Gaza hit both a refugee camp and an ambulance. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty on seven counts of fraud and conspiracy, and Ron DeSantis continued to be dogged by allegations that he wears lifts in his boots, something that prompted this actual politico headline, “3 expert shoemakers say Ron DeSantis is probably wearing height boosters,” and Donald Trump to share an image captioned “tell me he’s not wearing hidden heels.” Well, this week, DeSantis responded to that with his trademark wit.

I know Donald Trump and a lot of his people have been focusing on things like footwear. I’ll tell you this. You know, if Donald Trump can summon the balls to show up to the debate, I’ll wear a boot on my head. This is a time for substance.

John: What? Okay, first, you can’t claim it’s a time for substance just after promising to wear a boot on your head. But second, you’re so bad at this. Even if you weren’t running against one of the world’s greatest bullies, it looks so pathetic that you thought that was a good comeback. Never before has a politician had such “kid with the rolling backpack, wearing a tie to class” energy. And look, there’ll be plenty of time to talk about the 2024 elections, in 2024. But we’re going to dive straight into our main story tonight, which concerns the elections happening around the country in two days. There’s the usual barrage of negative campaign ads happening right now, perhaps none more memorable than this one, in a Pennsylvania D.A. Race.

You’ve seen those motivational signs people have in their offices? Matt Dugan’s office had a sign, too. As reported by KDKA announcer, it reads: “F*ck the police.”

John: Wow. That is a striking ad. Now, Dugan’s pushed back on that, saying that’s not his office, it belonged to a different attorney. But if so, I now want to know everything about them instead, because they have to be the only person in the world who has a “f*ck the police” sign next to a bobblehead of what appears to be James Madison. Not just that, that’s next to a statue of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, who in turn is next to a bobblehead of Teddy Roosevelt. Those are not usually shared interests. That fascinating individual contains multitudes. But while some local races are understandably focused on “live, laugh, fuck the police” office signage, many others will be focused on reproductive rights. Abortion is a huge issue in the Kentucky governor’s race, and the race to control Virginia’s state senate. And in Ohio, there’s an amendment on the ballot to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution. So tonight, let’s talk about abortion. As you know, 16 months ago, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade. And since then it may’ve been tempting — especially if you live in a state unimpacted by the Dobbs ruling — to avoid watching the fallout from it too closely, knowing how depressing it’d be. And I’ll be honest, things are bleak. But it’s important to understand exactly how bleak. Currently, 14 states have enacted near total abortion bans and two have imposed six-week limits. And those bans have prompted many to desperately try to maintain abortion access for those who need it, and sometimes in truly imaginative ways.

A California doctor is proposing a floating abortion clinic as a way to bypass laws in some states that are restricting the procedure. She says the clinic would operate on a boat floating in federal waters just off the Gulf of Mexico, so technically making it out of reach to any state laws here.

John: Wow, lawless territory, no rules, anything goes. It’s not only a foolproof plan, it’s also the premise for the movie Money Plane. No, you didn’t hallucinate that during peak COVID. There really was a film about a casino in the sky full of thieves, cartels, and arms dealers, who can never be arrested because the money plane is always moving in international airspace. If you haven’t seen it, you should frankly stop watching this show right now, and go watch that instead. If you pop an edible immediately, it should start to kick in right around when you meet the film’s villain, Darius Emmanuel Grouch the third, a.k.a. The Rumble, played by Kelsey Grammer, and he explains the “money plane” like this.

Whatever you want to wager on, the “money plane” has you covered. You wanna bet on a dude fucking an alligator? “Money plane.”

John: Yeah. Fucking yes. That movie is real. It’s the Frasier reboot we deserved. Anyway, back to abortion. The Dobbs decision caused immediate confusion and panic. Especially in states that had “trigger laws” already on the books, which kicked in almost immediately, causing chaos for both patients and abortion providers.

As soon as we heard the decision, we closed everything down, leaving over 70 women in Wisconsin with appointments that we weren’t able to do for them.

I remember asking, “when is the law gonna change? How much time do we have to get ready for it?” And they started to text back and say, “the law has actually changed right now.”

You know, we called patients, it’s, like, I’m already on my way. And they thought, well, I’m already on my way. It’ll be okay. And it’s, like, no, it’s immediate. It’s immediate.

