John Oliver opened his main segment on Sunday night with a warning: “This is not going to be one of those feel-good Last Week Tonight stories, like Slippers, or Everything Looks OK at the Pudding Factory, or A Genocide, But It’s Only Happening to Balloon Animals.” The Last Week Tonight host then followed through on that promise with an informative but grim explanation of the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election.
While Venezuela’s problems began to take root much earlier, Oliver explained that the current crisis has been exacerbated by one man: Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, who campaigned with an anecdote about how the late Hugo Chávez appeared to him in the form of a bird. While some American conservatives hold Venezuela up as an example of the dangers of socialism, Oliver disagrees. “There are plenty of socialist countries that look nothing like Venezuela,” he corrected. “It’s a story about epic mismanagement, so epic that a nation of 31 million people, with the largest oil reserves in the world, have been forced to resort to some pretty creative forms of protest.” (Spoiler alert: It’s throwing poop.)
It’s under Maduro’s policies that Venezuela has experienced drastic inflation and widespread starvation and malnourishment. It’s hard even for a comedian to crack jokes about that kind of poverty, which is probably why Oliver focused most of his quips on the country’s president, who sneaks bites of food when he thinks he’s off-camera and once publicly told off an online critic by saying “Suck it yourself!” Maduro has stacked the rest of the government with his supporters and won’t accept foreign aid, so Oliver made a direct appeal by enlisting the help of the one entity Maduro seems willing to actually listen to: a bird. And if that bird happens to look and sound a lot like That ‘70s Show’s Wilmer Valderrama, well, so be it.