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“SNL” And John Oliver Pulled No Punches In Putting Bill O’Reilly On Blast

Both topical late night comedy shows addressed O’Reilly’s recent troubles in different ways, which are equally worthwhile viewing.

“SNL” And John Oliver Pulled No Punches In Putting Bill O’Reilly On Blast

Bill O’Reilly has just entered the Nose Pin Zone, where advertisers would have to clamp something over their nostrils in order to not smell the toxic publicity coming from his recent sexual harassment lawsuit revelations.

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It started with a months-in-the-works New York Times article on April 1, which revealed that Fox News had settled about $13 million worth of lawsuits over the years to address female employees’ complaints about O’Reilly. It was something people sort of knew about the TV host and popular family-values book author/historian since his 2004 lawsuit, which occurred before social media existed. Following the online reverberations of the NYT article, the pundit’s show, The O’Reilly Factor, has been hemorrhaging advertisers at a rapid clip–and both Saturday Night Live and Last Week Tonight clearly smell blood in the water.

More than 60 advertisers pulled their support from The O’Reilly Factor by the time SNL got around to skewing the show over the weekend. In an already-viral sketch from the show, Alec Baldwin pulls double-duty to play his usual Donald Trump and also the embattled talking head.

There’s a reason this clip has been shared millions of times in one day. First of all, Baldwin is surprisingly fantastic as O’Reilly. He has the mannerisms down, specifically the emphatic, smug smile that spreads across the host’s face after he makes just about any point. And though it’s 90% due to a great makeup team, Baldwin looks the part too. Another reason the sketch is great is because it follows in a hallowed SNL tradition of scenes that reveal which Z-grade sponsors remain after a host’s controversial statements spur A-listers to bail. (See for instance this Rush Limbaugh skewering from 2012, after Rush called contraceptive advocate Sandra Fluke a “slut,” and worse.)

Perhaps the real reason the sketch worked so well, however, is because of the implicit point made by having the same actor play both Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump in a split-screen shot. Trump, who recently came to O’Reilly’s defense after the NYT article, calling him “a good person” who “didn’t do anything wrong,” has harbored a lot of sexual harassment accusations of his own. Casting Baldwin as both men paints them as two sides of the same coin.

SNL wasn’t the only show to lump both men together in covering O’Reilly’s woes, though. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did as well, albeit in a completely different way. First, Oliver went in on the pundit’s parent company. O’Reilly’s sexual harassment lawsuits are only the latest to rock Fox News recently. Last year, Roger Ailes was ousted when he couldn’t harbor his own series of harassment scandals. Oliver recounted the series of events to paint Fox News as a poisonous environment for women, whose long-simmering misdeeds are finally seeing sunlight. And then he sent in the cowboy.

Fans of Oliver’s show will have seen the “Catheter Cowboy” deployed multiple times in the current season of LWT. He’s part of a brilliant recurring bit on the show in which Oliver buys airtime on Fox News, the channel favored by our Commander in Chief, to get a message directly to Trump. This time, the cowboy was used as a harbinger to spread the word that, despite what the president may think, sexual harassment is in fact Bad and Wrong.

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If it seems trivial for comedians to point out that sexual harassment is wrong, consider this: A lot of people knew that Bill Cosby had been accused repeatedly of sexual assault over the years, but they really started to care after the way a comedian pointed it out. 

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.

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