John: Look, someone canceling plans when you’re already on your way is annoying in any circumstance, but it’s different when that plan is an abortion. If dinner plans fall through, that’s a bummer, but at least it won’t end with something alien-ing out of your body. Unless, that is, you reschedule that dinner to Long John Silver’s. Now, thankfully, abortion remains legal in many states, so at least theoretically, someone needing one can travel to one of those states instead. But as this doctor points out, in practice, that can be incredibly difficult.

We have such inequality that, for some, it’s as easy as, okay, let’s take a weekend trip to Colorado to get your abortion. And for someone else, it’s a completely life-altering thing that you have no control over, and you’re forced to give birth. The trajectory of those two people’s lives are completely different.

John: It’s true. For many, traveling across state lines isn’t feasible — even before you consider that, in states where abortion remains legal, it’s not like they’ve had a sudden surge in providers to handle out-of-state patients. So there are now significant backlogs, meaning that women who travel to another state may have more difficulty getting appointments, and it may even become hard for those living in some states where it remains legal. Which clearly isn’t great! Abortion isn’t one of those things you can keep putting off indefinitely, like taking up pottery or figuring out who these guys are and why they’re like that. I say this with zero malice, by the way. They seem very wholesome. I just don’t really understand what their whole deal is. I am gonna get around to it, but to be honest, it’s not a priority. And some are resorting to drastic measures. Listen to this woman who did manage to get across state lines to New Mexico for an abortion, describe what’s happened to her friends who weren’t able to.

What would you have done if you couldn’t come to New Mexico for an abortion?

God, who knows? ‘Cause I was already asking people like, hey, what could I do? I’ve known some women to just kind of take it into their own hands and do, like, their own abortion. Like I had a friend tell me she drank a cap of bleach, you know? I had another woman tell me, girl, like just take a whole bunch of vitamin C.

John: Listen, there are a lot of very good secret tips that women rightly share with each other like, “bananas are good for cramps” or “lipstick works as blush in a pinch” or “block coach Brett from your Instagram stories.” But “drink bleach or vitamin C to end a pregnancy” is not one of them. And unfortunately, dangerous measures like those may now become more common, as anti-abortion activists have no intention of stopping their push for restrictions. For example, they’re also going after medication abortions, which are estimated to make up half of all abortions. A lawsuit to revoke the FDA’s approval of mifepristone — one of two key drugs in medication abortions — is currently working its way through the courts. And if that were to succeed, it wouldn’t just impact states with abortion bans, it would affect access across the entire country. So, abortion law in America is currently a complete clusterfuck, with many confused, and others considering drinking bleach. And yet, the people who wrote and passed these laws, like this Texas state legislator, will insist it’s all worth it, based on who, precisely and exclusively, they protect.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of people who would have chosen to have an abortion now don’t have that choice.

That’s right.

What do you say to those people?

Those are thousands and thousands of little babies that are now alive. We are a very safe place for little babies.

What about women?

We are very safe space for little — for women as well.

John: Oops, nearly said the quiet part out loud there, didn’t we? Also, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when “but what about women?” Genuinely counts as a gotcha question. Because for the record: abortion bans are, objectively, not safe for women, and can needlessly put them through hell. Take what happened to this woman in Texas, whose ultrasound not only revealed no chance of survival for the fetus, but also potentially life-threatening complications for her.

Kailee’s doctor was clear.

When he’s born, he’s going to suffocate to death. He may live for a few minutes, he may live for an hour, but he’s going to die.

Her doctors said they could not perform an abortion, noting in her records, “termination is not legal in the state of Texas.”

How could you be so cruel as to pass a law that you know will hurt women and that you know will cause babies to be born in pain? He was going to die a painful death. So how is that humane? How is that saving anybody?

They desperately want to have another baby, but there’s a high likelihood something will go wrong again.

The last time I saw my ob, she said, “do not get pregnant in Texas right now.”

