Union Busting: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the mechanics of union busting, why the companies who do it face so few consequences, and what it really means when your manager wants to talk to you about “your attendance.”
Union Busting: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 8 Episode 30
Aired on November 14, 2021

Main segment: Union busting
Other segments: 2021 United States Capitol attack, John summoning celebrities
H. Jon Benjamin (voice-over), George Clooney, Jennifer Coolidge, Will Ferrell, RuPaul, Cardi B, Brian Baumgartner, Leslie Jones

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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. Just time for a quick recap of the week, and as this is our final show of 2021, we thought we’d check in on the event that started all of it, the January 6 insurrection. That’s right. This year started with that and, against all better judgment, kept going. And while the human cause of the riots is still stonewalling investigators, this week saw developments regarding some of its rank-and-file participants.

A Capitol riot suspect on the FBI’s most wanted list has turned up now in Belarus. The fugitive’s name is Evan Neumann. He’s from California. Here he is during an interview with state media in Belarus. Neumann claims he’s innocent and a victim of political persecution.

John: Oh, great idea, Evan! You’re worried about political persecution, so you go to Belarus, a country run by a man who calls himself “the last and only dictator in Europe.” You can read all about the free-flowing exchange of ideas in any of Belarus’ publications, like “redacted: magazine” and “all praise our glorious leader who isn’t bald quarterly.” Now, other participants in the insurrection have been facing consequences. The QAnon shaman — a name I still cannot believe I have to say out loud — is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty. And then there’s Jenna Ryan, a Texas real estate agent who entered the Capitol and later got attention for tweeting, “definitely not going to jail. Sorry, I have blonde hair, white skin, a great job, a great future, and I’m not going to jail.” Which is, on one hand, a dangerously brazen tweet, but, on the other, a pretty great “Real Housewives” catchphrase. “I have blonde hair, white skin, and I’m not going to jail.” She’s the new Erika Jayne, and I don’t say that lightly. But to be fair, Jenna Ryan was right. She’s not going to jail. Because she’s actually going to prison. Earlier this month, she was sentenced to 60 days behind bars, and this week, she sat down with local news to make it absolutely clear she’s learned nothing from this.

Ryan flew with friends on a private plane to the stop the steal rally in DC before going back to her hotel. But while watching news coverage, she decided to go back and posted a video saying she was going to storm the Capitol.

So I was just like, “we’re storming the Capitol!” And I meant we’re storming with our words, and our — we’re going down there to tell them, you know, and, you know, it’s free speech. You know what, we are armed and dangerous! This is the beginning!

John: What are you talking about, you Marjorie Taylor wanna-Greene? “Storming with words”? That’s not a thing. That’s never been a thing. If you look up “thing” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure it says, “not storming with words.” Jenna also outlined how she’s preparing for her 60-day sentence, which is, if nothing else, on brand.

It’s all you can think about. I’m watching all the YouTube videos on how prison is, how to go to prison, what to do.

John: All right, I don’t know what’s weirder, that she seems so casual or that an adult has to go to YouTube to learn “how prison is.” I’ll tell you: it’s bad, Jenna! Really bad. Also, that’s not what YouTube should be for. Youtube’s for watching 2-minute movie trailers, 40-minute explainer videos pointing out all the easter eggs you missed in that trailer, and TikTok compilations because you’re too old to learn TikTok but too desperate to let it pass you by completely. That’s what YouTube is for. That, and of course, melting people’s brains with utter nonsense. Speaking of which, in the least surprising move imaginable, Jenna Ryan launched a podcast on her YouTube channel this week. Here is a clip from Monday’s first episode.

I want you to be able to come to my channel and listen to what I have to say and be well caught-up on alternative news. I just made that up. That’s what I want.

John: We’re in hell. But Ryan’s not alone in not learning important lessons from January 6 — take representative Paul Gosar, who bragged that he helped organize the very first Stop the Steal rally in Arizona, and tweeted various versions of Stop the Steal at least 25 times in the run-up to the insurrection. Gosar’s still very much in congress — and just this week was criticized for pulling this shit.

