Last Week Tonight examined how the entertainment value of the WWE has come at the cost of wrestlers’ health and well-being.
For some people, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) isn’t exactly on their radar or something they consider relevant. So it’s possible that skipping over Sunday’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on the topic of WWE would be understandable. But it would be a mistake.
The success of Last Week Tonight has been through exploring topics that a broad audience already understands or experiences, like robocalls, as well as finding issues that would normally only appeal to a much more narrow audience. What sets Last Week Tonight apart from other like-minded shows is that John Oliver can take those topics out of left field and bring them into the mainstream.
Having a platform on HBO certainly helps. So too does having a YouTube channel that routinely gets eight-figure hits on its videos. The audience means that Last Week Tonight is free to pick any topic it wants with little risk of fans passing on the chance to engage with the content.
That sort of fan loyalty parallels the WWE. The fans are what have turned the company into the mass media empire it is today. Not only are WWE fans extremely dedicated but they are also very vocal. They are often quick to come to the defense of professional wrestling by those who attempt to dismiss what is obviously a very popular form of entertainment.
John Oliver ran the risk of getting WWE fandom to turn against him by taking on the company on Last Week Tonight. But as we see, Oliver not only identifies himself as a fan of wrestling but he takes the position of fighting for wrestlers’ rights. WWE fans will almost always be on the side of the wrestlers rather than the company. Understanding that helps Oliver deliver a takedown of WWE’s Vince McMahon and the treatment of retired and injured wrestlers.
If you’re a wrestling fan of a certain age, it can be heartbreaking to see stars like Jake the Snake, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Brett Hart talk about just how difficult and painful life is once their wrestling careers are over. And if you don’t care for wrestling, there is still no denying the injustices that Oliver so clearly points out to the audience.
It was also clear from the start that a comparison to the NFL was coming. As the most popular sports league in the U.S., the struggles and mental health issues afflicting the NFL’s players have been much more widely reported. Oliver expertly uses this to point out the same problems that exist with WWE wrestlers.
All of it further proves the power Last Week Tonight has developed. There is a real possibility that John Oliver can help further the discussion on the employment status and health benefits of professional wrestlers by bringing these issues outside of the WWE bubble.
Keep an eye out to see if Oliver’s fans make it to Wrestlemania on April 7 in New Jersey. Any chants or signs calling for improved working conditions will likely be picked up by cameras and microphones, then amplified on Twitter. We’ll continue to have the story covered right here at Last Night On.