Photo: Youtube

Last Week Tonight, HBO’s half-comical, half-serious weekly news program, hosted by John Oliver, featured Venezuela as main story on their last show, particularly covering Nicolás Maduro’s presidency:


The segment is uncomfortable to watch at times. Oliver’s brand of humor feels tone-deaf when it has to deal with a humanitarian crisis instead of, say, the latest gaffe of the Trump administration. It also suffers from the usual generalizations — not talking about the weakened private sector during the Chávez years, for instance — which fail to provide a proper understanding of the causes and inevitability of the current crisis.

Nonetheless, if John Oliver’s reports fail to add anything new to the table, at least it gives a necessary and sourced recap of Nicolás Maduro’s rule to those who might have seen the occasional article on the New York Times, but ignores how this government shamelessly disregards laws, institutions and human lives in Venezuela. You know, the show’s target audience.

Oliver displays Maduro joking about people losing weight due to starvation, debunked conspiracy theories about U.S. interference and “economic war”, the illegality of the National Constituent Assembly and the banishment of opposition leaders, ending it all with Wilmer Valderrama dressed as the famous pajarito; not particularly funny in Venezuela, although it must have raised some eyebrows abroad.

This is not the first time Last Week Tonight has talked about Venezuela. They did a short segment that time Maduro got hit by a mango without major censorship incidents, so let’s see if this time it generates some reaction from the government — they may let it pass, after all, as the one-time covering it probably is, especially since Vice released in the past segments on our crisis with no repercussions.

Still, the memory of CNN en Español and Colombia’s Caracol TV, and how they were taken off the air after continuously covering what’s going on here, is a bitter reminder that, while more foreign media is covering our problems, domestic journalism is closely watched.

And that’s no laughing matter.

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48 COMMENTS

  1. One day, John Oliver (never heard of him before) will catch on that Chavez was socialist and that the problems in Venezuela are a direct result of socialism aka communism aka mass murder.

    “Oliver’s brand of humor feels tone-deaf when it has to deal with a humanitarian crisis instead of, say, the latest gaffe of the Trump administration.” And one day Jose Gonzales Vargas will catch on that 1) those who oppose Trump are socialists who cheered and applauded “the weakened private sector during the Chávez years, for instance – …”, and 2) throwing a remark about Trump into the article about Venezuela is not about Venezuela, and is not “cute”, especially when Trump is the world leader who is in favor of doing something about your Godforsaken little s***hole (I could say “you started it, now you finish it” but you guys are busily in process of finishing yourselves off, already, not knowing who your friends are, and trying, stupidly, to make fun of them).

    And no, I’m not being “overly sensitive”. Piss off your friends …?

    • Let me see if I understand you:

      -you don’t get HBO
      -we shall speak well of Trump or not speak of him at all
      -all who oppose Trump are socialists aka mass murderers
      -Trump is the world leader in favour of doing something
      -Venezuelans are ingrates
      -Venezuela is a shithole
      -you’re a friend of Venezuela, so don’t piss you off.

      Have I got that right?

      • You nailed it. Finding fault with DT is a mortal sin in Gringo’s eyes. Everyone, everywhere should bow down saying “we’re not worthy. we suck, we are stupid and ignorant”. The guy has probably never been outside his own county. If he does stray off too far he gets horrified by what he sees. Reading his and other likeminded rubes who post silly nonsensical diatribes on a constant basis, you have to wonder…does it ever occur to them they sound a bit extreme to the point of mimicking those they purport to despise? Of course that is only when the aren’t ranting in a broad brush manner that every person in Venezuela is weak, cowardly, corrupt, lazy, stupid…You know…Un-American. It’s some high brow shit. He can criticize a book by is cover and be 100% right 100% of the time. You better believe it.

          • Do we have to hear? We don’t have to, but inevitably, we do.