A U.S. Congressman is under fire today for posting a video which simulates him killing one of his colleagues. Republican Paul Gosar from Arizona shared the clip on social media, which was altered from a popular anime series. In it, a cartoon figure with his face attacks a figure with the face of democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It also appears to go after President Biden with swords.

John: Okay, there is clearly a lot going on there. But just in terms of sheer weirdness, I’m not sure I can get over the idea that Paul Gosar — this guy — is in any way familiar with anime. When I see Paul Gosar, I think of a few things. I think asshole, troll, plucked Sam the Eagle, guy who looks like he occasionally googles “why aren’t there more breakfast soups?” But anime fan? This guy? Shame on me for judging a book by its cover. Please carry on and enjoy “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” subs not dubs till the day they put you in the ground. But, look, instead of apologizing, Gosar doubled down, tweeting this meme in response saying, “it’s a cartoon, relax.” And look, it is. Kind of. Because on one hand, it’d be disingenuous of me to pretend that Gosar tweeting a poorly edited anime video meant he was going to physically attack AOC. I don’t think he’s going to do that, not least because if he did, he’d lose. But also, just because something isn’t a literal threat doesn’t mean it can’t still inspire real world harm. Because if we’ve learned anything from January 6th, and it seems we have not learned nearly enough, it’s that it’s very easy for a joke to become reality, and that a troubling number of people don’t seem to understand the difference between “storming the Capitol” metaphorically and physically. And knowing full well that this video might now show up if Jenna Ryan searches YouTube for “what to do in prison after Capitol riots,” allow me to take this opportunity to address her directly. Jenna. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for watching, smash that like button, hit subscribe, sound off in the comments with what you want big swingin’ John to talk about in a future video, the fun continues in my Instagram stories, so check that out and, as always, new merch in the description. Namaste. And now this.

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Announcer: And now, the many questions of “Fox and Friends” Brian Kilmeade.

How do diners have 20 pages in their menu? They could make anything. How do they do that? Why do all newborns have that same blanket? What great American decided that you needed a bun with a hot dog, do you know? What’s the difference between soulcycle and spinning? Do you know? What do bears eat? Is it squirrels? Do you think sharks know it is shark week? What part of the cow is the skirt? It makes you question everything, like, why was it ever the international house of pancakes? What if a tree could just hover? Is spam meat? What’s this called? Why are turnips so are seasonal. Turnips. Do you have turnips more than once a year? Why don’t we have turnips year-round?

We do.

You do?


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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns unions. The institutions that brought us the weekend, the middle class, and — in the case of the international ladies garment workers union — an absolute banger of a song. And before we play this, I have a favorite singer here, see if they’re yours too.

♪ Look for the union label ♪ ♪ When you are buying that coat, dress, or blouse ♪ ♪ Remember somewhere our union’s sewing ♪ ♪ Our wages going to feed the kids ♪

♪ And run the house ♪ ♪

♪ We work hard, but who’s complaining? ♪ Thanks to the ILG, we’re paying our way ♪ So always look for the union label ♪ It says we’re able to make it in the USA! ♪

