“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver was clearly not prepared to be asked about his fears over receiving backlash to his own jokes on the show or tweets during the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday.
But when a reporter did question if the late-night host was concerned how his own behavior might affect his career — citing the online uproar both James Gunn and Dan Harmon recently faced due to the resurfacing of old pedophilia jokes (and a sketch, in Harmon’s case) — he did answer, while making it clear he really doesn’t “know much about this.”
When a journalist asked Oliver if he worries about offending people with his tweets, the HBO host replied that he tweets about the show, “so if you hated one of those episodes, I guess you’d find that offensive? But I basically stand by what we do on TV.”
The reporter followed up saying he didn’t mean to say Oliver’s own behavior was offensive, but in general, jokes are being criticized more closely now and jobs lost over them.
“Is it happening?” Oliver questioned.
“The past few days it has,” the reporter said.
Oliver: “Really? Who is gone?”
Reporter: “Uh, Dan Harmon left Twitter, apparently.”
Oliver: “He left Twitter? [paused for laughter from the audience] That’s not really being fired, is it?”
The reporter responded that Gunn had been fired after old tweets he made about rape and pedophilia had resurfaced.
“OK, alright,” Oliver responded. “As Dan left Twitter.”
“I don’t know if that’s even a thing,” Oliver said of Harmon. “It’s not occurring to me — that’s barely a thing. Dan Harmon left Twitter — justice has been served,” he deadpanned, allowing for more laughter from reporters in the audience. “Sorry, I really don’t know much about that.”
Harmon apologized on Monday for a decades-old video that caused an online furor because it portrayed pedophilia.
“In 2009, I made a ‘pilot’ which strove to parody the series ‘Dexter’ and only succeeded in offending. I quickly realized the content was way too distasteful and took the video down immediately. Nobody should ever have to see what you saw and for that, I sincerely apologize,” he said in a statement obtained by TheWrap Monday night.
In the skit in question, created in the same year Harmon’s show “Community” debuted on NBC, Harmon makes the deadpan, joking assertion that he has shot a pilot for Showtime. He then presents footage in which his character Daryl (who speaks in a “Dexter”-style voiceover) prescribes sleeping pills to a patient so that Daryl can sneak into the man’s home and rape his newborn baby, which is played by a doll. Later, Harmon’s character sexually assaults another baby — again, a doll.
Adult Swim, the network that airs Harmon’s hit animated series, “Rick and Morty,” also released a statement, saying: “At Adult Swim, we seek out and encourage creative freedom and look to push the envelope in many ways, particularly around comedy. The offensive content of Dan’s 2009 video that recently surfaced demonstrates poor judgment and does not reflect the type of content we seek out.
But in Gunn’s case, he did lose his job, with Disney firing the writer-director from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise last Friday, after old tweets surfaced showing him joking about rape and pedophilia.
“My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative,” Gunn said in a statement. “I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time.”
There has since been an outcry of support for Disney to rehire Gunn, including an online petition that continues to gain signatures.