Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 18
Aired on November 18, 2023
Main segment: Dollar stores
Other segments: Results of the 2023 New Zealand Bird of the Year Election, Controversies in the 118th United States Congress
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[Cheers and applause]
John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver, thanks for joining us. It’s been a busy week. Biden met with Xi Jinping, King Charles celebrated his 75th birthday while looking at least 97, and George Santos announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election after an ethics committee report he disputes found — among other things — he’d used campaign donations for personal purchases on botox, Sephora, and OnlyFans. And honestly? I like him now, and I think he should stay. Meanwhile, Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion continued in Gaza, and the discourse on it here reached its absolute nadir when Fox Business welcomed Fabio for a 10-minute interview on the subject, including this wild digression concerning Hamas.
These people, they find so much pleasure to kill, just the worst. 10,000 times worse than the nazis, you know? And also, they advertise, they publicize, they are so happy, “hey, I killed 10 jew, I did that” — you know, it’s like, at least the nazis, they kept it kind of quiet.
John: What? Hold on, Fabio. Far be it for me to contradict a noted geopolitical expert and former “I can’t believe it’s not butter” spokesperson, but — “at least the nazis kept it kind of quiet?” The nazis kept it many things. They kept it punctual. They kept it blonde. They kept it humorless. And yes, they kept it tight. They were well-tailored pieces of shit. But subtlety was — famously — not their calling card, Fabio.
But, we’re going to focus on Congress, which before recessing this week passed a continuing resolution “to keep the government open” into the new year. But, in the runup, things got pretty weird. First, there was a tense confrontation between Oklahoma senator Markwayne Mullin, and the head of the teamsters, Sean O’Brien. They’d gone back and forth online a few months ago, with O’Brien saying, “Quit the tough guy act in these senate hearings. You know where to find me. Anyplace, anytime cowboy. #Littlemansyndrome,” with an image of Mullin standing on a box at a debate. Well, this week, Mullin answered that challenge.
Sir, this is a time, this is a place. If you want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults, we can finish it here.
Okay, that’s fine, perfect.
You want to do it now?
I’d love to do it right now.
Well stand your butt up then.
You stand your butt up. [Crosstalk]
Stop it, stop it. Sit down — you know, you’re a United States senator.
John: That voice was Bernie Sanders, and respectfully Bernie, shut up. I mean, it is nice to hear you call for a ceasefire — a lot of us thought you’d forgotten how to do that — but shut up. I want to see anabolic Jim Halpert get his ass handed to him. Because, do you know who Sean O’Brien is? He’s a fourth-generation Boston teamster. He basically came out of the womb wearing brass knuckles. I want to see Senator anger management get his jock rocked by Beantown’s Mr. Clean. That’s what I want! And, while Bernie did stop the fighting, he couldn’t stop the pettiness.
He made a lot of statements, right? And, his statements are fiction, at best.
Fiction? I read ’em!
[Mocking noise] What?
Answer the question, please.
I can’t understand him, to be honest with you.
John: That’s so childish, it’s actually brilliant. O’Brien’s got the demeanor of a mob boss, the body of a fire hydrant, and the insults of a five-year-old. And amazingly, it still wasn’t over. Because, Mullin actually challenged O’Brien to a charity fight, and later said this.
I’m not afraid of biting. I will bite.
If I’m in a fight, I’m going to bite, I’ll do anything. I mean, I’m not above it. And, I don’t care where I bite, by the way. It just is gonna be a bite.
John: You don’t care where you bite? There’s simply no other way to interpret that than Mullin’s going to bite him in the dick. And, how is that tough-guy behavior? “Watch out, he bites,” isn’t what you say about a senator who everyone respects: it’s what you say about a 3-year-old named Dylan after he’s had two capri suns. And, that wasn’t Congress’s only fight this week. Kevin McCarthy allegedly elbowed Tennessee representative tim burchett in the back, with Burchett later responding, “I prayed for him this morning, because I know he’s hurting,” which we all know is southern for “I hope that shitbag sits on a nail.” And, in a house hearing, Kentucky rep. James Comer got into an argument with Florida rep. Jared Moskowitz, in the course of which Comer dropped a weirdly specific insult.
You all continue — you look like a smurf here just goin’ around and all this stuff.
Mr. Chairman, you have — no — hold on — if we’re not on time —
You continue to spew disinformation.