            Let me give you an example to consider. If a significant country had elected to its highest office a malignant narcissist, with no relevant experience, who trafficked in non-stop lies and slander, who was woefully ill-equipped to understand the world outside his narrow experience but made impulsive and far reaching decisions, ran his office like an extension of his personal business, hired as advisors random mediocre people who had few qualifications but demonstrated deep personal loyalty, had no respect for the rule of law or a free press, cast non-stop slander on his own law enforcement officials, felt threatened by people with expertise, had a preference for generals and military parades, praised dictators- especially communist and ex-communist ones-, was unashamedly corrupt, was driving his country into unsustainable levels of debt and income inequality with his wacko economic ideas, was the unapologetic tool of a hostile and undemocratic foreign power, was anti-trade, had the support of a popular nutbar network and a web of similarly radical nutbar internet sites that spewed nonsensical, fact-free propaganda on his behalf, hated CNN and the New York Times, railed against private sector companies that did not demonstrate an acceptable level of loyalty to him personally and threatened to retaliate against them, and who had a sizeable and devoted following of ultra-nationalist blowhards prepared to accept anything he did or spoke about as either excusable or genius….yes, if that were to happen, you’d probably see it popping up in conversation about various topics from time to time, everywhere in the world.

            But Hugo Chavez is dead now, so people in general don’t talk about him much anymore, anywhere.

          • Looks like Venezuela is totally fucked. Clearly, The Donald has neither the brainpower nor the savoir-faire to do anything helpful, and I don’t see any other world-class powers stepping up to the plate.

    • Gringo, as a moderate liberal in the US you should know many on the left opposed Chavez from the start, like me and my friends. He was given too much leeway by many in the international press and was supported by a lot of misguided and crazy international leftists, it’s true, but it’s important not to overgeneralize that ‘those who oppose trump supported chavez’. Even in this comment thread there are many exceptions. You also make trump supporters look bad by not being able to handle criticism. I’ve been reading CC regularly since 2011 it’s been terrible to see my and the author’s thesis of decline come to fruition.

  2. Quick little spider running up my arm and into my shirt where I can’t find him. I leap and jump and rip buttons off and slap and punch myself.

    Smug, smarmy, empty, leftist trash John Oliver running into my brain…

  3. So Maduro is quoted in the WSJ saying he will bring about a historic economic revolution if reelected. My guess is he will end all pretense and declare a socialist one party government with indirect elections and total party/state control over the means of production and distribution. It may look like chaos but it has been planned to achieve the historic economic revolution.

  4. I watched this on YT on Monday. (Every few days I do a YT Venezuela search.)

    Jose nailed it. Not particularly funny in a lot of places, and to to me, that’s the ultimate sin if you’re doing comedy. It was loaded with too many bad puns.

    And as Jose said, they did attempt to “cover it all,” but those who visit CC regularly will clearly see that they just didn’t get the balance right. Too much attention on this. Not enough attention on that.

    But what journalist isn’t guilty of that when it comes to VZ? It’s damn complicated.

    I give it a 7, but a 7 worth watching anyway. With 9 out of 10 people unable to find VZ on a map…not even its continent…it’s better than nothing.

  5. Well-written article by Jose. For those of us who really feel for the tragedies in Venezuela. Overall, it portrays the country as just another Latin American mess, with a laughable crisis as many other “shitholes” in the world. And that’s the general public perception overseas, that Kleptozuela is just another 3rd world mess. When it’s actually much, much worse than this parody conveys, it’s a huge humanitarian crisis, with children dying, millions fleeing, a country destroyed by unparalleled corruption and the worst Communist Dictatorship -a Genocidal Tyranny to be more exact – the entire planet has seen in decades. A veritable war-zone comparable only to Yemen, Zimbabwe, Haiti after the hurricane, Syria or Somalia or some time ago..