John: Wow. That’s not only devastating, it is a truly horrible thing to have to add to the list of things pregnant women are not safe to do. So it’s now officially: ride a rollercoaster, eat sushi, dye your roots, and simply “exist in the state of Texas.” Medical professionals are now finding themselves caught in the middle between trying to do what they know is medically right for their patients while also not running afoul of the law, or having their license revoked. One doctor said her colleagues were so unsure of whether or not they could legally recommend their patients seek abortions elsewhere that they resorted to saying things like “the weather’s really nice in New Mexico right now. You should go check it out.” Or, “I’ve heard traveling to Colorado is really nice this time of year.” Which isn’t just absurd, I’m not even sure those are effective hints. New Mexico and Colorado are two of the most objectively beautiful states in the nation. That could just be a nice vacation tip. Now, if the doctors were recommending visiting Newark or New Jersey, or saying, “I’ve heard buffalo’s nice this time of year,” then sure, you’d know something else was clearly being communicated. And while you might think doctors facing emergency situations should simply take it upon themselves to quietly perform abortions anyway, as this ob-gyn points out, it’s just not that simple.

Some people say, “well, doctors should just do it. You should just go take that patient to the or, and do that abortion.” I don’t know of any doctor who does an abortion just by themselves. It requires an anesthesia team, a nursing team, supervising team to get you into the or. So, in order for somebody to — to agree with me as I want to take that patient to the or, there’s lots of other people who are going to weigh in, too, and be scared and say, “no, no, we have to wait for legal to sign off.” And that’s when people die.

John: Holy shit. “We have to wait for legal to sign off” is not something you want to hear before receiving urgent medical care. That’s something that we say when we want to show this photo while saying the sentence, “sex crimes are bad,” or playfully accuse a coal baron of being the Zodiac killer. I shouldn’t joke about that, though. I’m sure Bob Murray is probably a lot more sympathetic to black lung victims now that he’s burning in hell. But the larger point remains that even if you do have one doctor willing to break the law and assume the risks, you still might not have a whole team. Abortions are like improv. Everyone involved has to be fully on board. And if just one person doesn’t commit, it’s over. Also, even when it goes well, you’re like, “okay. That was fine. Can I go home now? Please don’t make me come back next week.” And the crushing thing is, that doctor isn’t even being overly cautious there. Because while these laws do have exceptions in instances where the life of the mother is in danger, there’s a huge difference between “life” of the mother and “health” of the mother. All of these states have near-total abortion bans that do not make exceptions considering the health of the mother. But even in states that do have those exceptions, they’re often written so vaguely or narrowly that doctors can be unsure how to apply them. Take Texas again, where health exceptions only apply for a few highly specific conditions. So doctors are waiting until a patient is at actual risk of imminent death to intervene. Listen to this woman describe what she went through after a fatal fetal condition was diagnosed during her pregnancy.

I had to wait until one of three things happened. Either her heart stopped beating, I went into labor naturally, or I became so sick that my life was in danger. And at that point, because of the laws, the doctors would be able to induce me, and we could begin the delivery process. I was first diagnosed on Tuesday, and it took until Friday for one of those three things to occur. And for me, what happened was, I got really, really sick, really, really fast. Obviously, we live in the middle of Texas, which is a giant state. So, to get out of Texas, and to get to a neighboring state where we could have gotten healthcare, we would’ve either had to drive at least eight hours or fly somewhere.

John: Okay, just so we’re all perfectly clear, when we say that these laws take away people’s right to control their own body. This is what we’re talking about. She had to wait from Tuesday to Friday to get close enough to dying to be saved. Preemptively choosing to save her own life was illegal in her state, a state that, remember, this man says is safe for little — sorry, for women. And when you take all of this into account, it’s no wonder that women in states with abortion bans are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or soon after. And this is only exacerbated for people of color, who already faced significant disparities in maternal and infant health before the Dobbs decision. And at this point, let’s talk about who is making these laws. Because the rhetoric around the Dobbs decision was that it simply “returned decisions on abortion to the states.” Which is a very nice way to say it was removing decisions from individuals and their doctors, and place them in the hands of state legislators. And those politicians are now legislating medicine without even a modicum of medical understanding. Which is understandably incredibly frustrating for people like this ob-gyn.

There’s the feeling that your expertise — no one cares. [Laughs] no one cares. Went to school for 12 years of my life, done this for 33 years, but that guy from down south in Oklahoma, he’s never picked up a medical textbook in his life, he knows all about it. I mean, there’s — you definitely feel no one cares what you think as an expert. No one cares.