John: Now, you might think it’s completely uncalled for for an elected representative to call a fellow congressman a smurf. In Comer’s defense, this is how Moskowitz was dressed that day. And, I hate to say he was asking for it, but he was kind of asking for it. There’s no reason for you to dress in all blue unless you “want” to be called a smurf, or maybe you’re the special guest at a J.Crew sponsored gender reveal. Moskowitz hit back by posting, “Gargamel was very angry today,” which, I’ll be honest, is exactly what a Smurf would say. And, CNN’s analysis of the back-and-forth contained the amazing sentence, “For the many non-aficionados of the animated series, Gargamel was an evil wizard who hunted smurfs for fun,” which — I’m sorry, CNN — is an insultingly reductive misinterpretation of Gargamel’s motivations. For the record, Gargamel doesn’t “hunt” smurfs: he kidnaps them in order to eat them or turn them into gold. And, it’s not for fun. It is to seek revenge after the smurfs not only defeated him, but subjected him to cruel humiliation in 1961’s “The Smurfnapper,” or “Le voleur de schtroumpf,” in which the smurfs tricked him into drinking a potion that shrank him to the size of a smurf. And, CNN’s exclusion of that backstory is, frankly, why Americans no longer trust the news media.
All in all, it was a week that showed a legislative body on its last nerve. As a spokesperson for Mitch McConnell put it, “Today is another example of why Congress shouldn’t be in session for 5 weeks straight. Weird things happen.” To which I’d say “Totally!” But also, did you know that most people — and this is true — work ten times that many weeks in a row and manage not to physically or emotionally assault their colleagues? And, so much of this is entirely self-inflicted, given that house Republicans spent weeks tearing each other apart over the choice of house speaker. This whole session raises the question of whether Republicans can actually govern at all — and it’s not just me saying that. Here’s Texas rep Chip Roy.
One thing — I want my republican colleagues to give me one thing, one, that I can go campaign on and say we did — one! Anybody sitting in the complex, if you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me, one material, meaningful, significant thing the republican majority has done besides — well, I guess it’s not as bad as the democrats.
John: He’s right! In fact, he’s so right I’m not even going to comment on how “Chip Roy” sounds like an ice cream sandwich they’d sell at French Burger King. Because, instead of spending the last year actually serving people, republicans have wasted a huge amount of time, bickering amongst themselves and basically running around with their dicks in their hands. Dicks that, we sadly now know, at least one senator is in no way afraid to bite.
John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns shopping: an easy and enjoyable way to forget that you, and everyone you know, will one day die. Specifically, it concerns one of the most ubiquitous places to go shopping in this country: dollar stores: the discount outlets where you can get a variety of goods at sometimes $1 or less, and that position themselves with upbeat materials like this:
Whether you’re making a quick fill-in stop or stocking up for the week, dollar general helps you save on the things you need and the unexpected items that make shopping fun. Something new for the house, a greeting card, or a surprise for someone special. Ultimately, we love helping our customers save time and money. It’s what drives us. That’s why more than 125,000 people have joined our team, and we’re growing everyday.
John: Wow, they really captured a wide array of “definitely human people” in that ad. They’ve got an old lady, a nurse, a man who absolutely does not have kids, Molly Ringwald, and some idiot about to buy a bouquet of half-inflated balloons. Today, two companies dominate this particular retail landscape: Dollar General, and Dollar Tree, which also owns Family Dollar. These two corporations operate more than 35,000 dollar stores in the us. That’s more than all Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s combined. And, they have earnings to match. Last year, Dollar General made $2.4 billion in profit, while Dollar Tree made $1.6 billion. And, their growth has been fueled by targeting low-income customers, singling out communities that have been marginalized economically — often rural areas and neighborhoods of color. A former Dollar General CEO once described their customer base as being in a permanent recession, and their current CEO summed up the business like this:
I would tell you we do very good in good times, and we do fabulous in — in bad times.
John: Right, it’s a store that tends to do better when its customers are doing worse, which isn’t something that requires use of the word “fabulous.” “Fabulous” is best used to describe a quirky hat, or the cast of “The Golden Bachelor,” or the fact that Kim Cattrall made $1 million to sit in a car and “not” talk to Sarah Jessica Parker. “That” is “fabulous.” But, a company bragging about how it can profit off financial hardship? Not so much. You might’ve heard stories about how dollar stores impact the communities they’re in, where they can be the only food retailer around. In some cases, that may be because they’ve driven others out. In others, it could be because they’ve entered a market that’s already a food desert. But, either way, customers often turn to these stores for their convenience and low prices, although those prices can be a bit misleading, as this clip from a few years ago demonstrates.
