John Oliver Finds The Hilarity In Death Penalty, Botched Executions

Leading off his second episode with a reminder that Last Week Tonight has a “long, proud, one-week history” of covering the week’s biggest story, John Oliver recognizes that’s not necessarily a laff riot when the biggest story is a botched execution in Oklahoma. And so, aware that his audience may not be into the topic, Oliver promises that if they hang with him (not literally, silly), he’ll reward them with a video of “tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos.” We’d just like to point out that Wonkette has been adding adorable kittens to awful stories for a couple years now, and we’re still not sure whether that helps, or if our dear readers now just have a Pavlovian dread of adorable kittens.


Still, if the President is talking about it, then political comedy probably needs to as well, says Oliver: “I do not want to talk about the death penalty, and judging by the noise that you make when you talk about it, neither do you”: cue clip of Obama saying “What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling…uurrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” (needs more r‘s). But yes, let’s get to the tough questions. When is it morally permissible to apply the ultimate criminal sanction, anyway? Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just might remember:

“The Supreme Court has already told us that the death penalty is Constitutional … I do believe in the death penalty, but only with respect to those who are guilty of committing the crime…”

Well done, Mr. Gonzales! “Bold idea. We shouldn’t execute innocent people. I think most people would agree with that,” says Oliver. “You, sir, are a regular Atticus Finch.”

Oliver notes that as a Brit, he lacks some of the visceral American connection to capital punishment, since the death penalty was abolished in Old Blighty in 1965 — then again, his country did bring the world any number of inventive execution techniques, like boiling people alive. “And in the grand tradition of British cuisine, if anything, we over-boiled them.” And then there were any number of other creative torture devices that “look like they were designed by the Marquis de Sade and named by Willy Wonka” — thumb-biter, head crusher, and penny-winkies. For realz.

Oliver gets to the point succinctly enough:

The death penalty is one of those things that’s natural to want, but that you shouldn’t necessarily have. The death penalty is like the McRib. When you can’t have it, it’s so tantalizing. But when they bring it back, you think “this is ethically wrong.” Should this be allowed in a civilized society?

And then there’s the fact that the U.S. is in such beautiful company: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China join us in doing lots and lots of executions. And maybe, to get back to Alberto Gonzales, the appalling fact that we do execute the innocent from time to time, oops. And by golly, if we need to make voting a lot more difficult because of a microscopic percentage of voter fraud cases, surely the fact that about 4% of inmates on death row are innocent would be persuasive?

Don’t be silly — this is America.

Also, we would like our hamsters and tiny burritos now.

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