John: Right, and I’d give literally anything for legislators in Oklahoma to have to explain their reasoning to this doctor, who laughs like a woman who has spent 45 years of her life smiling on the outside and saying “go fuck yourself” on the inside. Which I do realize sounds like the title of a guide to being a woman in America. And it’s not just that those pushing these laws are non-experts — they’re also overwhelmingly being pushed by people who can’t get pregnant, either. When it comes to those so-called “trigger laws” that banned abortion so quickly after Dobbs, 84% of the lawmakers who sponsored them were men, and look — clearly, they’re the key problem here. But let’s also take a second for the 16% of lawmakers who were women. Because if you’re a woman voting against abortion access, you are — and I’m told that this is the meanest thing this voice is allowed to say — not a girl’s girl. And some of those male legislators truly didn’t know what they were doing — and that’s by their own admission. This Idaho Republican voted for an abortion ban and has since had second thoughts about how broad it really is. But listen to him explain just how little thought he put into his original decision.

It really wasn’t up high on my radar, other than I’m a pro-life guy, and I ran that way, but I didn’t see it as it had a real — having a real big community impact.

Then he started talking with local doctors.

What I’m wondering is, for you personally, did you think about abortion as it relates to obstetric care for pregnant women?

No, I don’t think I — you know, it’s like anything. You get exposed to something and, all of a sudden, you go, wow, there’s a different way to look at this.

John: Look, part of me wants to welcome that man’s ability to recognize his own blind spots there. But are you really saying you didn’t think about how your vote would affect literally half of your constituents? You’re a fucking legislator. That’s not a cute little oopsie. It’s not like joking that Timothee Chalamet could play a young willy wonka and the studio immediately greenlit it and now you have to figure out what the fuck that means. That is a dereliction of duty. So, what do we do now? Well, first, do feel free to scream — into a pillow, when you’re on the bus, on the kiss cam at a basketball game. There’s no inappropriate time to be screaming about this. But know that we can also still act here. Some have taken some small steps in the last year that are, if nothing else, immensely satisfying — like this one, that was covered by a catholic news network.

An international group named after satan will soon open its first abortion business in the United States. The satanic temple, which claims to “not believe in a literal satan,” will provide telehealth screenings and prescribe abortion pills for patients in New Mexico. The name of the soon to be facility? Samuel Alito’s mom’s satanic abortion clinic.

[Cheers and applause]

John: Incredible. Very well-played. Now, is that going to fix everything? Of course not. But when it comes to responding to such wide-spreading devastation, you could do a lot worse than the single best “your mom” joke of all time. Especially when you add in that one of that group’s cofounders even said, in 1950, Samuel Alito’s mother did not have options, and look what happened. But the most important thing for you to do right now is — and I apologize in advance for even saying this — to vote. Abortion rights are — for all the attacks on them — still widely popular. Six states have had abortion-related measures on the ballot since Dobbs, and in all six, voters preserved access to abortion. And that was even true in red states like Montana, Kansas, and Kentucky. This is genuinely a case where voting can have immediate, and lasting, effect. To that end, as I’ve mentioned, there are some important elections on Tuesday where it’s going to be crucial to continue that streak. If you live in Virginia, democrats lost the house and governor’s seat in 2021, but still control the state senate. And only because of that were they able, earlier this year they were able to stop three bills that would have restricted abortion. But if they lose the Senate next week, that will clearly change. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the incumbent governor, Andy Beshear is being challenged by conservative AG Daniel Cameron — who you might remember from disastrous handling of the Breonna Taylor case. He’s also said in a questionnaire circulated by an anti-abortion group that he’d support codifying personhood from the moment of fertilization, and criminalizing providers who perform abortions. And while all that’s obviously terrible — how exactly does he intend to enforce life beginning “at fertilization?” Does everyone have to fuck in front of him? No thank you very much, Daniel! The only Kentuckian who should enjoy that privilege is the colonel. And no, not that one — I’m talking about the Reba colonel. There we go. Sir, madam, enby icon: it would be an honor and a privilege to fornicate in your presence. And finally, if you live in Ohio, a ballot measure on Tuesday would enshrine a right to abortion in your state’s constitution. It’s a measure that’s currently being targeted by its opponents in some wildly misleading campaign ads.

The abortion industry’s proposed amendment would allow no limit abortions in ohio, abortions when the baby can feel pain, excruciating pain. On top of that, the same radical groups want to tear at the fabric that holds our families together, allow our children to get abortions without our consent and remove all protections for the unborn. As parents, it’s our worst nightmare.

