Role Models & Heroes: John Oliver (2016)

By June 21, 2016 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on John Oliver was written by Jack Flesher, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this last component can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Jack Flesher
June 12, 2016

My definition of a hero is someone who has accomplished a task that you admire for its courageousness and selflessness. A hero, for me, would be many of the volunteers who worked for Doctors Without Borders who willingly went into countries suffering from the Ebola epidemic. A role model, for me, is someone who has traits that I admire and look up to, but not in the same way as a hero. A hero you look up to as someone who you believe did a truly amazing and great thing. A role model is someone you look up to and want to be like.

I look up to John Oliver as a role model. I chose John Oliver for my role model because he combines some of the important qualities that I admire in people, such as honesty, comedy, and a keen political awareness. I’m impressed by his ability to influence the public based on facts and analysis rather than simple propaganda.

John Oliver was born in the United Kingdom on April 23, 1977. During the mid to late 90’s Oliver was a member of the Cambridge Footlights, the comedy troupe which was run by students at Cambridge University.

After graduation, he first appeared in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival during 2001 as part of The Comedy Zone, which was a late night showcase of new acts. He played the character of an overly sleazy journalist. In 2005, he moved to New York to work for the Daily Show, where he was called the “Senior British Correspondent”. He got his big break in 2013 when Jon Stewart tasked him with taking over the show for nearly a month, while Jon Stewart directed his movie.

While working for the Daily Show, he met his wife at the Republican National Convention. How ironic. His wife was a medic in the Iraq War and she was campaigning for the Republican group known as Vets for Freedom. The group, despite being Republican, hid him from security so he could get into the convention, as he was scared of being deported for sneaking in. He gave her his email address so that he could thank her, and they started dating soon after that. As one article stated, true love conquers politics.

His wife is quite visibly a large influence on his charity work. Mr. Oliver has played a big role in charities like Stand Up for Heroes, a charity that is dedicated to helping post 9/11 veterans.

John Oliver currently hosts Last Week Tonight, which began in 2014. Although he was nervous about starting the show, Mr. Oliver stated, “I’m attracted to the challenge of it. I’ve always been attracted to the stupid thing to do.” Last Week Tonight is a political comedy show that illustrates the ridiculousness of certain elements of the political system in a humorous and comprehensive way. Whereas other political comedy shows such as the Daily Show or the Nightly Show or the Colbert Report cover multiple topics over an episode, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight focuses on one main subject, allowing for much more in depth analysis. Last Week Tonight has had a huge effect on Americans’ understanding of political issues ­ it has been named the John Oliver Effect.

There are many different times that we have observed the John Oliver Effect, and while none have had as large an impact as the net neutrality segment, which I will discuss later, here are some of the times his reports have had an impact. One example would be his piece on for profit universities, which not only heavily criticized student loans, but also lamented the sorry state of education in many of the for profit colleges. As a result of the piece, many federal crackdowns ensued against these schools. A final example, besides net neutrality, is that after his piece on Washington D.C. and its lack of representation in Congress, discussing the unfairness of what is essentially taxation without representation for people in D.C., a group of D.C. activists gathered on Capitol Hill and sang his comedic fifty states song.

John Oliver’s influence on the public through the John Oliver Effect can be seen most evidently in the net neutrality debate. For those of you who do not know about it, let me explain net neutrality. It refers to the debate over internet service providers and cable companies wanting to provide two different speeds of internet connection, one which would cost more money to use, so that people with more money would have faster and better access to receiving and sending information on the internet than people who couldn’t afford the increased price.

Whereas most of the public was unaware of the net neutrality debate and/or its significance, after John Oliver performed a segment on Last Week Tonight which covered the topic, the majority of the public finally became aware of the debate and the FCC received hundreds of thousands of messages, after he stated,

At this point, and I cannot believe I am about to do this, I would like to address the Internet commenters out there directly. Good evening, monsters. For once in your life, we need you to channel that anger, that badly spelled bile that you normally reserve for unforgivable attacks on actresses you seem to think have put on weight, or non-white actors being cast as fictional characters. We need you to get out there and for once in your life, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment, my lovely trolls, turn on caps lock, and fly my pretties! Fly! Fly!

The huge number of messages ended up crashing the FCC website. This was a very important topic that many people either didn’t understand or weren’t aware of, but after John Oliver alerted the public to the issue, it massively influenced the outcome of the debate.

It is very important to me that the public be aware of certain issues. John Oliver, in a very funny way, comprehensively and widely informs us of these issues, an achievement I greatly admire. I have a strong interest in comedy acting and politics, and if given the opportunity, I would follow in his footsteps.