John Oliver fired off punchlines about the Felicity Huffman/Lori Loughlin college admissions scandal — and wondered whether or not those jokes crossed the line — as part of a broader discussion about public shaming on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight.
Actors Huffman and Loughlin are among 33 wealthy parents accused of bribing coaches and administrators in order to get their children into elite universities. Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid $500,000 to get their two daughters recruited to the University of Southern California crew team, even though they don’t participate in the sport.
“That is such a weird story,” Oliver admitted. “I don’t think anyone guessed that the next big celebrity scandal would be ‘Aunt Becky from Full House allegedly spends half-a-million dollars so a guy will pretend her daughters are good at boats.'”
While the comedian said he feels ethically sound making fun of the famous adults involved in the scandal, he’s more conflicted over the children. That debate is central to the larger piece, which examines the grey area of shaming a private citizen.
One of Loughlin’s daughters, Olivia Jade, is a social media “influencer” with 1.4 million Instagram followers and a career built on sponsored posts for companies like Amazon and Sephora. And being a public figure makes her fair game for shame, Oliver said — at least to a certain degree.
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“She’s actively made money off her brand as a fun, relatable college student,” he said, highlighting a self-filmed video in which he discussed her disinterest in school. (“I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend,” she said. “But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying. I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”)
“Even before what we learned this week, that was a little tone-deaf,” Oliver said, before showing a sponsored Amazon post featuring a photo of her USC dorm room decorated with the letters “OJ.” (O.J. Simpson attended USC and played football there.) “If you don’t see a connection between the letters ‘OJ’ and ‘USC,’ maybe it should cost half-a-million dollars to get you in there,” he host cracked.
“I’m comfortable making those jokes,” he continued. “Am I comfortable with the whole Internet piling on her? Honestly, that kind of depends how and for how long. If it’s death threats and vile comments, then of course not. If it defines her forever, that seems unfair. The window for making fun of her is probably closing.”
Later during the segment, Oliver aired an in-depth interview about public shaming with Monica Lewinsky.