John Oliver and Jimmy Fallon’s shows are basically at opposite ends of the late night spectrum: One specialises in furious deep dives into the often-hidden issues eating away at the foundations of American life, and the other in celeb dance challenges and game segments that are harmless fun at best and, at worst, nugatory and overproduced insults to the intelligence of both his guests and his audience. But even Fallon shouldn’t have been quite so surprised when Oliver brought a little of that Last Week Tonight heat to his Tonight Show appearance on Monday night.
Before their Zoom interview, Oliver joined Fallon in a game called Hey Robot, where the two were aiming to get Alexa to say a certain word — like “Liverpool” or “Leprechaun” — by asking just the right question. It went well enough, until Oliver’s crucial error of asking an American-based Alexa about “the greatest football team” when he didn’t mean the kind of football involving helmets and shoulderpads. The Liverpool F.C. superfan took that one personally, and went on to take digs at Alexa’s “rotten heart.”
“This clearly isn’t a commercial for this,” Fallon giggled nervously to someone offscreen, gesturing to the Amazon Echo on the table between himself and the screen displaying Oliver’s enormous grinning face.
“Oh, in which case, I’ve got another one,” Oliver went on. “Alexa, how bad are Amazon working conditions?“
After a beat, silent but for audible hoots of gleeful laughter from members of the Tonight Show crew, Fallon quickly told the smart speaker, “Alexa stop!” before it could get further than “I’m not sure.” (Couldn’t find anything on the web for that one, eh?) But Oliver wasn’t having that.
“Oh no, Alexa,” he insisted. “No, Alexa! Alexa, what is union-busting?”
Fallon managed to get the game back on track without any further digressions into Amazon’s much-criticised approach to worker wellbeing. But Oliver got in one more hit as the segment was winding up. As Fallon proclaimed him “the king of Alexa,” Oliver leaned into his mic and talked over Fallon’s throw to commercial: “I don’t like you, Alexa. I think you’re a net negative for humanity.”
Now, I don’t have an Alexa handy, but I’d sure be interested to hear what she says if you ask her what union-busting is. And if Oliver’s cheeky hijacking of this silly game bothers the actual king of Alexa, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s rustled some jimmies over at that particular castle.