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'Last Week Tonight': How Fake Is The Fake News?

I really dug last year's crop of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episodes. The idea of tweaking The Daily Show format into something that would tackle one big issue a week appealed to both my political sensibilities and my dramatically short Gen X attention span.

During the "off season," however, some serious doubt about the fake news crept in.

Every couple of weeks John Oliver would pop up on YouTube with a segment that responded to the news of the week: accompanied by the sounds of laughter from the studio audience.

But why would there be a studio audience for a two minute Youtube video…oh. It wasn’t a studio audience. It was a laugh track. It had to be a laugh track, and as I listened closely and watched those segments for a second time I would be shocked to learn that it wasn’t: because the cadence of the laughter sounds canned. That disappointed me. I understand why laugh tracks get used, but for this brand of comedy a laugh track just feels—well disingenuous is too generous: it feels like a fucking lie.

That’s right Mr. Oliver, it feels like you’re shitting on the hand that feeds you. Or some other hyperbolic statement I should shout at the image box in the upper left hand side of the screen. Repeatedly. #Donteatfromthathand.

So I watched last night’s episode with my ears dialed in to the laughter and my eyes peeled for a glimpse of the studio audience. I’ll admit that I can’t tell from the laughter if it was canned or not… but the distinct lack of a camera angle on a studio audience left me with a cold feeling. So too did the video footage dredged up from 2010 which was being used to make a case about the current state of the pharmaceutical industry.

Look: this wouldn’t matter if Oliver’s show wasn’t a hit and it wasn’t treated as the political marching orders for the blogging set. I think it’s great that satire is being used so surgically in a time when we clearly need to take a long, jaundiced look at how our society functions.

It’s just weird to think that Last Week Tonight is a total illusion, and now that I’ve gotten a glimpse behind the curtain I can’t settle into the arguments that Oliver makes each week.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a studio audience. Maybe I missed something last night? I hope I’m wrong. I’d like to go back to enjoying the show.