At Dollar Tree, a two-pack of Irish spring soap costs $1. At Target, an eight-pack costs $3.99. But, if you look very closely, the bars sold at Dollar Tree — they’re smaller. So, if you do the math, Irish spring by the ounce is actually more expensive at Dollar Tree.
John: Right, despite the promise of value, you can end up getting less for more. Although I will say, in the case of Irish spring, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m just saying, I personally don’t want more of something that smells like a citrus bergamot fart and leaves these moneymakers ashy as hell. But, the fact is, if all you can afford for soap is $1 right now, a dollar store will sell it to you. But, look: we’re not going to focus on the location or pricing of dollar stores. We’re going to focus on how they are run, because if you’ve ever set foot in one, you know: they can look like a total disaster.
I really don’t know where everybody else is getting their Dollar Trees, ’cause every single one I’ve ever walked into has looked like this.
Ah yes, shopping at the dg. I need staples, and they’re about 20 feet down that way.
My god, why does my dollar tree look like caca?
Look at this dollar tree. Like, what the fuck?
John: Yeah, “what the fuck” is right. Those look less like functioning stores and more like “American Ninja Warrior: Retail Edition.” They look like someone picked up a dollar store, shook it, and dumped it out into another dollar store. And, a quick shout out to the automated TikTok voice there trying to say the word “caca.” She’s doing her absolute best. That’s all we can ask of her — that and maybe to say naughty things like:
John: or —
John: or —
Charles Manson was low-key hot, in a character-actor-Griffin Dunne kind of way.
John: Exactly. But, to an extent you may not realize, that chaos isn’t a one-off mistake, or the fault of those stores’ employees: it’s the natural end product of how the companies behind these stores choose to operate them. And, if you think it can be bad shopping at a dollar store, it’s nothing compared to what it’s like working there. It’s been said that working at Dollar General may be the worst retail job in America. And, if these stores are this ubiquitous, make this much money, and are this terrible to work for, tonight, as we get ready for Black Friday, let’s talk about dollar stores. And, let’s start with the fact that one of the key ways they squeeze margins isn’t on tiny soaps: it’s on labor costs. They often have just two employees — or sometimes even one — manning the entire store. Watch as this Dollar Tree customer discovers in real time that there’s only one person working there.
Only worker here.
Doing this with no shelves, no nothing. Look at this. She’s the only worker here.
Everything, guys. These people don’t even work here and they’re helping her. Look at this: walls of boxes, all by herself.
John: Yeah, of course, the stores are gonna look like that when there’s only one person there to do everything. It’s so bad, random dudes are pitching in to help her for free. Imagine how monumentally shitty a store would have to be for you, a customer, to walk in and say, “oh, fuck, they need me.” It reminds me of that famous mr. Rogers quote: “when you walk into a dollar store that looks like Chernobyl after the blast, look for the helpers: you will always find people who are helping.” And, incidentally, the people employed by dollar stores are not making much more than those volunteer helpers. Just watch as a former dollar general worker points out the disparity between what the top execs make, and what the rank-and-file do.
Y’all out there riding in damn expensive cars. Y’all can go out, eat crabs and steak and filet mignon and escargot and all this shit. Meanwhile, y’all workers are eating ramen noodles. Come on now. Y’all making millions. Think about it. I want everybody to think about it. Let me know: when did a dollar general worker make more than $20,000 in a whole year? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
John: Excellent. I’ve never heard a harsher insult than simply listing out foods you assume someone else eats: “crabs, steak, filet mignon, escargot, and all this shit.” She’s describing a cartoon-rich person, and it’s devastating. I have no doubt she’d take one look at me and go: “mushy peas, figgy pudding, and all that milk,” and, I would be wrecked. And, she’s right about the numbers: the median compensated employee for dollar general makes about $18,000 a year. And, a report two years ago found that 92% of dollar general’s staff was making less than $15 an hour. That’s a higher percentage than every other company they surveyed. On top of that, lawsuits and press reports have repeatedly documented Dollar General severely restricting the total hours it allocates in a week to non-managers, and then expecting store managers, who are salaried, to cover the rest without overtime. And, without enough people to do everything — from running the register, to receiving truck deliveries, to stocking the shelves, to keeping prices updated, and cleaning the bathrooms — things can quickly fall apart. Just watch as this assistant manager sends up what’s basically an sos to the company.
