John Oliver loves a running joke.
Anyone who’s been watching Last Week Tonight for any length of time will know about his frequent jabs at “business daddy” (and owner of HBO) AT&T, as well as his emotional relationship with Japanese otter mascot Shinjo-Kun.
2020 was no exception, either. Over the course of the past year, Oliver engaged in a cheerful ongoing feud with the town of Danbury, Connecticut, which started with a random (and brutal) outburst and escalated to the town gleefully naming their sewage plant after him.
And then there was Adam Driver.
Oliver’s thirsty Adam Driver comments haven’t featured in every episode of Last Week Tonight, but they have cropped up pretty regularly in 2020. They’re sort of hard to explain in words, so we’ll let the first very first example — which occurred back in a February episode about India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — set the tone for you.
The comment came as Oliver was talking about a time Modi walked out of an interview back in 2007.
“That kind of behaviour is reserved for Adam Driver in an NPR interview about Marriage Story,” he said, referencing reports that the actor walked out of an interview in Dec. 2019 after being played a clip of himself in the movie. “And that is only because Adam Driver can do whatever the fuck he wants.”
Then, bringing up a photo of Driver in a suit on the red carpet, Oliver began what would quickly become his longest-running joke of 2020.
“Step on my throat, Adam Driver, you rudely large man.”
“Step on my throat, Adam Driver, you rudely large man,” he said. “Break my fingers, you brooding mountain.”
Apparently, the joke came pretty much out of nowhere, a random idea from one of Last Week Tonight‘s team of writers. Months later, during an interview with Seth Meyers that followed the final Last Week Tonight show of 2020, John Oliver said the water on the seed was the “real resistance” he felt from the studio audience when he first made those suggestive demands.
“It felt like they about 40 percent enjoyed it,” said Oliver. “And it logged in my head — ‘Ooh, let’s try and do this again’ — so we did it as a call-back a few weeks later.”
Here is said call-back, aired at the start of March during a segment on COVID-19, which had just spread to the U.S.:
“There’s only one infectious disease that two thirds of the world should be getting right now, and that’s Adam Driver fever,” said Oliver. “Shatter my knees, you fuckable redwood. Snap off my toes, you big, unwashed buffalo.”
And the gag didn’t stop there. From then on, in fact, Oliver told Meyers it was something of an obsession among his staff.
For posterity, we’ve combed through each episode of Last Week Tonight from 2020 and tracked down every last one of the host’s diabolical demands to Adam Driver we could in chronological order, starting with Oliver’s fourth episode on the coronavirus in April:
“I wouldn’t want anyone with the coronavirus serving me my next meal, unless of course that person was Adam Driver,” the host remarked during the segment.
“Sneeze in my McFlurry, you pensive bison.”
“Because infecting me with dessert is very much on my running list of things Adam Driver can do to me. Oh, I’m sorry, you thought I’d stopped the Adam Driver bit ‘cuz I’m stuck at home now? You were wrong about that. And yes, I know my wife can hear me — that’s part of it.
“Sneeze in my McFlurry, you pensive bison. Ravage my lungs, you relentless hillock.”
The bit continued in Oliver’s sixth episode on the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of May:
“Yeah, that sounds pretty unpleasant,” said Oliver in his segment, after playing a clip of a woman talking about her COVID-19 test experience. “Unless of course your brain is being pulled out through your nostril by Adam Driver.
“Pull my heart out through my ear, you meaty oak tree. Impale my brain, you unacceptable monstrosity.”
Next up was Oliver’s breakdown of sports and the coronavirus in mid-May:
This time, the ever-tenuous segue involved a clip of WWE chairman Vince McMahon talking about new content being “a driver in terms of stimulating interest.”
“OK, well first, I would argue that the risks of creating content the way that you are seem to outweigh the benefits right now, and second, no one on that call registered your point there, because you just said ‘stimulating,’ ‘strong men,’ ‘underwear,’ and crucially, ‘driver,’ all in the same sentence, at which point everyone’s minds turned immediately to getting absolutely bone-crushed by Adam Driver,” Oliver said.
“Chokeslam me to hell, you nasty shed. Jam your mandible claw down my throat, you irredeemable steer.”
At this point, Oliver gave a crucial side note about the bit in general, addressing any audience members who might have been pondering where he was going with it.
“If you’re anything like my staff, you’re asking questions like, ‘Is this sexual, or is it violent?’ and you’re then unsatisfied when the answer comes back: ‘Yes,'” said Oliver. “If you’re like my wife, you might be asking, ‘Should I be worried about this?’ with your concern only growing when the answer is: ‘Only if you want to be.’ And what of Adam Driver himself? Is he bothered by this continued sexualisation? He seems like a fairly private guy who’s generally uncomfortable with attention, making what I’m doing possibly some form of harassment. He might actually have pretty good grounds to have me reprimanded legally, to which I say: ‘Do it.’
“Slap a restraining order on me, you forlorn block. Beg me to stop, you menacing obstacle.”
Following an Adam Driver hiatus that came on the heels of that lengthy aside, it seemed for a while that the joke might be over. But it wasn’t. It eventually came back stronger than ever in October, during Oliver’s segment on Trump’s border wall.
This time the segue involved Trump reportedly describing the border wall design as “ugly.”
“I have to say, he’s not actually wrong there,” responded Oliver. “I don’t mean to wall shame, but if I had a list of hot walls, that one wouldn’t even crack the top 30. This stone wall? Scorching hot. This wooden one? Call me tomorrow, you big tease.” Then, somewhat inevitably, Oliver pulled up the familiar photo of Driver on the red carpet.
“This human wall? I think we all know how I feel about that. Collapse on my chest, you impenetrable barrier. Crush my ribcage, you load-bearing behemoth.”
Of course, for a joke as long-running as this one, the conclusion had to be truly epic. And fortunately, it absolutely was.
During the final show of Last Week Tonight mid-November, Oliver was halfway through a request for Adam Driver to crush his larynx when the phone suddenly rang — and Driver himself was on the other end.
“What the fuck are you doing?” demanded the actor, staring sternly through the camera at Oliver. “This bit. This thing that you’ve been doing that’s either sexual or violent […] What’s wrong with you? You realise we’re strangers, right? I don’t know you. And now random people on the internet ‘stan’ us, claiming that you ‘thirsting’ over me is a ‘mood.’ I’m sick of people stopping me on the street and asking me if I’m going to punch a hole in you like a Marriage Story wall!”
“…you hollow-boned Mr Bean cosplayer…”
Eventually, after chastising Oliver some more and calling him a “deeply weird, small, small thing,” the actor managed to force an apology. And then he gave the host some advice: get out of the blank void he’s been recording his shows from and go back outside again.
Oliver’s response? “Just to be absolutely clear, though Adam, are you giving me an order?”
“Explore the fucking space, you hollow-boned Mr Bean cosplayer,” replied Driver. “Look around you, you underbaked gingerbread boy.”
Needless to say, Oliver seemed to enjoy that. And as Driver finally hung up in disgust, the bit was finished at last.
Unless Adam Driver orders a comeback, of course.