John: Wow, that ad’s argument is basically, “abortion rights are an assault on the traditional American family: “a father, a mother, and another mother who’s twelve.” Also, if, as a parent, your worst nightmare is your child getting pregnant and not having to stay that way if they don’t want to, I don’t know, I guess we just have different nightmares. Because there’s an objectively correct hierarchy of parental fears and it’s: one, losing one of your children. Two, something terrible happening to one of your children. Three, losing one of them but not in a dead way, in the “oh, fuck, I can’t find them” way and then you have to decide whether to look for them on your own, or let someone know immediately that they’re missing. Because if something’s really wrong, you’re going to need help. But if they’re just kind of around looking for Lego sets, you don’t want to announce to the target employees that you’re a negligent parent who misplaced your child. Number four, your children hating you for exactly the person you are, that’s not because of any misunderstanding or anything. Your kids know exactly what you’re about and they justifiably want nothing to do with you. And finally, number five, your child gets really good at swimming. Because that means you have to take them to the pool by 5 a.m. Every other morning for 10 fucking years. A child exercising bodily autonomy is nowhere near a worst nightmare scenario. Except for maybe the swimming thing. Look, this past year and a half has clearly been devastating when it comes to abortion rights. And to be clear, I’m not just talking about the quote “unintended consequences” around wanted pregnancies. I’m talking about the intended ones for unwanted pregnancies, too. An abortion is a medical decision between a patient and their doctor, full stop. And it’s maddening to see some push to make their states safe for little babies, while also making it far more dangerous for the people they grow up to be. But the hope here, and there actually is hope, is that as much as the needs, lives, and choices of women have been dismissed, is also how much their anger and tenacity has been underestimated. You’ve seen doctors and medical professionals offering their selves and services. And you’ve seen people like these, bravely and selflessly reliving private, often difficult moments, to educate and galvanize others. So many people have been working tirelessly to make this better. And I wish they didn’t have to. I wish they could devote their lives and talents to something besides publicly fighting for basic, necessary healthcare. But they can’t. Because this is an emergency. And one that requires action from all of us. And hopefully, one day, we can eventually get to a place where people who want to end a pregnancy, save their own life, or make any other medical or reproductive decision about their own body, will not have to seek out the same legal loopholes that the “money plane” provides for those who want to bet on a dude fucking an alligator in front of Frasier.


John: Moving on. Finally tonight, a quick word about New Zealand. A vast fantasy world that was invented by J.R.R. Tolkien to be the filming location for The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, I’d like to talk about a very important election there. Not their general election, which happened three weeks ago and no one noticed. No, I’m talking about this.

It’s the big day. Candidates are being woken up and assessed for their campaign readiness. Voting is due to run for two weeks. Supporters of each bird are hoping in that time enough New Zealanders share their vision of what could be.

Call yourself a kiwi? Vote Kiwi, bird of the century.

John: yes, it’s New Zealand’s bird of the century competition. And kudos for stealing the theme from “veep” there, to really drive home the gravity of the contest. Because this is a big deal. New Zealanders love birds. They’re famously known as “kiwis,” after the kiwi bird. And birds feature prominently on their currency. Which is frankly much better than what U.S. Bills have on them, which is “assorted racists and trace amounts of cocaine.” New Zealand also has a lot of unique birds. A 2017 government report found that of the 168 species of native birds in New Zealand, 93 were endemic, meaning they’re found nowhere else. But in the past couple of centuries, the numbers of native birds there have dropped dramatically. That’s why the conservation organization Forest & Bird started a “bird of the year” competition back in 2005 to raise awareness of native birds and the threats they face. And this year, it’s “bird of the century,” which is clearly the biggest one yet. But for a well-meaning competition, it’s actually been a bit of a lightning rod for controversy in the past. Just take the reaction to what happened ahead of last year’s contest.

The world’s fattest parrot, the kakapo, has been kicked out. Melissa, why?

Well, because it’s won two times previously, 2020 and 2008.

Too big for its boots.

Well, what they’re worried about is that it’s taking the spotlight from lesser-known birds.

