Elon Musk: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses Elon Musk, the influence he has over more than just his businesses, and the perfect place for him and Mark Zuckerberg to finally have that cage match
Elon Musk: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 21
Aired on December 17, 2023

Main segment: Elon Musk
Other segments:

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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. The house authorized an impeachment inquiry, Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza continued despite overwhelming international opposition, and Rudy Giuliani — America’s mayor and his cousin’s ex-husband — was in court over his defamation of these two Georgia election workers. Now, Giuliani’s already been found liable — this trial was just to determine damages, which ultimately came to $148 million. And he frankly didn’t help himself by showing no contrition, and actually repeating his claims outside court on monday. Just watch as his spokesman tries to shut him down.

I told the truth! They were engaged in changing votes.

There’s no proof of that.

Oh, you’re damn right there is. Stay tuned.

The Rudy Giuliani you see today is the same man who cleaned up the streets of New York, took down the mafia —

Stipulation isn’t proof.

Let’s go, we’re going to our car.

John: Wow. There’s so much there that’s pathetic. That man’s desperately trying to coast off the guy Giuliani was 20 years ago. It’s the rare attempt to “Weekend at Bernie’s” someone who is still alive. Also, he bailed on that defense mid-sentence. “Yeah, I was gonna get to 9/11, but this has been a disaster, just get in the fucking car, Rudy.” And look, much though I’d love to talk more about Giuliani — I could do 20 minutes on this courtroom sketch alone — instead, we’re going to dive straight in with our main story tonight. This is our final show of the year, so we thought we’d focus on someone who’s had a pretty big 12 months — Elon Musk. A man who can pull off pretty much any bad-guy-in-a-movie look. There’s Lex Luthor posing for the cover of Metropolis maniacs monthly, there’s “why no mr. Bond, I and my child bride expect you to die,” there’s “I just bought your media company and I’m about to strip you for parts,” there’s “space’s first racist sheriff,” and finally, the “less-fuckable reimagining of Billy Zane’s character in Titanic.” Truly, the man has range. Elon’s made news all year, from test-launching the most powerful rocket ever built, to just this week, having to recall 2 million cars due to safety concerns. He even challenged Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight, to which Zuckerberg replied “send me location,” and may I suggest to both of them: interior volcano. And then, of course, there’s Twitter. He now calls it “X,” but the rest of us still call it “Twitter.” He officially acquired it 12 months ago, and since then, it’s been one fiasco after another — with the most recent coming when he tweeted his agreement with this antisemitic post, calling the great replacement theory “the actual truth.” That caused many big advertisers to flee. And then, in the midst of denying any antisemitic intent, Elon decided to taunt the sponsors who had left.

Don’t advertise.

You don’t want them to advertise?


What do you mean?

If somebody is going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmailing with money? Go fuck yourself.

But —

Go fuck yourself. Is that clear? I hope it is.

John: Wow. It’s hard to say what’s most embarrassing there — the fact the world’s richest man is playing the “you’re not breaking up with me, I’m breaking up with you” card, or that he’s doing it to confused silence while wearing a jacket from Ralph Lauren’s midlife crisis collection. He’s clearly going for “bad boy” there, but ended up looking more like red-pilled chip from “rescue rangers.” Now, that clip actually made the rounds, but for my money, this exchange a few seconds later is even better.

Look, actually what — what this advertising boycott is — is gonna do, it’s gonna kill the company.

And do you think that —

But — and the whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company. Everyone will document it in great detail.

But there are — those advertisers, I imagine, are gonna say — they’re going to say, “we didn’t kill the company.”

Oh, yeah.

They’re gonna say —

Tell it to — tell it to earth. Let’s see how earth responds to that.

