At 9:01 Trinidad and Tobago time last night, most of the country and much of the world were watching comedian John Oliver's well-publicised, five-minute time slot that his show Last Week Tonight had purchased on TV6, one of the twin island republic's most popular television stations. The move came as a response to former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner‘s seven-minute broadcast on TV6 last week, in which he threatened to reveal incriminating evidence.
The eyes of the world have been trained on Warner ever since the announcement of indictments against several FIFA executives by the United States Department of Justice and corresponding arrests in Zurich towards the end of May. The US has issued a formal extradition request for Warner, which he intends to fight.
Trinbagonians, many of whom are concerned about the bad press they believe the country is receiving thanks to the FIFA scandal and Warner's alleged involvement in it, had a vested interest in finding out what exactly Oliver's message to Warner was. Before the piece even aired, there was controversy, with netizens discussing the station's decision to broadcast the Warner piece in the first place, and whether TV6 should have sold rebuttal airtime to Oliver. The popular satirical website Wired 868 summed it up this way:
‘Apparently you can just buy time on TV there to say whatever you like,’ said Oliver, to raucous laughter from his audience.
The funniest part about Oliver’s claim, sadly, is that it is true.
TV6 recently showed the lifeless body of former Security Minister Martin Joseph—wearing only a red shorts—on a loop during its news broadcast, the Trinidad Guardian carried a full page advertisement that compared activist Wayne Kublalsingh to a lizard and the Trinidad Mirror, with a poignant middle finger to media watch groups, published a photograph of a naked yet aroused corpse on its front page.
Now, even foreign media houses are flying in to screw with us.
As it turned out, Oliver's barbs were milder — and less side-splittingly funny — than many thought they would be. The comedian began by taking great pains — and it was painful — to get viewers on his side by “incorporating some Trinidadian slang” into his bit. For some, it fell flat; others found it endearing. Either way, it established that Oliver's issue was with Warner and FIFA and that he was not necessarily painting the country with the same brush. For netizens who were concerned about embarrassment, it helped that Oliver also roasted American FIFA executive-turned-informant Chuck Blazer.
The main point of Oliver's “Mittens of Disapproval” was to lambaste Warner for “blueball[ing] the entire planet” by implying that he might reveal pertinent information as to FIFA “funding” — and then not doing it:
I am begging you. Release everything because, here's my argument: Why the hell not? It's not like you're not already, potentially, in a lot of trouble […]
If you turn on FIFA, do not underestimate how much people might be willing to forgive. And if, one day, you end up in jail and you're staring up at the ceiling, wouldn't you feel better to know that you took down some people with you. […] Please, release the documents, Mr Warner, and you may yet salvage your completely tattered reputation.
Reactions immediately began to pour in on Facebook. Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar thought “it was short, sweet and direct”; about the comedian's attempt at Trini-isms, he noted:
It's no different than if he did a piece in Cockney rhyming slang or in a Texas twang with regional terms. He'd mangle those as well.
Still, some expected Oliver's piece to be funnier. Darren Trinity Cheewah went so far as to post a comment to that effect on Last Week Tonight's Facebook page:
Hey John I think you are really intelligent and I do like the way you bring across your points but I'm a Trini and really, you dumbed it down tonight, I was expecting your cleaver bombshells of comedic wit and instead you gave me White man trying to speak like we, anywho I'm still a fan, that's just my 2 cents
Monique Roffey, who is half-Trinidadian, half-British, felt that Oliver's roasting of Warner “bore more than a hint of old school British racist humour, before the dawn of alternative comedy — when Britain had the black and white minstrels show and white men could say what they like about women and black people, mother-in-laws [sic] etc.”
In that vein, The Late O'Clock News, another Trinidad-based satirical website, went to town on Oliver:
A wave of nostalgia washed over Trinidad and Tobago tonight after the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, bought five minutes of airtime on TV6 and proceeded to mock the nation with his use of Trinibagonian slang. In awe of the white British man’s theatrical ability and wisdom, Trinis remembered a time when white British men like John Oliver owned slaves who looked just like them, and they long for the return of those happier times.
