John Oliver Compares Death Penalty To McRib: ‘Tantalizing,’ But ‘Ethically Wrong’ (VIDEO)

Comedian John Oliver’s mission for his new HBO show “Last Week Tonight” is to tackle the week’s biggest news stories, so on Sunday he took a valient shot at a rather touchy subject: the botched execution in Oklahoma.

President Barack Obama on Thursday called the flawed execution of inmate Clayton Lockett “deeply troubling.” But other lawmakers, including Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), have said the botched execution does not diminish their firm support of the death penalty.

Oliver acknowledged the risks of doing a comedic treatment of the death penalty at the start of the 12-minute segment, so he promised viewers they could watch a feel-good clip of tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos if they stomached the whole thing.

The comedian kicked things off with a clip of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, in which the Bush official explained his personal support for the policy — in the cases of “those who are guilty of committing the crime,” of course.

“Bold idea. We shouldn’t execute innocent people,” Oliver observed. “I think most people would probably agree with that. You, sir, are a regular Atticus Finch.”

Oliver then acknowledged that as a Brit, he doesn’t know much about the death penalty in the U.S. Britain outlawed capital punishment in the 1960’s, but he pointed out that before it was banned the country “went medieval on people’s asses” — from boiling people alive to burning them at the stake.

“I know that all of this is still technically horrifying, but that’s kind of the point,” he said. “Because whether you are boiling people alive, or putting them to sleep with a tiny injection administered by a puppy dressed as Winnie the Pooh, in the end you are getting the same result.”

“The death penalty is one of those things that is natural to want, but that you shouldn’t necessarily have,” he later added. “The death penalty is like the McRib. When you can’t have it, it’s so tantalizing. But when they bring it back, you think ‘this is ethically wrong.’”

Watch below, courtesy of HBO:

Correction: This post and its headline have been updated to reflect that Oliver said the death penalty, like the McRib, is “ethically wrong.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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