John: Yeah, tell it to earth! I honestly hope he does that. I hope he tries telling every living creature on the planet, including those weird deep sea fish, all about how advertiser boycotts are going to kill Twitter, just so one of them can open its objectively horrifying jaws and say, “yeah, man, because you said that weird shit about Jews. We live in a black void and even we understand the order of operations here.” And look, I could talk for hours about what Elon’s done to Twitter — many in the media do, because it’s where they spend most of their workdays. But the truth is, it’s not the most important thing Elon is in charge of. It’s arguably not even the most important social-networking site. We all know the only social media app that matters these days is the comments section of Venmo. That’s where the real drama is. But what Musk’s time at Twitter has definitely changed is how many people perceive him. Because for a long time, he was seen as a one-of-a-kind genius who’d save humanity, and described as a “real-life Iron Man.” It’s a comparison that he even welcomed, cameoing as himself in Iron Man 2. Although, I never liked those comparisons. As far as I’m concerned, the only real-life iron man is troy hurchubise, who spent his life designing a suit of armor that could withstand a grizzly bear attack, and was kind enough to film the tests.

Are you ready, troy?

I’m ready.

Here it comes. [Laughter]

John: Yes. That is the hero we deserve. That is my iron man. [Cheers and applause] Still, for a long time, Elon’s public image was that of a maverick celebrity inventor who cut through red tape, revolutionized space travel, and made electric cars cool. And he does do a lot. In addition to Twitter, he’s the head of five other companies: Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring company, Neuralink, and And thanks to their rollercoaster fortunes, he can claim the twin distinctions of being both the richest person in the world and the first person ever to lose $200 billion dollars. Which is hard to wrap your head around. It’s like hearing someone won a marathon after accidentally running 200 miles in the wrong direction. And to hear Elon tell it, he’s been doing this, at least in part, to benefit humanity. He recently said of Tesla, “I’ve done more for the environment than any single human on earth” demonstrating a pretty strong messianic streak. In fact, Sam Altman, the CEO of Open AI, who’s both worked with and clashed with Musk, has said, “Elon desperately wants the world to be saved. But only if he can be the one to save it.” Which is a pretty big asterisk. It’s like Jesus says in the book of Matthew: love thy neighbor, but more importantly me, and if you don’t, fuck you, find your own heaven, j-crizzle out.” [Laughter] and I know there are people who love Elon, and people who utterly hate him, and there are going to be parts of this piece that irritate both groups. There are also people who would, understandably, rather just ignore him. But as you’ll see, we might have passed the point where that’s an option for any of us. So tonight, let’s look at Elon Musk, and let’s start with how he earned his “business genius” reputation. And I’m going to skip over the early years — the growing up in apartheid South Africa, then emigrating to the U.S. via Canada during his college years. You can read any number of books on that, or just ask your next Bumble date who turned up in a fedora and a “Release the Snyder Cut” t-shirt, ready to spend the entire night talking about him. Elon first earned his fortune from creating a company called “Zip2” with his brother, before going on to help run PayPal alongside Peter Thiel. And if I only could’ve been a fly on that wall! I’d have flown into a hot light bulb. He then invested that personal fortune into SpaceX, a company that would create and launch its own rockets and spacecraft. And that is a pretty gutsy move, to go from an online payment system to literal rocket science. Although — as some point out — SpaceX wasn’t exactly starting from square one.

What SpaceX has been very successful at is taking basically off-the-shelf technology, stuff that was developed by NASA 50 years ago, and streamlining it. So in that way, he’s kind of the Henry Ford of — of space, because Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. He just figured out how to make the automobile, you know, commercially viable.

John: Yeah, like Henry Ford, Elon Musk managed to build on the technology that others had invented. That’s not the only way he’s like Henry Ford, which you’d know if you’d ever googled either of their names and the word “antisemitism,” but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point is, Musk took a big risk on starting a rocket company. Which nearly didn’t work. His first three attempts to launch one failed, and then he made a truly audacious gamble.

When you had that third failure in a row, did you think, “I need to pack this in?”


Why not?

I don’t ever give up.