Okay, this is a video for help to anyone inside this company that actually cares. We are overloaded with freight, and we don’t have enough hours in the week or people in the week to put them away. We are completely overwhelmed. The back room is like this. I can’t even get to the cooler, and I’ve got a milk delivery outside. So, hopefully it all goes out on the sales floor. I don’t fucking know. Again, this video is for anybody in the company that cares. This is Travis Bennett, the assistant manager at store 11320.
John: Wow, it is not good if your employees are making TikToks that look like hostage videos. Because that’s not what TikTok is for. As we all know, it’s for finding out which anime character strangers would pork, and seeing what you’d look like positively snatched. But, the problem with addressing that to “anybody in the company that cares” is that it sure seems like these companies do not care, at all. It’s hard to overstate the indifference these chains can show to their employees’ working conditions — and not just in their stores, but in some of their distribution centers, too.
You may remember us showing you a video of rats inside the Family Dollar store in white haven and the company’s distribution center in West Memphis, Arkansas. Take another look. Right now, federal inspectors say they have found more than 1,000 rodents inside the same distribution center. Oh! My goodness!
John: Okay, set aside the 1,000 rodents –which, I know, is already a big ask — I just want to take a second to acknowledge this little diva. Look at her, not giving two shits about being fed a pringle. Other rats would pounce at the sight of that chip, but not her. She’s giving it a blank look that says, “Honey, not even at my lowest.” She’s got standards, she’s got taste, she’s “Ratatouille 2: Absolute Food Bitch.” But, that FDA inspection not only found that more than 1,000 dead rodents had been recovered at that distribution center last year, but also that the company’s own records showed it had collected more than 2,300 rodents there the spring and summer before, demonstrating, and I quote, “a history of infestation.” But, at that point, it’s less an infestation and more a flourishing community of rats. Establishing an internal order. Building out their environment. Probably exploring the arts. This was both a massive problem for Family Dollar and a genuinely inspiring story of rodent fortitude. Now: the company wants you to know: they’ve since shut down that distribution center and are thoroughly remodeling it. But, that’s just one example in a horrifying pattern for dollar stores. Dollar General has also had to temporarily close multiple stores and a distribution center for rat infestations, and at one store in Oklahoma, birds nested in the ceiling and — I’m so serious — started shitting all over the merchandise. Not just that. When the staff told higher-ups in the company, they say they were ordered “not to throw the soiled products out,” but to clean them, in some cases by bringing them home to wash, and then return them to the shelves. And, when that store manager asked for help in removing the nests, he says he got the sense he was being ignored, because “the birds weren’t stealing anything.” And, look: there are plenty of reasons to kick anyone or anything out of a store, even if they aren’t “stealing anything,” and number one on that list is “they’re pooping everywhere.” I don’t care if it’s a bird or a toddler. The second shit is part of the equation, they’ve got to go. Now, legally, I do have to tell you: Dollar General was asked about that bird story, and its response was that it takes prompt action when stores make maintenance or repair requests. Which, as statements go, sounds to me a little bit like — what’s the word?
John: That’s right. Thank you very much. And if you’re thinking, “Okay, I’m convinced — these stores sound like a terrible place to work,” I’m not nearly done yet. Some Dollar General employees have said they’re unable to control the thermostats at stores, and others say they don’t have functioning heat and cooling systems at all.
The heat would cause all the candy to melt, and I don’t know if it was negatory on the medications, but, I mean, I know they gotta be climate-controlled. My assistant manager was sitting in there with ice packs down her pants and her shirt and a towel, ’cause we were just dripping in sweat.