John: They look so happy! It’s a video so uplifting, you barely pause to wonder how many of them are dead now. And by the way, yes, my favorite singer is the “and run the house” lady. She’s the only one who gets to have a dramatic entrance. Also, she’s got a fabulous mushroom haircut, wide lapels, and the voice of an angel. Every singer in that song is a star, but she is the brightest in the galaxy. Now, that ad, if it weren’t obvious from every single thing about it, is from the early 1980s, and unfortunately, since then, union membership has declined considerably. Today, just over 10% of American workers belong to a union. That’s just half the rate it was in 1983, meaning we’re currently living in one of the worst times for organized labor in our country’s history. And it’s not like the demand isn’t there: nearly half of non-union workers say they’d like to be in a union. And a lot of workplaces do seem like a natural fit for one. Take amazon. You’ve likely heard the infamous stories of drivers for the company being forced to pee in bottles in order to make quotas — stories that amazon initially denied, then apologized for denying, finally admitting that, yeah, okay, their drivers do sometimes have to piss in bottles. It’s like the old adage: “’tis better to seek forgiveness than permission, unless this is about piss bottles, in which case, take a look at yourself, man, what are you even doing.” Mahatma Gandhi. And yet, despite that and other reports of abysmal working conditions, earlier this year an organizing drive for amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, was voted down by more than two to one. Which may seem like a clear-cut case of workers deciding for themselves to reject a union, but it’s a lot more complicated than that, because if you’ve never been through a union-organizing drive yourself, you might assume a union vote is a completely free and fair election. That’s an illusion fed by executives like Jeff Bezos, America’s least-inspiring astronaut, through statements like this.

We don’t believe that we need a union to be an intermediary between us and our employees but, of course, at the end of the day, it’s always the employees’ choice. And — and that’s how it should be.

John: I don’t know about you, but I’m personally not comforted by hearing one of the richest men on earth say “it’s your choice.” No matter the context, all I can hear is “spear or arrow — how would you prefer to be hunted? It’s your choice.” But it is worth knowing just how many ways amazon and many other companies try to influence their employees’ choice. Because they can exert a huge amount of pressure. So tonight, let’s take a look at union-busting — what it is, how it works, and how few consequences companies face for doing it. And let’s start with a very basic breakdown of how a union drive works. The first thing to know is that any employer may recognize a union based solely on majority support. So they can let employees unionize immediately, but they’re not required to do that, unless it’s been chosen through a secret ballot vote. So unsurprisingly, that’s how most unions end up getting recognized. And the first key step in union-busting is preventing things from ever reaching that point. Because for an election to happen at all, 30% of workers must sign a union card, expressing an initial interest in union representation. But amazon, for instance, has instructed its managers to be on high alert for the slightest sign that that might happen — as this leaked internal video shows:

If you see warning signs of potential organizing, notify your building HRM and gm site leader immediately. The most obvious signs would include use of words associated with unions or union-led movements like “living wage” or “steward.”

John: Wow. Set aside how completely mask-off it is to treat the phrase “living wage” like the first warning sign of a stroke, you’d also think a nearly $2 trillion company like amazon could spring for better animation than JibJab. But if enough workers do sign cards, the election process is then underway. And in that process, companies have some pretty huge advantages. Because obviously, when you’re on their premises, they have unfettered access to you, while also having the ability to keep union reps out. And many companies take full advantage of that access. Amazon, for instance, inundated workers with anti-union signs all over their workplace — even putting them inside bathroom stalls. They also used workers’ contact info to send multiple anti-union text messages to them per day. And held mandatory meetings that seemed designed to spread fear.

They had somebody who was like their — the captain of the union busting who would come down and teach, like —

What was the official title of the class?

They just called it, like, union training. That’s it. Which is funny because it’s not union training. It’s anti — it’s union-busting 101.

John: Right. It’s not “union training” if the explicit goal is to kill the union. It would be like taking a dog training class from Cruella de Vil. Although, no, not the one that’s a misunderstood bohemian or whatever, I’m talking about the real Cruella. Yeah, that one. The original dogicidal bad bitch. These mandatory propaganda sessions are called “captive audience meetings,” and most amazon workers at Bessemer were having to attend at least two per week. And that’s not uncommon — nearly 90% of employers facing union campaigns hold captive audience meetings. Right now, Starbucks is facing a union drive at six of its stores in buffalo, and it’s been doing everything you’ve just seen — sending anti-union text messages, putting up signs, and holding captive audience meetings. And it may be no coincidence that amazon’s and Starbucks’ tactics are pretty similar, because both hired union-busting law firms and consultants to help them with their campaigns. Which is not unusual. Union-busting is a whole industry. There are now about 2,000 of these firms, some of which have euphemistic names like “the labor relations institute.” And 75% of companies facing organizing drives hire one, spending nearly $340 million on them per year. And these firms offer different levels of services. For companies on a budget, some offer mass-produced anti-union videos. You can even buy this one, featuring a cartoonishly overbearing union organizer, shot against a green screen, so you can customize it based on your workplace. They even produced samples of what that could look like:

Listen, just sign the card. Once a union gets here, you wanna be on the good side. Listen, just sign the card. Once a union gets here, you wanna be on the good side. Listen, just sign the card. Once a union gets here, you wanna be on the good side.