John: it’s true, this bird, the kakapo, was disqualified because it had already won twice. Which is bullshit. We don’t do that for other awards. “Sorry, Beyonce, but since you’ve already won 32 Grammys, you’re disqualified from now on so that someone worse than you can win. I hope you understand!” Besides, the kakapo earned those wins. It’s the world’s fattest parrot. And if you’re not already on board: they’re also friendly, and they smell nice. Those are two qualities I have never associated with any bird, present company included. And perhaps most importantly of all, the kakapo gifted the world with this incredible clip.

A typical male, sirocco is clearly only interested in one thing.

Oh, hello!

Oh, look at that!

Ow! God, he’s got sharp claws.

He’s getting a bit frisky.

Ow, ow!

Do you think it is a — he’s actually attempting a sort of mating ritual? He is? Oh, Mark, you are being shagged!

Ow, wow it’s sharp.

Look, he’s so happy! I’m sorry, but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. You are being shagged by a rare parrot. He thinks you are a female.


He’s really going for it. Wow, you’ve chosen him. Is it — actually, you are in pain, aren’t you?

John: Spectacular. Just spectacular. Though spare a thought for that kakapo. I know he looks happy there but can you imagine how insecure he also must have felt? Imagine this: you’ve just met someone that you instantly connect with, you bring them back to your place, undress, get in bed, start to have sex — you know what, no, make love. But the whole time Stephen Fry is right next to you pointing, laughing, and saying “this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen?” Then someone takes that sexual humiliation and puts it up on YouTube, where it’s viewed 25 million times? Then, some asshole on HBO shows it to his studio audience, and they all laugh, too? The very fact that this bird has been able to keep himself aroused, humping, and focused on his partner, that zoologist’s head, is, frankly, heroic to me. But amazingly, the kakapo’s disqualification was actually a step up from 2021, when there was an absolute uproar after a bat was awarded bird of the year. Specifically, this absolute goober of a bat, the long-tailed bat. And forget bird of the year, I wouldn’t even give that bat “bat of the year.” Apparently it “technically qualified” because it was entered using the term Manu, the Maori word for bird, which generally means winged creature. But come on. Just because it has wings, that’s good enough? Voters shouldn’t use the same criteria as someone boarding a Southwest Airlines flight. And believe it or not, the year before, there was yet another scandal.

New Zealand’s bird of the year competition has been rocked with revelations of a slew of fraudulent votes streamed in overnight for the little spotted kiwi which pushed it into an unexpected and false lead.

John: Yeah, bird voter fraud! And I think my favorite part about that is the news anchor calling the little spotted Kiwi’s lead “unexpected.” Because that is an excellent bird neg. “Yeah, obviously everyone was shocked when they saw the little spotted kiwi in the lead and immediately knew something was afoot. Obviously, there’s no way this little flightless freak could ever win anything legitimately, except maybe a fucked-up ferret lookalike contest.” And the thing is, there actually have been a number of vote-stuffing scandals over the years. In 2015, two 15-year-old twins used their parents’ business email account to make hundreds of fake emails, to vote over 200 times for the kokako — this blue thing. Then, two years later, another voter fraud attempt was discovered when over a hundred fraudulent votes were cast for the white-faced heron — something Forest & Bird took in stride, saying: “we’re not mad, just impressed that someone cares enough about New Zealand’s native birds to rig the competition.” And I’m glad they weren’t mad but I definitely am. Because this fucking thing doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the bird of the year award. It looks like a pigeon took anabolic steroids. I hate this bird! But this all speaks to how much the people of New Zealand justifiably love this competition. There are campaign managers for each bird candidate, and the electioneering can be intense. In 2019, the campaign for the Rockhopper created a series of movie parody posters, including “Rocky Hopper Picture Show” and “School of Rockhopper.” Which are both clearly excellent. But my favorite endorsement came from adult toy megastore — an online retailer which campaigned for the hihi bird, claiming that the “male hihi have the largest testicles in the bird world” and “the hihi is the sex-positive polyamorous idol of the bird world with the biggest balls to boot.” There are even honest-to-god bird of the year debates, where campaigners face off against each other.

I would like you to do your best impression of your bird’s call. So, we’re gonna start with frances. Good luck.

Reeeeh! Reeeeeeh!

Ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee! Ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee!

Eee! Eee! Eee!