John: That’s not great. An ice pack down the pants is not how you imagine a day at work going. It is, however, how I imagine these two freaks fuck. And, when you take all this together — the heat, the understaffing, the boxes everywhere meaning you can’t move around properly — it’s pretty clear these places aren’t just unpleasant: they’re unsafe. Dollar General is on Osha’s severe violators list, racking up more than $25 million in proposed fines since 2017 for alleged violations spanning dozens of states. And, as for Dollar Tree, in that same time frame, Osha’s identified more than 400 violations at its stores, imposing more than $13 million in fines. Now, I have to say: Dollar Tree recently entered a settlement with Osha and claims that it’s “implementing substantial safety policies, procedures, and training to safeguard the wellbeing of our associates.” Although, you should also know: they had a similar settlement back in 2015 and made similar promises back then, so they’re, at best, a slow learner. And, there is one last indignity for dollar store employees, and that is the threat of violence. Dollar stores have become “magnets for crime and killing,” with employees at Dollar General saying they’ve been stabbed, shot, held at gunpoint, punched and pistol-whipped on the job. And, when a robbery does happen, the response from corporate can be less than compassionate. Remember that worker talking about how the bosses were eating filet mignon? Here she is talking about the day her store was robbed.
I was robbed at the same Dollar General where I currently work. I picked up my phone and called 911. I locked the door, I secured the customers, I followed protocol. Called our manager, she showed up. I called our district manager like two to three times. She didn’t answer. But, when my manager called, she answered. The first question was, “is everybody okay?” The second thing she said, “what are we going to do about reopening the store?” We haven’t even been robbed even doggone 10 to 15 minutes and you’re already talking about opening up the store!?
John: That’s ridiculous. An armed robbery is a traumatic event people need time to recover from. It’s not something you can just ignore, like a spam call, or a broken lightbulb, or any show on Apple TV. Did you know Octavia Spencer starred as a true crime podcaster on a show called “truth be told” for three years? Of course you didn’t! It’s Apple TV: where celebrities go to hide. While researching this piece, dollar store workers repeatedly told us how they feared for their safety. And, while these companies say they take security concerns seriously, experts have said the level of violence may be down to how these stores are set up and organized. Having so few people working there, with no security guard typically present, makes them an incredibly enticing target. In Texas, a Dollar General employee — who had a coworker die in her arms — claimed in a lawsuit that her store had no lights at the back of the building, and cash registers that didn’t have panic buttons, and that the sign announcing a remotely monitored security system was a sham. At that point, they might as well put up one of those floppy men holding a “plunder me, babe” sign. At almost every turn, dollar stores seem to treat their workers with either stunning indifference or outright contempt. And, some are so fed up, they’re walking out, leading to stories like this.
We saw dozens of people trying to go inside Family Dollar this afternoon, only to find the doors locked and no one inside. Garfield resident Dodi Byrne went to Family Dollar on Ted Avenue yesterday, only to find this sign reading “staff quit, y’all be easy” on the door.
John: Yeah, and none of that is at all uncommon. At another Family Dollar in Nebraska, staff left this sign on the door: “We all quit! Sorry for the inconvenience.” And, at a Dollar General in Maine, workers left a series of signs reading: “closed indefinitely because Dollar General doesn’t pay a living wage or treat their employees with respect,” and “Capitalism will destroy this country. If you don’t pay people enough to live their lives, why should they slave away for you?” All of which is punctuated perfectly by the excited “now hiring sign,” which “really” has its work cut out for it. And, while those workers are justifiably walking out, others are choosing to fight back. Over the past few years, groups like “Step Up Louisiana” and the Union of Southern Service Workers have staged strikes and protests against Dollar General. But, the company has pushed back hard, in all the usual union-busting ways. In Connecticut, when workers tried to organize, Dollar General violated federal law by firing a pro-union worker, illegally surveilling and interrogating employees, and threatening to close the store. They also make all new employees watch a video where they shit-talk the very idea of joining a union, which one worker filmed, and posted online.
We don’t believe that our employees need a third party or union to come between us and them. Our employees don’t need a union to have their voices heard here at Dollar General.
John: I’m sorry, your employees are able to get their voices heard? Are you sure about that? Seems like the guy pleading for aid from TikTok strangers might beg to differ. So, what is there to do? Well, since 2019, at least 75 communities — many of them lower-income — have actually blocked proposals to build new dollar stores. But, the truth is, most of these stores are unlikely to go anywhere: remember, in many areas, they’re the only retailer around. So, much more attention needs to be paid to what workers have been saying, and for years now. Dollar store workers at “step up Louisiana” have developed a list of what they’re asking for from these companies: from things like having safe staffing levels to creating safe store infrastructure to giving workers a “right to heal” after violent incidents. None of which is asking much. And, until such time as these companies actually do these things, they should, at the very least, have to be much more transparent when it comes to the retail and workplace experience they’re actually providing. ♪ ♪
Hi, there. Here at Dollar Bucket, whether you’re making a quick fill and stop or stocking up for the week, we’ve got everything you need. Like this roll of toilet paper, or an adorable bar of Irish spring. Dollar bucket helps you save on the things you need, but also the special treats that make life a little more fun, like this flaccid balloon, or this bag of skittle.