John: Well, I’ll say this: at least they chose outfits that’d fit in any workplace, because we all know employees in both corporate offices and warehouses dress like a college football coach whose wife just left him and an “America’s next top model” contestant before the makeover. Although the backdrops clearly could have been more creative. You’ve got a green screen. The world’s your oyster. Why not show evil unionizers mobilizing on a roller coaster or on a tropical getaway or on the desert planet of Arrakis? If you’re going to force employees to watch your bullshit, at least take them on a cosmic journey with sandy softboy space Jesus. But whether it’s coming directly from a company or through an outside firm, anti-union campaigns tend to follow a pretty basic playbook, and a go-to tactic is to highlight that unions collect dues. It’s a point delta airlines made when its employees were considering unionizing, and they did it in a pretty dickish way.

Delta Air Lines causing a lot of turbulence on the ground after it told employees to buy video games instead of unionizing. One poster — here it is — says “union dues cost around $700 a year,” and then tells employees to put their money towards a video game system with the latest hits.

John: Oooh, the latest hits, you say? Telling your workers to play video games instead of unionizing is incredibly condescending. And doubly so when you consider video game characters are the ultimate example of exploited labor. Think about it: they take orders all day, usually get paid in coins, and not once in 36 years of playing Mario have I ever seen him get to take a bathroom break. Not once! The mushroom kingdom has to be littered with piss bottles at this point. And you might say, “well, of course a union collects dues. How else are they going to have the resources to fight for their members?” But these consulting firms will insist that unions simply take money and offer nothing in return. Here’s how the labor relations institute puts it in one of its union-busting videos.

Unions are in trouble. Their membership is shrinking, which means they’re in danger of going out of business. They send out high-pressure salespeople to sell a bill of goods that most people believe is either of no real value or is highly overpriced.

John: So just to be clear, that’s a for-profit consulting firm, being paid by a for-profit company, arguing unions are only in it for the money. That is pretty fantastic. It’s not even the pot calling the kettle black, it’s the pot calling the kettle “a pot.” It’s like being called a bad first date by Ted Bundy. LRIconsultants have also told employees that joining a union might get them a contract with less wages and less benefits than they currently have. But think how ridiculous that argument is. If companies genuinely thought unions would negotiate worse terms for their employees, they’d be welcoming them in with open arms. Jeff Bezos would’ve shown up to that interview in a Che Guevara t-shirt if he thought it would help him pay people less. Because the truth is unionized workers in the private sector have wages about 25% higher than their non-union counterparts. That’s why companies want to keep unions out. That’s why they’re willing to pay LRI $3,000 per consultant per day. But the anti-union argument isn’t just that they are useless — it’s that they’ll destroy the beautiful workplace culture that companies have created. Here’s how target framed it in one of their union-busting videos.

If the unions did try to organize target team members, they could also try and bring along their way of doing business, an old-fashioned, rigid structure. No one knows exactly what could happen, but there are lots of examples of how rigid grocery store union contracts could hurt our stores’ ability to serve guests.

Here’s what we mean. ♪ ♪ Let’s say you’re working in stationary, but you’re walking through domestics on your way to check on something. A guest stops you and asks for help. What would you do? Without even thinking about it, you’d stop and give them any assistance they required. But what if union work rules say you can’t work outside of your department? What do you tell the guest? “Sorry, I n’t help you”? That makes you look bad. But more importantly, it means our guest doesn’t get immediate attention and they might not come back. So everyone gets hurt. Everyone except the union.