Eight weeks later, Musk bet the company on another flight.

We have lift-off.

And this time around, everything worked.


If that fourth launch hadn’t worked, that would have been it. We would have not had the resources to mount a fifth.

You couldn’t have gone on at that point?

We — yes. Death would have been, I think, inevitable.

John: That is genuinely impressive. Although, there are less weird ways to say “we would have gone out of business” than “death is inevitable.” Phrasing matters. It’s why people say “we just had a baby” instead of “Lisa shit life out of her hoo-ha.” Same meaning, different feeling. And that trend continued through SpaceX’s subsequent efforts — something that, as this former head of NASA points out, is not something they’d ever be able to get away with.

If we lost rockets at the rate that — that Elon Musk loses his big starship, NASA would have been out of business. Congress would have shut us down. If we lost one starship, let alone six or however many it’s been. We can’t do that.

John: Right, the U.S. Government can’t waste billions of dollars just blowing things up in the vague hope that it’ll somehow turn into a success, unless of course, those things are Iraq or Afghanistan. So, SpaceX began with a big gamble, had a flirtation with disaster, and then became a massive success. And that pattern persisted with Tesla. That company was funded, in part, by pre-selling cars to future owners — only to run into repeated production delays and spiraling costs. Just watch Musk at one meeting of those early buyers, where he told them that the price had gone up, on the cars they’d already bought.

We took faith in you, and now you’re just turning around and changing the price on us, not telling us, and then we find out about it backwards, and now, well, kind of — everyone’s hurt because we weren’t told.

We can’t sell cars for, you know, less than they cost us to produce. If anything, what we had, more than that occurred, then it was an accident —

Well, that’s why there was a bunch of comments after it that all got —

Okay. There seemed to be a little bit of anger from some people in the room who felt that we’d kind of done a bait and switch. And I mean, that’s sort of a little bit true that there was a bit of a bait and switch. I mean, it’s — that’s, I mean, kind of what happened. That was very tough.

John: Yeah, you can see how baiting customers with one price and switching it for another might be considered a bait-and-switch. There’s actually a great econ book on the subject, entitled “words mean what words mean.” And yet, Tesla’s now a big success, with factories on three continents delivering over a million vehicles a year. Meanwhile, SpaceX is currently valued around $150 billion, making it one of the most valuable private companies in the world. Although it’s worth noting — his boldness sometimes comes with a tendency to overpromise, and show off products long before they’re ready. Like in 2019, when Musk decided to demonstrate how indestructible his new cybertruck was, by having its chief designer chuck a steel ball at its window.

Franz, could you try to break this glass, please? [Cheers]




Oh my fucking god. Well, maybe that was a little too hard. [Laughs]

John: Yeah, not great. But also, kind of charming! I’ll be honest, there’s something I kind of like about the cybertruck. I mean, I don’t want to own one, or drive near one, it’s basically a 7,000 pound smushed-up refrigerator moving at 60 miles per hour, being driven by, odds are, a real piece of shit. But there’s something appealing about a man so passionate about his idea that he’s willing to ignore questions about aesthetics, performance, durability, practicality, safety, and who on earth actually wants to spend up to $100,000 to drive every child’s first attempt at drawing a car, and build it anyway. And that’s not his only embarrassing product launch. Two years ago, he introduced a Tesla robot by showcasing a prototype that was just a dancer in a robot bodysuit, and it was exactly as dumb as that sounds.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

John: I absolutely love it. Apparently, all you have to do to launch a robotics company is invest in a spandex bodysuit and a dancer. So with that in mind: behold my new creation! ♪ ♪ [Cheers and applause] The robot race is on, Elon! The race is on! Look at him go! Okay, okay, enough! Enough, enough! You can power down. Thank you for your service. [Cheers and applause] But look, embarrassing moments aside, there’s a lot to like about Elon’s companies. SpaceX has made real achievements, like reusable rocket technology and making space easier and more affordable to access. And Tesla has pushed automakers to take electric cars seriously in a way that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago. But as one of Elon’s critics points out, there are costs to that progress that often get overlooked.