    That’s where the jokes of this HBO satire fail to be funny. They don’t convey the stupendous magnitude of a present humanitarian catastrophe, happening as we speak right in the USA’s backyard. It’s cool to laugh at OJ or tragic events that are over and happened long, long ago. Not so cool to underestimate the criminality of one of today’s worst massacre. Humorists have to be a bit more serious, they have a responsibility, millions watch those programs and form the wrong opinions, including important decision-makers in politics. In this case the “funny” message was: “who gives a fuck about yet another Latam shithole?”

    HBO should do the next funny show on Yemen, then:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2018/04/05/yemen-became-the-worlds-worst-humanitarian-crisis/#57d20f7b5050

    • Excellent point(s). I failed to make them in my above post.

      I guess they had no choice, and this is why I’ve never liked these political satire shows, be them on the left or right:

      They have to ignore the dark truths for the sake of comedy, and too often, they just ignore most truths in general. They can only use the truths that turn into a usable punchline.

    • Poeta, on May 2 you wrote:

      “A shithole it is, and a shithole it will remain, for many more decades to come. Among the very worst hellholes on the planet, for a reason: its people. With Chavistas, Chavistas arrenpentidos or not, with “opponents”, with “frente amplio” crap, with mudcrap and, worst of all, with their pathetic and complicit clueless “pueblo”. All we want now in the USA and the rest of the Civilized world is that they don’t interfere with our Geo-political and economic own interests. Therefore, one day, if they beg and play nice, we might give them a quick hand. Militarily of course. But only to get the hell outta there even faster, and leave than perpetual mess to that pathetic, tragicomic indeed, Mudcrap clowns, cheap thieves, and the remaining useless pueblo-people ignorant zombies.

      Just another incorrigible Nicaragua, and even worse: Haiti, Syria or Somalia of the world, there are many in Africa.. we”ll send them food when they starve and medicine best we can in the decades to come.”

      The message I took from you that day, and countless others, is “who gives a f— about this Latam sh—“. Is there some nuance I’ve been missing? Ah yes, you’re a fascist, so you can say anything and it is fine when you say it because of who you are.

      • You’re actually quoting him from 2 weeks ago?

        Your pitiful existence actually compelled you to do this? Yet you didn’t even have a valid point to make?

        Seriously:

        You didn’t make a point at all.

        You’re a fantastic example of the results of the Canadian educational system

    • John Oliver’s show is a comedy show, not a news show. So I disagree with your description of the show as “half-serious”. It is 100% un-serious. I find it very funny myself (even the Venezuelan segment), but not everyone likes that brand of comedy. You can’t really see it as a source of accurate and complete news or information on most of the topics that it covers. It is a comedy show. As an example, the last episode was about how the show bought Russell Crowe’s jockstrap from Cinderella man at an auction and sent it to one of the last Blockbuster video stores in Alaska to have as decoration.

      If you want serious in-depth news, HBO has another show that has covered the Venezuelan crisis as well as many other tragedies in-depth. It’s called Vice News, and I am sure you have heard of it.

      • No, the consequences of such huge shows are big. Huge audiences, including the clueless public overseas and top politicians, decision-makers. They can’t be 100% “funny”, select their “facts”, while dealing with such humanitarian disasters that are VERY serious. It goes beyond lack of social responsibility on HBO’s part. It’s almost criminal. For many reasons, I notes a few on my previous post here.

        They just can’t make funny tirades about human catastrophes, current ones, such as Yemen, Somalia, Syria, many other starving and warring African nations, or Venezuela now. The impact of such carelessness is huge.

        They should avoid such dire subject matter, be more sensitive and responsible. Choose better topics, not human disasters in process, where every international effort to help is important, every well-informed opinion is important. They should just stay away from certain serious topics.

        Heck, they (The Powerful “funny” Media) should be formally reprimanded by International organizations at the top level, starting with the UN. Even fined a few million US$ if it were up to me. “Funny” shows can’t be the source of such dire information and be so inaccurate.