John: ooh, I like how they put that last part in black and white, so we know it’s bad. We’re talking “can’t open a jar” bad. There’s got to be a better way! But if I can give the target executives one note: have you ever worked retail? Because if you had, you’d know that telling your floor workers they’d be able to tell a customer “fuck off, this isn’t my department” is a pretty good argument to vote yes on that union. Honestly, that might be worth it on its own. And fun side note: those aren’t just actors, they’re union actors — members of the screen actors guild. In fact, that man later actually stressed in an interview that he is very much pro-union, defending his appearance in the video by saying, “if someone hires me to play a rapist, does it make me a rapist?” To which I’d have to respond “what?” And “I — I guess not, but… What?” But the most frightening and effective argument companies make against unions isn’t just that they’ll keep you from helping customers in other departments. It’s that they’ll cost you your job. Now, thankfully, it’s against the law for companies to threaten workers that if they unionize, their workplace will close. However, hilariously, it is legal for them to “predict” that it’ll shut down. Which obviously isn’t a real distinction. When a loan shark threatens to break your legs, that’s not meaningfully different from a loan shark “predicting that legs will be broken as a result of market forces relating to lack of payment.” And that prediction loophole can let a lot through — for instance, Columbia sportswear brought in a consultant who freestyled to a captive meeting of workers about what could happen if they unionize.

I’ve seen the worst of it, doesn’t always end up going so badly, but I mean, I’ve seen people, you know, just completely bankrupted. Marriages lost, homes lost, you know —

Company closing.

Yeah, sometimes that happens too. I mean, look at — look at Detroit. I mean, all the — the auto workers there, I mean, tens of thousands of employees lost their jobs overnight.

John: Wow. That is a level of fearmongering rarely seen outside an abstinence-only sex ed class. “Don’t join a union — unless you want to end up pregnant, divorced, homeless, and Detroit.” And it’s not just Columbia Sportswear — when workers at a tire company called Kumho tried to unionize a few years back, 12 different managers issued threats to close the plant if the union won. Which is undeniably scary. And it worked — because even though 80% of Kumho workers had initially signed cards supporting unionization, when the vote happened, less than a month later, only 43% voted to organize. And that’s the thing. Threats that a workplace will close are effective, despite being overwhelmingly bullshit. One study found 51% of companies threatened to close plants if unions won, while just 1% actually closed operations after a union victory. It’s the same story again and again, and it can be dispiriting for those who know how much good a union could do for their coworkers. Listen to a woman who tried to organize her Nissan plant, talk about how it felt, watching her union drive fall apart:

When we started this, I mean, my whole line was just — they were just, “yes.” But when Nissan started bringing in those anti-union videos, I seen my coworkers, just, the look on their face, it was, “betty, I just can’t do it.”

John: Yeah, that’s heartbreaking. And frustratingly, even on the rare occasion workers manage to overcome everything you’ve seen tonight and win their election, the fight still might not be over. As a study found, in a quarter of all successful union elections, getting a contract can take three years or longer. And while companies are supposed to bargain in good faith, they can legally draw things out to a ridiculous degree. In 2009, some Texas employees at dish network voted to unionize, but over a decade later, they still have no contract. And think about how long ago 2009 was. Back then, the kids on “modern family” looked like actual children, and at that point, none of them were engaged to the bartender from the “bachelor” franchise. In 2009, the question on everyone’s lips was “is the guy from ‘Degrassi’ really rapping now? Is he really doing that?” And you really want me to transport you back to that time? Two words. Susan Boyle. Remember how her whole thing was, “we didn’t expect someone who looked normal could sing good”? The point is, 2009 was a long time ago, and that’s how ridiculously long the employees of dish network have been waiting for a fair union contract. And that actually brings us to the final problem here. Because far too often, the consequences for anti-union actions by companies are minimal to none. For instance, companies aren’t supposed to retaliate against workers who unionize, but it happens all the time. Take Cynthia Harper, who worked at a factory that made windshields. After she spoke up in favor of a union, she had a pretty sudden, and pretty suspicious, change to her job.