Is Elon Musk a net positive for society? I would argue he is. I think the EV race is a great thing. Space exploration is really hopeful and just kind of inspiring. The problem is with the word net, and that is once we decide an individual or a company is a net good for society, we don’t want to hold him or the company accountable for anything.

John: Right. Even if you think Elon is a “net positive,” it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the harm he’s doing along the way. And let’s start with his employees, many of whom have called Elon a nightmare to work for. And not just at Twitter, where he fired most of the staff and ordered the rest to work in quote, “extremely hardcore” mode. He’s been like this at every company, as this early employee at SpaceX will attest.

It was not unusual to have a phone call from him at 3 in the morning on your cell phone, you better, by god to have that next to your bed to answer. He’s just gone into yelling fits against me and telling me I’m stupid and I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I’ve seen him do it to other very intelligent people. So he’ll definitely find your weakness in your personality, in your — in your character, in your — in your spirit, and I wouldn’t say exploit it, but you’ll — you’ll definitely crack.

John: Well, that sounds unpleasant! Not just your boss calling to abuse you, but because there are only two reasons someone should be calling you at 3 in the morning and they’re: because a loved one is having an emergency and needs your help or your house is on fire, and even then, that could’ve been a text. And the damage isn’t just emotional. Workers at his factories complain of immense pressure and unrealistic deadlines. A report a few years ago on his Tesla factory in Fremont, California found employees complaining that style and speed trumped safety, and that workers there had been sliced by machinery, crushed by forklifts, burned in electrical explosions, and sprayed with molten metal. One worker claimed that she had been told Elon didn’t want signs, or anything yellow like caution tape, in the factory. Which isn’t good, because caution tape is important. It lets people know something might be dangerous and unstable, like a skull and crossbones on a bottle or this jacket on a middle-aged man. Now, Tesla does deny that — but its claims about its factories can be hard to verify. Even when regulators try to get involved at Musk’s companies, they can be strongly resisted. For example, his Nevada Gigafactory at one point denied entry to state OSHA inspectors for nearly three months. Which is ridiculous. The word “Gigafactory” alone should be enough to warrant an immediate inspection. But it’s not just workers who Musk is willing to put at risk. Sometimes it’s his own customers. He’s long been developing self-driving car technology, and has sometimes knowingly exaggerated its capabilities. The two pieces of software available are called “autopilot and full self-driving,” but despite their names, neither system can drive a car on its own. Yet, in this 2016 ad, it appears to be doing just that — amplified by the introductory text Elon personally asked for, which reads “the car is driving itself.” But that was extremely misleading. It was driving along a pre-planned route. It was only “self-driving” the way your nana self-drives herself up and down the stairs. And Tesla will note, they tell drivers they should keep their hands on the wheel and take over if anything goes wrong. And I sure hope drivers do that, because he’s been inviting them to try out “full self-driving” in beta mode. Basically, having drivers find the bugs in new software, even on complicated city streets, and with predictable results.

We’re gonna make this left turn. And I’m getting honked at. I just — but now it’s just turn right. We’re supposed to go left.

Ogan is not a professional test driver, nor is he a Tesla employee. Instead, he’s one of the over 50,000 customers that Tesla has allowed to access FSD beta.

We just ran a red light. We just ran a red light.