John: That’s a real debate on New Zealand radio! And just imagine turning that debate on midway through, without hearing the question. It’d sound like you’re listening to an orgy of haunted dolls. Now, at this point, you might be thinking, “wow, I wish there was a bird of the year competition this spectacular here in the U.S. That we could participate in.” And well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is: there isn’t. The good news is: New Zealand’s contest is not actually restricted to just New Zealand. Anyone in the world can vote, as long as they have a valid email. And not just that. Forest & Bird themselves say they “encourage anyone who is passionate about their favorite native bird to campaign throughout the competition.” And by now, I’m pretty sure you know where this is going. Because we are hereby announcing ourselves as the official campaign manager for what we believe to be the best candidate for New Zealand’s bird of the century. I’m talking, of course, about the puteketeke, also known as the Australian crested grebe. Look at this beauty! It looks like Pauly d fucked a swan. Even its name is even fun to say. Puteketeke. Puteketeke. It feels like your tongue is tap-dancing. And there are so many fun facts about it, like the fact that they’re known for carrying their babies on their backs like this, which, yes, is adorable. And both parents will incubate the eggs and tend to the chicks. They give each other space to co-parent. They don’t stifle each other, you know? And you want elegance? I’ll give you elegance. They have a mating dance where they both grab a clump of wet grass and chest-bump each other, before standing around, unsure of what to do next. I have never identified with anything more in my fucking life. [Laughter and cheering] Puteketekes also — and this is true — eat their own feathers by the hundreds to protect their stomachs during digestion, and then will throw up a ball of feathers and fish bones. They’re weird puking birds with colorful mullets! What’s not to love here? And there’s another reason that you should vote for the puteketeke, and that’s that its existence is under threat. It’s estimated that its New Zealand population numbers fewer than 1,000 birds. And yet, tragically, it’s never won bird of the year before. Although, to be honest, it’s also never had us campaigning for it before, has it? And I do think we can do this. Last year, when the rock wren won, it did so with 2,894 number one votes, so I’m pretty sure we can beat. Especially because we’ve put together a campaign which could reasonably be described as “alarmingly aggressive.” First, we put up ads in New Zealand promoting the puteketeke as “the lord of the wings,” which is already very exciting. But look, we didn’t stop there. Because remember, the potential voters are every single inhabitant of earth. So for the last week, there’s also been a bunch of billboards up in the center of Mumbai, India. Look at them! There they are! A city of over 12 million people — that’s a lot of potential votes right there. We also designed this striking animated ad in Japan, in the center of Tokyo, in the so-called “busiest crossing in the world,” so hopefully that should bring in a few votes, too. Now, we tried to get this poster put up in Paris, but they wouldn’t do it, because the bird was smoking, and apparently cigarettes are apparently banned in advertising there, which seems ridiculous, considering the entire population of France smokes. So we reluctantly tweaked it and put this non-smoking version up on the Champs Elysee, right next to the Arc de Triomphe, which has frankly never looked better. Meanwhile, in London, we made this mobile ad telling everyone there to “help us crown a real king,” and drove it right past the houses of parliament and all around the city. And if you’re thinking, “that’s great, John, but what about Brazil? Surely you did something in Brazil!” Don’t worry, if you were on Ipanema Beach this week, you might’ve seen this plane flying around, with a “vote for the puteketeke” ad hanging right off the back of it. And finally, just to push us over the top, we also put up this billboard in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Because hey, not everyone lives in big cities. And if you live in Manitowoc, we need your support, too. The point is, we’re going all out for this thing. [Cheers and applause] because I don’t just want the puteketeke to win — I want it to win in the biggest landslide in the history of this magnificent competition. I want it to do to other bird of the century candidates what the puteketeke does to fish in New Zealand’s lakes — that is, eat them alive, and then throw them back up in a ball of feathers. Because there’s frankly no bird on earth more deserving of the title “bird of the century” than this one right here. I mean, look at this thing! It’s in your hands. So please — stop it — before the contest closes at the end of this week, go to and select the puteketeke as your number one vote! You need to use a real email address and then verify your vote. Do it! Because after all, this is what democracy is all about: america interfering in foreign elections! No matter where you are on earth, make sure you vote for this adorably weird bird freak and together, let’s make bird history!

[Cheers and applause]

That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. We’ll see you next week. Goodnight! Puteketeke! Puteketeke!

[Cheers and applause]

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