Ever since they started this job, it’s been a two-man job. When they put me out here on it, they decided they wanted it to be a one-person’s job. When I would talk to HR, I told them they were targeting me. Putting me on a job to set me up to write me up for performance issues and fire me.

John: Okay, that’s pretty brazen. They took a job clearly for two people and made her do it on her own. And if you’re going to set her up for failure, why stop there? Why not give her everyone’s job? Why not send the entire factory home with a note saying “relax, everyone — Cynthia’s got this.” And the thing is, she was right. Soon after that, she was fired, along with two other pro-union coworkers. But the consequences for a company doing that are just pathetic. A company that wrongly terminates a worker for supporting a union might be forced to provide back pay — but that’s a pretty small price to pay if it helps them crush a union. Other punishments are even weaker, like the fact that — and this is true — a company can be ordered to post a notice on the bulletin board, in which it admits it violated the law, but also, and this is crucial, promises not to do it again. And come on. A company should probably face more consequences for illegally union-busting than this dog, who clearly likes to hump this cat. And honestly, in both cases I doubt the sign is going to change the underlying behavior. So it’s no wonder that U.S. employers are charged with violating federal law in over 40% of all union election campaigns, because why wouldn’t they? Even when those charges are proven, the consequences are laughable. One anti-union consultant has flat-out stated, “what happens if you violate the law? The probability is you will never get caught. If you do get caught, the worst thing that can happen to you is you get a second election and the employer wins 96% of second elections.” And it’s not great that union-busting firms are telling companies that. But it’s even worse that it’s fucking true. So what can we do? Well, congress could step in to help rebalance the playing field. The “Protecting the Right to Organize Act,” or “P.R.O. Act,” would outlaw captive audience meetings and enable successfully unionized workforces to seek arbitration to settle a first contract, meaning companies like dish can’t give them the middle finger for decades. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it’d put real financial penalties in place to prevent companies from violating workers’ rights without consequence. But until that law is passed, and it should pass, one of the most important things for workers to do is try not to get disheartened during a campaign. Which I know isn’t easy. But union-busting is all about killing momentum, splintering unity, and exhausting workers’ spirits. So to the extent it helps, if you’re in a workplace that’s unionizing right now and you’re feeling pressured or personally attacked, remember, the company is almost certainly following a script. And you don’t have to play the part they want you to. And if, by some chance, you’re a corporate executive who’s made it this far into the show, first, I’m almost impressed you’re still here. Second, please stop wasting money on these anti-union consulting firms. Instead, just use this video we made for you — it’s a lot cheaper, and it says exactly what you really mean.

♪ ♪

Hello, thanks for joining us today and watching this mandatory company video.

You are here because someone may have approached you about unionizing.

Or asked you to sign a union card.

Or simply said the words “living wage” anywhere out loud on company grounds.

A union may work for a lot of places, but the thing is, here, we are a family, and you employees are children.

So let’s listen in on some worker conversations.

Something we definitely don’t do in real life.

Hey, bob, did you know if we brought on a union it would be illegal for us to talk to our bosses anymore?

No way. There’s two things I love in this world, talking directly to my shift supervisor and helping customers and departments I don’t work in.

Bad news, Bob, if a union came in, you couldn’t do that. Yeah, if a customer was outside of your department asks you a question, you are legally required to go tell them to go fuck themselves. And if they ask you a follow-up question, you’d have to slap them with an open hand. So everyone gets hurt. Everyone except the union.

Wait, how could the union possibly benefit from some — ♪ ♪

We don’t think the union’s right for our workplace. But ultimately, the choice is up to our employees.

We promise no one will be fired for wanting to unionize. Although there is a chance you might be fired for poor attendance.

A pretty good chance, actually.