John: That is pretty alarming — especially the moment where you see people pushing a stroller way too close to that car. Because even if Tesla drivers volunteered to take part in this high stakes experiment, the people around them sure didn’t. No one got a push alert, saying “Hey, Tesla here! Please consent to take part in the beta test that is currently hurtling towards you. Do hurry, time is a factor.” And Musk has taken a pretty blithe attitude toward self-driving deaths. In 2016, when concerns were first emerging, he told reporters that “if they wrote stories that dissuaded people from using autonomous driving systems, or regulators from approving them, “then they would be killing people.” Essentially, arguing that any deaths in the present day will be more than offset by lives saved later. And just this week, when The Washington Post noted they’d tallied about 40 fatal or serious crashes involving Tesla’s driver assistance software, Tesla responded by saying, “We believe it is morally indefensible not to make these systems available to a wider set of consumers, given the incontrovertible data that shows it’s saving lives and preventing injury.” But rather than producing that data, it promised “more detailed information will be publicly available in the near future.” Which, I’m sorry, is just not data bitch behavior. And that’s coming from tv’s number one data bitch. Anyone who collects “incontrovertible data” would give you a more specific date than “the near future.” Because data bitches, as we all know, are also calendar bitches. And look — I know myself. And look, history is littered with titans of business who were shitty or broken people, from Thomas Edison through Henry Ford through Steve Jobs. The difference is, by and large, they didn’t open up their brain to let the whole world have a constant look inside. But Elon does, and the glimpses we get can be terrifying. And that brings us back to Twitter. Musk has been a heavy user for years, putting out classic tweets like “I put the art in fart,” “69 days after 4/20 again haha” and “technically, alcohol is a solution,” which technically, isn’t a joke. And his biographer will tell you he’s addicted to the app to a genuinely problematic extent.

One day he was traveling with a friend, Antonio Gracias, and Musk had kept tweeting late at night, doing these ridiculous tweets, sometimes very harmful ones. And so, the friend said, “Let me take your phone and I’m going to put it in the safe here in the hotel room.” Friend punches in the code and he said, “That way you can’t use it late at night.” At 3 in the morning, Musk calls hotel security to get him to open the safe and he starts doing tweets. He was addicted to tweeting.

John: Look, I’m sure when the average security guard is called up to a billionaire’s hotel room at 3:00 a.m., They have a list of things to expect, and it begins and ends with “dead body.” So it must have been a pleasant surprise when he wheeled an empty garbage bin into the room only to find Elon Musk punching random numbers into his hotel safe because he just thought of “I put the art in fart” and the whole world simply had to know. And look, Elon’s tweets were never that great. Not like mine, of course, which are banger after banger after banger after certified banger. I don’t miss. But in recent years, they’ve taken a turn toward the nasty and conspiratorial, getting increasingly into the realm of right-wing trolls. And many point to one particular moment as the turning point — the pandemic lockdowns.

In California, 40 million residents are in lockdown —

At the time, the government had ordered Musk to close his Tesla factories in California.

I mean, he was pissed that his factories were forced to close.

Yes, ultimately, yes. That’s the thing. He wanted them there and he wanted them working. He thought it was an existential crisis if Tesla didn’t succeed. He really — for the world, for all of us. And then it got weird.

Free America now. Give people their freedom back! Hospitals in California have been half-empty this whole time. Now give people back their freedom.

Musk told his employees that he intended to defy orders and go to work.

CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

John: Okay, what that really drives home is just how different Musk is from the rest of us, because there’s “rich and detached,” and then there’s “I’ve asked the cops not to arrest anyone else so we should be good” rich and detached. And, look, a lot of our brains got a bit broken during the pandemic. I think we can all agree that it’d be really cool if the entirety of the “pandemic chapter” in future history textbooks simply read “weird time, had to be there, we did our best.” But Elon didn’t channel his anxiety in one of the normal ways like spraying groceries with disinfectant, getting really into sourdough bread-baking, or tracking down and purchasing one-of-a-kind rat erotica. You know, normal stuff we all did. Instead, his brain broke in the direction of right-wingers who were loudly opposing the shutdowns. And once he started siding with them over those complaints, he found himself sympathizing with their broader concerns about a “woke mind virus,” and that they were being mocked, shadow-banned, and generally disrespected by Twitter. And since he was also the richest man in the world, he could fix all this by simply buying the whole thing, which is what he then did. And I don’t have time to run through every bad decision he’s made at Twitter — although, real quick: he cut about 80% of the staff, dissolved the “trust and safety” council, blew up the verification system, exercised the same censorship he claimed to be against, reactivated the accounts of various white supremacists, released “the Twitter files” — in which he basically mistook the emails of various feckless left-leaning tech weenies struggling with the impossible job of content moderation for a vast elite conspiracy to silence right-wing dipshits — changed the name to X, put a gigantic “x” on the building which he then took down, and, just this week, reversed his earlier decision and let Alex Jones back onto the site. A decision that’s been met with resounding praise from “big loud fucks” quarterly. And notably, his time in charge of Twitter has seen a rise in unpleasant rhetoric from Musk himself — including boosting a transphobic documentary saying, “every parent should watch this,” responding “interesting” to a tweet reading, “blacks kill each other. Whites kill themselves,” and boosting this Office meme falsely implying there had been a coverup about Pizzagate. I didn’t think it was possible, but it genuinely makes me miss the man who once posted “send me your dankest memes” and this picture of a turtle on wheels with the message, “science has gone too far.” And while Elon will dispute that there’s been a rise in hate speech on the platform, or that he’s pandered to white nationalists, you know who disagrees with him on that? White nationalists. Just listen to Nick Fuentes, telling Richard Spencer everything Elon has done for their movement.

It’s only been a year since Musk acquired Twitter, which is not really a long time. And the changes didn’t even begin to roll out until less than a year ago. And yet the change has been dramatic, how much the window has shifted noticeably on issues like white identity, which apparently is suddenly mainstream. It wasn’t for a long time. It seemed like Charlie Kirk said one or two things about it last year, and then this year, now everyone’s a white nationalist. Now everyone’s a white identitarian. You open up one of the social platforms. It’s so hot, it’s so fast. It changes public opinion virtually overnight, and — and really in our favor.

John: Wow. All of that’s horrifying, but the use of the term “white identitarian,” is just not fooling anyone. That’s what the word “racist” writes on a job application to make it sound like it went to college. And the fact Elon seems to be getting increasingly radicalized is a big problem, because we’ve put a lot of power into his hands — and more than you may realize. Remember when I said no one is taking the big swings he is? That includes the government. And over the years, that means a lot of things this country relies on have been outsourced to Musk. Every day Musk’s companies control more of the internet, power grid, transportation system, objects in orbit, the nation’s security infrastructure and its energy supply. To take just one example: SpaceX has now put more than 4,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, meaning that Musk’s company now accounts for over half of all active satellites. And that puts the U.S. government in a bit of a bind — just watch a National Security Council spokesman try to explain why it wouldn’t be acting in response to Elon’s boosting of that “great replacement theory” tweet.

There’s innovation out there in the private sector that we’d be foolish to — to walk away from. I’m not aware of any specific efforts to address — to address our concerns over his rhetoric, but that doesn’t mean that we accept or agree with or condone in any way that antisemitic rhetoric that he pushed.

John: Yeah, we’re now at the point where the government is explicitly saying, “We’ve chosen to look the other way on the anti-semitism thing,” or as it’s more commonly known, a daddy’s home 2. And the problem isn’t just the optics of having someone as erratic as Elon in charge of half the world’s satellites — his opinions can change the shape of world events. When Russia invaded Ukraine, one of their first actions was to sever its internet access. Musk, to his credit, agreed to provide Ukraine access to his Starlink network, and donated hardware, enabling them to reach the internet via satellite. And they were grateful.

Lieutenant Taras Berezovets is a spokesman for Ukraine’s military. He told us Starlink is crucial for commanding troops on the battlefield.

SpaceX, Elon Musk.

We’ve been so grateful to SpaceX and to Elon Musk. Without Starlink, none of our offensives would be so successful.

