The Week Late-Night Comics Fought Back
Tech policy is not generally the domain of the wise-ass funny men who host America’s late-night comedy shows.
This past week, however, two late-night hosts have taken on the intricacies of technological wonkery –– and thrived. Comedians John Oliver and Stephen Colbert each targeted what they view as questionable tech behavior. Each scored major press coverage and larger-than-usual viewership and, perhaps, influenced the national conversation around two important tech debates that may otherwise have been ignored by the populace at large.
Though late-night hosts have taken aim at the tech industry before, and while at least one, Jimmy Fallon, seems to be producing clips aimed at a Web-savvy audience, this has been a banner week for satire, mockery, and outright comedic indignation directed at our technological overlords. Comics who are most accustomed to poking fun at hapless Fox News hosts and clueless congressmen have found their advocacy hats –– and the look suits them.
Take, for instance, John Oliver, the charming Brit who hosts Last Week with John Oliver on HBO. Though his show, which is in its first year, has been notably focused on international politics, Oliver kicked off the week with a surprise viral hit, and one of his fledgling program’s most successful segments yet: an extended riff on the traditionally dull topic of net neutrality.
This is particularly impressive because net neutrality is a vital subject that the mainstream press can’t seem to find a way to make un-boring. Net neutrality is (deep breaths, this won’t take long, and it’s important) the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Time Warner must serve you all Web content at the same speed, regardless of who is providing that content. A recent proposal by the FCC would for the first time enable so-called “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for content, so that ISPs could choose which sites they wanted to serve, well, faster or slower.
Critics of the proposal warn that this could mean slower Netflix and YouTube speeds, unless those companies paid up for access to the fast lanes. And it could mean slower load times for Internet startups who couldn’t afford to pay the toll.
The issue is often painted as a dire threat to the Internet as we know it; it nevertheless gets much less attention than, say, Bradley Cooper’s short shorts. That changed with Oliver’s segment from this past Sunday, in which he rails against the FCC’s net neutrality proposal: A YouTube clip shot to the top of popular Internet link board reddit and has racked up over 2 million views in about four days.