But you won’t be fired explicitly for the union thing. That’s how we do it. For the next few weeks, you might notice a few extra posters around the workplace, in break rooms, stock rooms, bathrooms, or glued to the back of a coworker. You already went to the bathroom, ted. These are just there to tell you things like how expensive union dues are. $700? Think of what else you could buy with that. Like a Nintendo Wii with all the latest hits. Or, I don’t know, what else do poor people like? Poor people, poor people, poor… I know I’ve seen poor people. [Snaps] duh. Drugs! Buy and eat drugs.

Did you know when a union enters a negotiation our wages could go up or they could go down.

Wait, our wages could go up?

But they could go down.

Realistically though, they could go up.

But they could go down.

But without a union, what’s preventing them from going down now?

But they could go down.

Right, just technically speaking —

Hey, I want to talk to you about your attendance.

Just remember, when it comes to unions, the choice is yours. When it comes to watching videos like this about unions, the choice is very much ours. Did I say stop waving?

♪ ♪

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John: Moving on, finally tonight, this is actually our last show of the season, and it has been a tricky year. We began it still stuck in the void before finally managing to move into this studio in September. In spite of the fact that we’ve been having to operate under tight restrictions, we still managed to have some fun. We infiltrated local news broadcast to sell a vaginal healing blanket, we sold 10,000 teddy bears to annoy evolution strongman, we entered a duck stamp contest, and we were actually fucking robbed on that by the way. We started our own health care sharing ministry, we forced a Minnesota car dealership to produce the finest local car ad the world has ever seen, George Clooney appeared on the show every time I snapped my fingers, and we almost welcomed a Vaccine Cicada into our family of mascots, which would have been the single dumbest thing we’ve ever done. We actually invited the Vaccine Cicada to the final show tonight in a make it or break it situation. If he could do a dance in all the right ways, maybe he deserved to be here. Then we realized, he deserved shit. He’s a dollar store beetle in a crop top, so we sent him a text telling him the gig is off, but he probably can’t even hold a phone in his — what are those? Pincers? Idiot. Look, the point is, it was definitely a strange year, and despite being back in the studio, the fact is, I still haven’t seen most of my staff since march of 2020, and though I am definitely looking forward to next year, there is no question that it has been difficult spending so much of this one in isolation. The truth is, it does sometimes get me down a bit. But you know what? I think I actually might know someone who could help me feel a little bit better. [Snaps]

Hey, John, what’s up?

John: Hey, George, I was just thinking about all the things I wanted to do this year and haven’t been able to do and the people I wanted to see but couldn’t. You know?


John: Yeah.

Feeling down, hmmm?

John: Yeah. You could say it’s an intolerable cruelty.

What kind of reaction do you want from me on that?

John: I was hoping you might be able to cheer me up a bit.

You know what? I’m not supposed to do this, but you seem more pathetic than usual.

John: That’s harsh but also fair.

For the next few minutes, I’m going to give you the power to summon any celebrity with that snap.

John: Really? George, that is absolutely fantastic news. Thank you so much. I promise I will not misuse this power.

Yes, you will. But the beauty is, you only have a few minutes. So go. [Snaps]

John: I mean, this is great. This is so exciting. I feel slightly better already, but let’s not waste any time on this, let’s see who we get first. [Snaps] Oh, wow, Jennifer Coolidge. Jennifer, hi.

Oh, look, it’s Jimmy Kimmel.

John: No, it’s John, my name is John.

Jimmy, I love your show.

John: Thanks.

Do you want me to do a mean tweet?

John: That’s a different show, Jennifer.

Oh. Is Questlove there?

John: That’s a different Jimmy.

Oh! Wait, are you the British one?

John: Yes, that’s me, I’m the British one. Yeah, that’s me.

Do you want me to get in the car and sing?

John: Oh, for fuck’s sake. [Snaps] Hey, Will. How are you doing?

Oh, hey, John. What now?

John: I’ve got a really funny story for you. George Clooney gave me the power to summon anyone I want with the snap of a finger.

He did that again? He gives that power to anyone. Last week I got summoned by a guy who give Clooney a pack of trident.