You mean Skittles.
Nope. At dollar bucket, whatever you need, we’ve got it, somewhere. Uh-oh. And, always at the right price. Towels? $1. Batteries, $1. This rat, $1. Arctic blitz, $1. This other rat, $1. That last rat was pregnant, so that is a twofer. We love helping our customers save time and money. That’s why over 125,000 people have joined our team, and we are growing every day.
I don’t work here, I’m just trying to get the milk refrigerated before it goes bad. This place is fucked.
You better hurry, we’ve got another shipment coming in. Dollar Bucket is a proud provider of jobs in our community. Take Brenda here. She is our longest-serving employee. Hey, Brenda, how long have you been with us?
I’ve been here for three weeks, okay? It’s a nightmare. I got a nice — I’ve got ice packs in places only god and my husband — — I’ve been shitting in a diaper because I can’t go to the bathroom, we’ve been robbed three times since launch and we are still open!
Brenda, if we closed down every time we got robbed, we wouldn’t be open, and you wouldn’t have a job, young lady.
I’ve been here so long, I don’t know what day it is. I keep hearing voices.
Brenda, can you help? Can you help me?
Is that the voice?
This is a video for help to anyone inside this company that actually cares. I can’t leave the stock room. There are too many boxes in the way, and also, the birds won’t let me leave. Oh, god, Brenda. God.
Is he okay?
What’s happening to Travis?
Does it matter? What you don’t understand is that your lives are insignificant, your pain is our fuel. The more you suffer, the better we do. This company was built on pain, sweat, tears, and the tiniest little bars of dull soap you have ever seen in your worthless goddamn lies.
Number one, go fuck yourself. That suit is tight.
What happened this morning, Brenda.
You are going to have to pay $1 for —
I’ll pay nothing because I quit. Can you read that?
I can’t, because I quit.
Brenda. [Cheers and applause]
Do you want a job? We can pay you in rat babies.
Dollar bucket: giving everyone less while we make more.
[Cheers and applause]
John: Moving on. Finally tonight, a quick update on New Zealand, my absolute favorite Zealand. As you know, two weeks ago, we entered their Bird of the Century competition on behalf of the puteketeke, a weird-looking bird with bad hair and a nervous stomach — truly, a relatable king. It also carries its babies on its back, like it’s a pool inflatable. This is an incredible bird. And, we campaigned for it by, among other things, flying a banner ad over the beaches of Ipanema, and erecting billboards in Mumbai, Tokyo, and Paris, France, as well as the Paris of America: Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Well, this week, the results finally came in.
Forest & Bird is proud to announce that New Zealand’s bird of the century is — [drumroll] the puteketeke!
John Oliver will be thrilled.
John: yes, I’m thrilled! Even if you guys clearly aren’t! And, I’m also a bit relieved. Because we actually have a horrendous record when it comes to contests. We entered a duck stamp competition with a bunch of paintings that either got disqualified or got zero votes. And, we entered a contest to predict when this giant wooden tripod would break through the ice on a frozen Alaskan river, and were wildly off. So, we really needed this win. And to be clear, we didn’t just win this by a little. We won by a lot.
The billboard in Mumbai, the plane in Brazil, and this costume all paid off. And, it wasn’t even close. This shows the amount of voters the runners-up got, from the Fantail in 7,800, to the second-placed kiwi at just 13,000. But, the puteketeke soared to victory, with more than 290,000 votes.