‘Boy, I study history in school,’ said Igno Remus of Arima, ‘and I always wished I lived in a time when white British men told us how to live our lives and made fun of our culture. Slaves seemed so happy to not have to think for themselves when decisions were made on their behalf. It not like now where we have to plan for the future and hold leaders accountable. It was easy back then.’
‘If I was a slave, I wish I had a master like John Oliver,’ said Eedie Otte of Diego Martin. ‘He would have had me laughing while he was whipping my wife in front me and her children.’
In a public note on Facebook, Kevin Jared Hosein likened Warner to the part of ourselves we hate:
Jack Warner currently is our fat ass, that particular trait that we dislike, have internally and externally protested, but have ultimately accepted into our society. He is a bastard, but he is our bastard. And unfortunately, right now, he defines Trinidad and Tobago. He is that exposed lump of flesh to the man across the street who will holler and mock him. That man across the street was John Oliver […] I understand the ultimate purpose of it was to get Jack Warner to watch. If he did, what was accomplished except to say, ‘Hey, fat ass!’ […]
The thing is, at the risk of sounding like a true edgelord, we hate ourselves. […]
We may try to separate ourselves from the two hotheads scrapping in front of the bar […] or the school officials that believe Charlie Charlie is actual-real-life-in-this-dimension devil ting […] or the tantie who squats atop a leatherback turtle. We may say, I's not dem! But the truth is that you are. We are. […]
But at the end of each day, we will become one with the bacchanal – the best and the worst of us. We will tolerate and accept it. We will post jokes and make memes and write notes (lol) about it. We will chant over and over again, in true acerbic sarcasm, ‘We reach!’ every time we look bad in the international news. But deep down, it drills through us. No, it sears through us.
Meanwhile, Wired 868's Mr. Live Wire suggested that Oliver “mauled Jack…with kindness”, which is to say that Oliver technically did everything right, but many Trinbagonians were expecting boxing gloves rather than mittens. The post explained:
Over the past decade, nothing has petrified Warner and brought more Trinbagonians to edge of the seat than the insatiable, almost omnipresent British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings.
‘Mister Waaaar-nah…’ Jennings would say. And Warner’s hair would stand on end.
The power of the British accent was diluted tonight after Oliver’s affable chat. Sorry about that, Andrew.
Now you know how us Trinis feel about Warner.
It is fair to say that journalist Lasana Liburd, the smart, fearless powerhouse behind Wired 868, understands the intricacies of Warner and FIFA in a way that John Oliver cannot. Liburd has been writing strong investigate reports about Warner's alleged improprieties for years and grasps not only the significance of Warner's power in the world football governing body, but how he used it to influence and direct the political engines of Trinidad and Tobago.
In that sense, Oliver may have slightly missed the mark when he called on Warner to deliver on his threats because to many Trinbagonians, Warner's evidence had more to do with incriminating members of the governing People's Partnership than it had to do with bringing down anyone in FIFA. While Warner admitted that the documents in question “deal with my knowledge of financial transactions at FIFA, including but not limited to its president Mr. Sepp Blatter”, the majority of his revelation was aimed at the current government of Trinidad and Tobago, of which he used to be a part.
He threatened to reveal “the link between FIFA, its funding and me; the link between FIFA, its funding and the United National Congress and the People’s Partnership Government in (the) general elections 2010; […] the section 34 fiasco; […] and, lastly, other matters involving the nation’s Prime Minister.” This stance should come as no surprise. After all, the current government holds the key to his fate, depending on whether or not it honours the US extradition request — and that could really go either way. Wired 868 noted:
Justice Minister Prakash Ramadhar yesterday claimed that Warner—the PP’s former acting Prime Minister—had ‘really polluted the stream of the politics of this nation’, which is especially funny as his COP party was launched at Warner’s Centre of Excellence.
But, as 21st century philosopher Chris Brown pointed out: ‘these hoes ent loyal.’