        • There is some danger that people who are distant and disinterested will write Venezuela off as something that can be made fun of, or as something that “Surely, someone must be on top of it, so I don’t have to worry or follow the news about it.” But the philosophy is that if we try to formally censor either “comedy” or the news, we’ll get that back in our faces when it turns to legislation like that censoring “hate speech”. The counter-argument is that we already have it back in our faces, so maybe we should step up to the plate and instead of banning “hate speech”, we should move to “ban lies and willful distortions” (and throw some “comediennes” in jail for “blatantly hateful, vile, and repulsive acts clearly suggestive of acts so disgusting they are internationally banned as well as certified as psychopathic behavior”. The crap has become so thick people cannot see through it anymore, and we end up with murderous dictatorships).

        • Sorry, I don’t agree with censorship. If people find it tasteless, then they should not watch it. But unless it is actively promoting/inciting violence or criminal acts, there is no legal or even any philosophical basis to censor or ban the content of these types of shows.

  6. The vast majority of the people writing in this blog remain:

    If Venezuelan: Chavistas
    If the USA bound: Democrats aka Socialists/Communists
    Other: too sentimental leftist of 68 generation. That Remain is LEFT 100%

    Venezuela decided in 1998, then worse in 1999, changing the constitution with a majority 80% for, no treats or cheats, Chavismo. So although some here tell me that not everyone voted for Chavez, well, that’s true: only a few recalcitrant were and remain the same today, totally opposed to Chavismo and much more against Mr. Ripe and his animals like the Muslim that owns Maracay, and the military Mr. Hairy.

    Please stop the bullshit. Let’s make some real proposals:

    1. Because of Venezuela has never been able to control the money printing (even during Bolivar’s first republic) and all successive governments except a short period in the 50’s, then I declare the Central Bank null and void. From now on, we name the Federal Reserve as our central bank, with a branch in Venezuela (like the Fed branch in Dallas). The national currency becomes de facto, the US DOLLAR.

    2. Money belonging to the people that worked hard, we call for a single tax implementation. A Venezuelan unique Sales Tax of 15% – no more income tax, no more annual tax return that only pendejos complete every year.

    3. We declare null and void all subsidies to food, basic services including but not limited to Gasoline, Telecom, and Energy.

    4. We will revise the constitution and adopt the USA bill of rights without modification

    5. We declare null and void the Army, Navy and Air Force. Their infrastructure will be sold to the best bidder. There will only be the National Guard to continue doing what they do. The National Guard commander will report to the president, as a minister of good behavior, savvy environmental practices, and control of the borders

    (to follow: I need to go do the groceries at Tom Thumb, where I can purchase everything without the federal government subsidy, pick up my glasses, sign some papers at the Chase bank branch without being scared that someone will shoot at me, and finally pick up a prescription at CVS. All while driving this marvelous VOLVO that drives by itself, listening to my iPhone, etc. Again, all without some central government telling me I’m rich when I’m a simple middle class)

  7. Actually, I found this John Oliver report entertaining, and, for the average clueless viewer (e.g., girl interviewed on-camera) it was surely informative about many of the salient horrors inflicting Venezuela (albeit, said in a jocular way sometimes, which is simply the nature of this Show).

  8. I don’t find Oliver funny to begin with, so with that as my starting point, it didn’t do anything for me. Even putting aside the absurdity of making jokes about this tragedy in the first place.

    However, he committed what…a good 10 minutes to this? Who the hell in the U.S. media has spent more than 10 SECONDS on VZ? So that’s worth something.

    Hell, the most coverage I’ve seen, the most accurate, and the most unbiased, has been Al Jazeera. I swear.

    I constantly look for their reports on YouTube.

  9. I really don’t understand how one expect the style of the show to change just because he is talking about us. Yes, there are segments which are hard to watch, but not because of Oliver, but because of the hard realities they show – people whose belts are too big now or bills being weighted instead of counted. It is our “ombliguismo”, as always, expecting the other to make exceptions, to treat us different, just because it is the place where we were born. I thank him for giving Venezuela a space in his show, and really, is the viewer the one who dissects the “funny” from the “serious”: I think that is the idea of the show format.

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