John: Yes, it’s true: 290,000 votes! For context, the puteketeke got over three times as many votes “by itself” as all the other top ten birds combined. When you talk about historic, all-time levels of dominance, the conversation now begins and ends with Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, Serena Williams, and the puteketeke. Those are now the goats, the best to ever do it, and no one else even comes close. Apparently, verified votes were cast in 195 countries. That’s two more than the current membership of the United Nations. Now, I will say, there was some voter fraud, including 40,000 votes cast by a single person for the rockhopper penguin. And, come on. This rockhopper penguin? You committed bird election fraud for the only penguin in the animal kingdom with frosted tips? I could see doing it for the royal spoonbill, that’s a quality bird, but not one of these alt-punk assholes. Also, apparently, 45 valid votes were cast by people giving the name John Oliver, all for the puteketeke, except one, which was for the New Zealand fairy tern, a bird that looks like this. And, no, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Personally, I think he’s pulling it off. Everything about the way New Zealand handled this contest was perfect. Other birds conceded this week in a variety of delightful ways. The team behind the takahe posted this “anchorman” meme of their bird saying, “Well, that was unexpected.” Which isn’t quite right. The line from the movie is, “Boy, that escalated quickly.” And, frankly, it’s that kind of lack of attention to detail that might explain why the takahe lost this contest so badly. Meanwhile, campaigners for the kaki posted this video of their birds surrounding a picture of me, and then pecking at it on the ground. But, my favorite response came from the New Zealand Breakers, a professional basketball team, whose mascot was campaigning for the kea parrot. They delivered a concession speech on Wednesday that really met the gravity of the moment.
Well, look, I’d like to just read a statement, if I could, from Cheeky the Kea. He’s not able to speak today. “Over the last week, I have been spearheading an election campaign for kea as bird of the century. This morning, it has been necessary to concede this election, and whilst it is not the result the kea community wanted, it is now important that we all get behind the puteketeke.”
John: that is magnificent. From the fact someone had to set up the step-and-repeat backdrop and invite journalists to this “very important” press conference, to the line “he’s not able to speak today,” as if the kea is normally a real chatterbox but is too broken to comment right now, to the reverent tone the she’s employing there, as if she’s genuinely worried there’s a chance of rioting in the streets over this result unless she can calm everyone down. Now, this contest is overseen by the conservation organization “Forest & Bird,” to raise awareness of New Zealand’s magnificent wildlife and raise money to protect it. And, I’m happy to say they got hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations this year. If you want to support them, you can give to them directly, or there’s actually another option. Because, they’ve been partnering with a company to produce metal sculptures of the winning bird, with a portion of the proceeds going to their conservation efforts. Here’s last year’s sculpture of the triumphant rock wren. Would you like to see the scuplture they’ve made for this year’s winner? ‘Cause, here it is! A magnificent puteketeke, with, as you can see, me riding on its back like one of its babies. And, as the website points out with a helpful animation, the John Oliver part can be removed if you so choose. Which is magnificent. Would that we all had that option. If you want one, with or without me on it, you can order a sculpture at this website right here. We actually have one for each member of our studio audience tonight. That’s right! You get a bird statue with a removable John Oliver option! You get a bird statue with a removable John Oliver option! Everybody gets a bird statue with a removable John Oliver option! Look, this has been tremendous fun, and there’s really only one more thing for us to do right now. Because, we’ve seen a gracious concession speech, and that’s important in a democracy. But, now it’s time for a victory speech from the worthy winner. So please, won’t you join me? ♪ ♪ [Cheers and applause] [caw] ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of myself and New Zealand’s new bird of the century, I want to thank everyone who voted. When we first decided to campaign for the puteketeke, having randomly stumbled across it after googling “New Zealand bird weird,” we never could have anticipated the outpouring of support. So, tonight isn’t just the puteketeke’s victory: it’s your victory, as the selection — your victory, as this election represents the collective wishes of good, bird-loving people from 195 countries. I’d also like to thank our worthy opponents, who graciously conceded. The kiwi. The takahe. The kea. And yes, even the rockhopper penguin. Thank you, birds, for your generosity, but also know that you will die in the century that wears the puteketeke’s name. And finally, I’d like to thank the puteketeke itself. Poot, my old friend: none of this would have been possible without your sid vicious-esque hairstyle, your feather-bone puking, or just how weird you are at sex. You’re a deeply odd bird, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what people responded to. That, and just how fun it is to say your name. So, let me say this loud and proud once more: puteketeke today. Puteketeke tomorrow. Puteketeke for the next 100 years. We did it! [Cheers and applause] We did it! [Caw]
That is our show, thank you so much for watching! We’re off next week, back December 3rd. Good night!
Puteketeke! Puuuuteketeke! Puteketeke!
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Oh, god, look