John: That makes me feel significantly less special. [Snaps] Oh, Rupaul!

I’m sorry, my dear, but it’s time for you to Sashay Away.

John: I’m not a contestant on your show. It’s me, it’s John Oliver. Hey.

Oh, gosh. I thought it was one of the queens dressed up as a marionette doll.

John: Just me in my actual human body.

[Laughs] cute. [Snaps]

John: That was fun. That was definitely fun. No point in stopping if we got time. Let’s see who else we can get. Holy shit, Cardi B. Hey, hey, Cardi.

Who said that?

John: I’m john


John: Not Alexa.


John: It’s lovely to meet you. I never thought we would get to speak —


John: Forget it. [Snaps]

Surprise! Listen, your little brother Billy reached out to me and told me that it is your birthday. This is freaking huge. That’s what she said.

John: Brian. Brian. Sorry, Brian.

Holy shit.

John: Yeah.

The cameos never talk back.

John: Brian, I think there’s been a misunderstanding, I never ordered a cameo, I just snap my fingers and now we’re talking.

John, if this isn’t a cameo, just get the fuck out of my phone. [Snaps]

John: Kevin from “The Office” does not mess around. All right, one more push. Here goes. [Snaps] oh, Cardi, it’s me again. Sorry. I’m sorry.

Alexa, stop.

Stop here. Check for devices.

John: I’ve got it, don’t worry. [Snaps] Oh, void, great to see.

Decent to see you as well. I can’t really talk at the moment, I’m hosting my own talk show now.

John: Really?

John: Kind of busy. Apparently HBO Max liked the vibe of the space and they thought it would be better suited for a comedy show and not, like, what you were doing.

John: I get it, you’re being mean to me. [Snaps] Oh, thank goodness. Leslie, I’m so glad it’s you.


John: What are you talking about, no. It’s John.

I don’t want this. I don’t want to be part of this. Alakazam.

John: Part of what? We’re just talking.


John: Don’t clap me away.

Go away. Alakazam.

John: Just snap your fingers.

White men won’t leave, white man won’t leave!

John: I will, I’ll leave! [Snaps]

Time is up, how was it, John?

John: People were kind of mean to me, but honestly, it was kind of great.

I knew it would be. Just because this year didn’t work out like you thought it would, that doesn’t mean that shamelessly bringing in celebrities for the finale will cheer you up. Because, say it with me…

Celebrities make everything better except in the many situations where they do not.


That’s right. John, good night, and good luck. [Snaps]

John: I mean, that’s it. I do feel 20% better now, at least. Anyway, thank you so much watching our show this year. We all really, really appreciate it. We’ll see you next year. Please stay safe until then. Good night. [Snaps]

Do you want me to get in the car and sing? ♪ La, la, la-la ♪ ♪ I’m a smooth operator ♪ thank you. ♪ Ain’t no hollaback girl, ain’t no a hollaback girl ♪ thank you. ♪ ♪

Hey, everybody, welcome, welcome, welcome, to “white void tonight.” I’m the void. Let’s dive straight in with the key question of the week. What went wrong with “space jam 2”? People think the main flaw was Lebron’s acting. I think it was its fundamental misunderstanding of Bugs Bunny as a character. I mean, the climax involves Bugs Bunny learning a lesson? Bugs Bunny doesn’t learn lessons. Let those fucking nerds at Pixar learn lessons.

John: Sorry, is your entire show breaking down your problem with “Space Jam 2”?

No, this is just the fun bit at the top of the show, John. There is also a main story coming up.

John: Just seems like a weird way to start the show.

Excuse me? You are the one who does 20-minute monologues about factory farming. So maybe take a look at yourself.

John: Hey. Fair enough. Carry on.

If you don’t mind?

John: Have a good show.


John: I’m leaving!

Sorry about that, folks. Our main story tonight concerns jet fuel…

John: Oh oh, no, don’t.

Specifically the fact…

John: No.

That it can’t melt steel beams.


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