John Oliver on Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s strange obsessions

John Oliver (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
John Oliver (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) /

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver profiled Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the dangerous and strange leader of Turkmenistan.

Part of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver‘s appeal is the show’s unpredictability. Fans are never sure exactly what John Oliver will talk about on a given episode. That point was demonstrated on Sunday night when Oliver turned his attention to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Oliver has mentioned Berdimuhamedov in the past, highlighting the leader during a segment on authoritarianism. But this time, Last Week Tonight put a little more research in to Berdimuhamedov and revealed some of his strange obsessions.

Any time a profile of someone opens up with news reports required to prove he or she is alive, you know you’re in for something a little different. Oliver shows this certainly applies to the president of Turkmenistan, who is equal parts dangerous and odd.

Of course, Oliver is well aware that his show has a certain randomness to what the stories it features. He says as much at the beginning of this segment, warning viewers that they won’t ask why he’s talking about Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov but why anyone would talk about anything but Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Knife throwing, firearm cycling, rapping, and playing the guitar in a cloud of smoke are just some of the hobbies Oliver shows us to start the segment. The clips of Berdimuhamedov seem like something from a comedy about a cult of personality dictator. But they are very much real and Oliver makes a point of saying they aren’t even the weirdness things Berdimuhamedov does.

Oliver focuses on the horses and the very strange obsession that Berdimuhamedov has with the Akhal-Teke breed. Owning ten percent of the world’s population of Akhal-Tekes certainly qualifies as having an obsession, never mind the three books and questionable language describing horse-human relations.

And just when you thought the piece was coming to an end with Berdimuhamedov’s horse racing fall, Oliver extends the segment on the human rights violating strongman DJ with a horse obsession. There was yet more weirdness to be uncovered.

Guinness World Records can be cool and can be interesting. It’s hard to use those adjectives for records like largest indoor Ferris wheel or largest cycling awareness lesson.

It sounds like Oliver could have done an entire segment on the relationship between the Guinness World Records and authoritarian government. Instead, it is just a quick sidetrack on the bigger story of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov that sets up one of Oliver’s stranger and funnier stunts.

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John Oliver told his audience that his show was going to get weird. Nobody could have predicted that Last Week Tonight was going to talk about the horse-loving authoritarian president of Turkmenistan and end with a record-setting marble cake. But that pretty much sums up why people watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.