John: It’s true. The Ukrainian military was grateful to SpaceX and Elon Musk, which is one of those headlines that even a few years ago would have sounded impossible like Panera bread’s lemonade linked to second death and Henry Kissinger: finally dead. [Laughter and applause] And by the way, I think it’s the lemonade that got him. But as time went on, Elon toyed with the idea of withdrawing Starlink’s service, complaining that the cost was too high — even as he seemed increasingly Russia-friendly. At one point, he said Russia should be allowed to annex Ukrainian land, and tweeted a proposed peace plan that would essentially just give Russia everything they wanted. Perhaps most notably, he refused a Ukrainian request to activate Starlink in Crimea, enabling them to launch an attack on Russian ships — reportedly because a Russian official warned him that could lead to a nuclear response. And I guess that must be true. What are Russian officials gonna do? Lie to an easily flattered CEO to get exactly what they want? No, I don’t see it. And look, Elon still insists that he’s pro-Ukraine, and… Okay. But U.S. officials are now in the awkward position of having to defer to him on policy. One Pentagon spokesman even said he’d let a reporter interview an official only if Musk gave permission, saying, “We’ll talk to you if Elon wants us to.” Which isn’t great! “Before I respond on behalf of the mightiest military on earth, let me just run this up the chain and make sure it’s cool with admiral dank memes 420.” Elon Musk couldn’t have humiliated the Pentagon any more if he had opened up his own building next door called “The Hexagon: the Pentagon that fucks.” Now, the Pentagon has since signed a contract with Starlink to take over certain services and rely less on Musk’s whim. But even Elon’s own biographer has expressed unease about how important he’s become.

So how does Elon feel about having this much global power?

You know, he says to me, “How am I in the middle of this?” But frankly, he loves it. He loves drama. He loves being the epic hero. I think it is a little bit dangerous, because he loves it too much.

John: Wait, he “loves drama?” I’m really not comfortable with one of the most powerful people on earth being summed up the same way you’d describe Andy Cohen on New Year’s Eve. [Laughter] Look, the fact is, whether we like it or not, and the answer is absolutely not, a huge number of very important things going forward are going to depend on how Elon is feeling. Which is a terrifying thing to say about anyone, but especially this guy. So what can be done? Well, it’s actually simple: we just create a robust infrastructure economy that can resist easy monopolization by private firms headed by overconfident billionaires, and we do it about 15 years ago. Two problems with that: one, time machines don’t exist. And two, the only person with the resources and ambition to build one is the last guy you’d want to do that, because he’d probably use it to go back in time and high-five baby Hitler. And look, I’ll be honest. My feelings about Elon changed a bit in the writing of this piece. I’m probably now more impressed by what he’s doing, but more worried by the fact he’s the one who’s been doing it. Because he cultivates an image that he’s simply too visionary, too original to play by other people’s rules, and he waves away the damage he does as the cost of innovation and saving humanity. But the truth is, that way of thinking isn’t remotely original. We’ve seen it so many times before. The least surprising thing on earth is a middle-aged billionaire CEO with self-serving libertarian views, increasingly racist politics, and a messiah complex. And it’s long past time he faced the kind of accountability that should come with that — not just from the echo chamber he bought himself online — but from everyone whose lives are very much affected by him. And I know Elon might be unhappy with this piece. He might even permanently delete my Twitter account, which is fine by me; after all, when this absolute treasure is gone, Elon’s the one who will have to explain why to the earth. And he might well say, he’s saving humanity — what have I ever done? What industries have I revolutionized? Well, I admit, nothing yet, but may I remind you: I’ve already taken the first step toward building a robot empire. [Cheers and applause] ♪ ♪ bow down and worship your metal gods! Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce!


John: As I said, this is our final episode of the year, and we had a lot of fun. We talked about everything from dollar stores to McKinsey to why Ron Desantis shouldn’t be president, which seemed at the time like an important thing to do, although he’s now making that argument pretty effectively himself. We made our own episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, which meant our staff could play with trains for a week. Wanda Jo came back to help me start a timeshare exit company exit company. We hid an entire episode on Chuck E. Cheese inside an episode about homeowners associations — which you can still watch at I set fire to a lettuce for reasons I don’t fully remember. We challenged an Austin, Texas plumbing company to create an ad based on the movie Magnolia and they fucking delivered on that challenge. And we announced plans to steal the “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse ahead of him entering public domain next year, which was a little legally dicey. And speaking of which, hey, Mickey? Mickey?

Mickey: Yeah? [Cheers and applause]

John: Did Disney ever sue us over that?

Mickey: Nope!

John: So, should we take that as a green light that we can do whatever we want with you in the future?

Mickey: I don’t see why the fuck not!

John: oh, that’s good news, buddy! And of course, we entered New Zealand’s bird of the century contest, and got hundreds of thousands of people to write the puteketeke into the bird history books forever. [Cheers and applause] By the way, I’m excited to say our giant puteketeke puppet is going to New Zealand to be put on display there. We don’t know exactly where yet, but we do know Air New Zealand has offered to fly it for free. So let me just apologize in advance to all of its seatmates. That’s going to be a rough flight for all of you. But this was also a weird year for us. Because, as you may’ve noticed, we were off the air for five straight months, as — for 148 days — all 13 of our writers were on strike, and we truly, sincerely missed eight of them. And while I’m happy the writers guild eventually got a good contract, I’m a little disappointed the strike meant we couldn’t do some of the stories we’d planned. Although, I will say, in some cases I was actually pretty grateful a story didn’t run. Like the one we’d planned for in May, about how the future of private undersea exploration is the Titan submersible. That could’ve dated pretty badly, so I’m glad it didn’t happen. But there were others I really wish we could’ve aired, like our piece on pet insurance, or elder abuse in dentistry, or floors. The butts of houses. We all have floors but most of us think about them so little that you didn’t even realize that’s not a floor. That’s a ceiling, you idiots! I got you! I got you so good! There were so many stories we couldn’t do, and while I can’t recap them all, I’ll try and knock out a few as quick as I can. There was bee theft: beehives have been stolen across the country. They’re valuable because of how critical bees are in pollinating California’s almond crops. And the fact bees are all but untraceable makes bee theft a lucrative crime. There was designer dogs — why rich people like making golden retrievers and poodles fuck. That one would have ended with a live dog orgy on stage. We still had the orgy, we just didn’t do the show. Blood oranges. Spoiler alert: they’re not called that because of their insides. The statue of liberty. She actually coughed once in 1967 and no one is talking about it. We had a whole story on unilever. One company makes mayonnaise, q-tips, and Klondike bars? That’s fucked up, probably. Honestly, we never really got to the bottom of that one, and now we never will. And finally, headlights. You’re not wrong, they are actually brighter now, for reasons including the rise in the use of bluer led lights and issues with headlight aim and alignment, all of which makes everyone driving at night feel at best blind and, at worst, completely insane. We planned to motivate lawmakers to move faster to address this by pointing blinding floodlights at congressional offices, but we ran out of time and money and also, legal flagged that move as “terrorism.” [Laughter] Sadly, none of those stories will see the light of day. And if you’re thinking — “come on, John, couldn’t you just do them next season?” No, we can’t, because unfortunately, we have a tradition of shredding all our scripts at the end of every year and starting over fresh. Our process is our process. But with that, that’s it. All that’s left to do at the end of this, our tenth season, is to say goodbye to our giant puppet. Safe travels, my friend! Safe travels to you! We’ll miss you, but you’re going where you belong. And remember, you’ll always be New Zealand’s bird of the century, whether they like it or not. But that is it! Thank you so much to everyone for watching this year! Thank you to our staff for working so hard. We’ll be back next February. And we’ll see you then. Good night! Fly away! Fly away! Puteketeke!

[Cheers and applause]

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪


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