Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 35 - Pennies - full transcript

John reflects about the Paris attacks aftermath and how useless the U.S. penny is.

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Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight" !

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you so much for joining us.

And we begin tonight with a story
that has dominated the news all week,

the horrific terror attacks in France.

Now, one of the big developments of
this week was that the ringleader

Abdelhamid Abaaoud
was killed on Wednesday,

and his death was welcomed
by pretty much everyone.

"The New York Times" reports

when his family heard that he'd
possibly been killed last year,

Abaaoud's own sister said,
they prayed he was dead.

Holy shit.

Even his own family
had prayed for his death,

which is absolutely

but it's also the darkest
tale of a family's homicidal tendencies

towards one of their own
since the "Home Alone" movies.

Yeah. You really think the McCallisters
left Kevin behind by accident twice ?

No, they wanted that little shit
out of the picture.

Open your eyes.
The McCallisters were murderers.


Now as for the people
of France themselves,

they have spent the week trying to
resume something resembling daily life,

an effort led by their president
Francois Hollande.

Life must resume in full.

What would our country be
without its cafés,

concerts, sporting events
and museums ?

I'll tell you what France would be like
without these cultural institutions.

It would be Luxembourg,
and nobody wants that.

Did you know that if you Google
"interesting Luxembourg facts,"

the result is
just a page that says, "No" ?

Now, to their credit,

many French people have embraced
this idea of returning to normal life.

And I think
the most reassuring sign

that they're getting back to being
their quintessential selves

was how they behaved at a concert just
a few days after the attacks,

when someone tried to stage-dive.

There is the Paris
we know and love,

a city of people so aloof,

they wouldn't lift a finger to catch
one of their own airborne pop stars.

"I do not care for,
how you say ?

"Crowd surfing.

"Such a crass spectaclebetrays nothing
but a poverty of intimacy, non ?


A French TV show actually
took that video out

and showed it to people in the street,
and their response was fantastic.

You know, to me, that is the best sign
that France is going to be okay.

It's how New Yorkers knew this city
was going to bounce back after 9/11

the first time a heavyset man
in a Jets visor stole a cab from them

and told them to go
fuck themselves.

That is what healing
looks like.

Meanwhile, here in the US,

the Paris attackers touched off a
ferocious debate about Syrian refugees.

President Obama had pledged to accept
at least 10,000 over the next year,

but after news broke

that one of the attackers may have
posed as a refugee and entered Europe

through Greece
with a fake Syrian passport,

many US officials
had second thoughts.

31 governors now oppose,
are refusing or suspending

the resettlement of Syrian
refugees into their states.

Okay, that's pretty extreme,

but it's also pretty meaningless
for two reasons:

One, governors don't have
the legal authority to ban refugees.

And two, even if they could, Syrians
can just walk between states

like anyone else.

The lines on maps are not
crocodile-filled moats.

Presidential candidates got involved
with this anti-refugee rhetoric.

Donald Trump, Ben Carson
and Marco Rubio

called for a halt to all Syrian
refugees entering the country,

and others, like Ted Cruz
and Jeb Bush,

argued we could take some
if they were Christian.

And if you're wondering how that would
work, let Jeb Bush explain.

What does the focus on Christian
families actually look like ?

Well, you're Christian. You can
prove you're a Christian.

- How ?
- I think you can prove it.

I think you can prove it.
I'm pretty sure you can prove it.

I'll tell you how. A Christian has ears
that protrude out from the head,

whereas non-Christians
lack external ears altogether.

Hold on.
I'm thinking about seals and sea lions.

I get them confused. Forget what I said
about Christians and Muslims.

I don't know what I'm talking about.

And it was not just Republicans.

The Democratic mayor of
Roanoke, Virginia, David Bowers,

was so terrified of Syrian refugees,

he used the worst possible
historical example to prove his point.

Mayor David Bowers wrote, "I'm reminded
President Roosevelt felt compelled

"to sequester Japanese foreign
nationals after Pearl Harbor.

"It appears the threat of harm
to America from ISIS now

"is just as real and serious
as that from our enemies then."

Wow. Did he not realize that
Japanese internment camps

are one of this nation's
greatest sources of shame ?

It's one of the parts of his legacy his
family would most like you to forget.

And bear in mind,
this is a man whose own biopic

featured a scene of him getting
a hand job from his distant cousin.

Did I have to show you that ? No.

Did I want to ?
Absolutely, I did.

But this week's events call to mind
a chapter from FDR's time in office

that is even more shameful than
the saddest and classiest hand job,

specifically, when in 1939
US authorities turned away a ship

containing more than 900 mostly Jewish
refugees from Germany,

something American newsreels at the
time tried to put a positive spin on.

907 Jewish unfortunates without
a country permitted to land in Belgium

after five weeks
of suspense afloat.

Through American generosity, they will
find at least temporary shelter

in France, Holland,
and England.

Yes, we sent a boat of Jews
back to Europe in 1939.

More than a quarter of them
then died in the war.

So this Thanksgiving,
when your grandmother's complaining

about your new piercings, saying
your generation is terrible,

simply reply, "Nana, at least we didn't
send Jews back to Europe in 1939."

Then break off a turkey leg,
drop it like a microphone,

and you've just won
the dinner. Dinner over.

Although, let's be honest here,

every generation has had
its own ugly reaction to refugees,

whether they are the Irish, the
Vietnamese, the Cubans or the Haitians.

And those fears have been
broadly unfounded.

In fact, there was only one time
in American history

when the fear of refugees wiping
everyone out did actually come true,

and we'll all be sitting around
the table celebrating it on Thursday.

And look, it is absolutely fair...

It's fair to be concerned about safety
in the wake of these attacks.

And it's fair to wonder
who we're letting in

and what sort of screening system
is in place.

Unfortunately, many of the people
talking about it this week

don't seem to have the first idea
of what we're doing.

Do we know
who these people are ? No.

Are they properly vetted ?

How do you vet them ?
There's no possible way to vet them.

There's virtually no vetting,
'cause there are no databases in Syria.

There are no government records.
We don't know who these people are.

Look, it is difficult to vet people
coming out of a war zone,

but it's not like we're just letting
anyone in. We are the USA,

not Arizona State.

just for the record here,

let me walk you through
what our screening process actually is.

If you're a refugee,
first you apply

through the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees,

which collects documents
and performs interviews.

Incidentally, less than
one percent of refugees worldwide

end up being recommended
for resettlement.

But if you're one of them,
you may then be referred

to the State Department,
to begin the vetting process.

More information is collected. You'll
be put through security screenings

by the National
Counterterrorism Center,

the FBI, and the Department
of Homeland Security.

And if you're a Syrian refugee, you'll
get an additional layer of screening

called the Syria Enhanced Review,

which may include a further check
by a special part of Homeland Security,

the USCIS Fraud Detection
and National Security Directorate.

And don't relax yet, 'cause
we've barely even started.

Then you finally get
an interview with USCIS officers

and you'll also be fingerprinted,

so your prints can be run through
the biometric databases of the FBI,

the Department of Homeland Security,
and the Department of Defense.

And if you make it through all that,
you'll then have health screenings,

which, let's face it,
may not go too well for you,

as you may have given yourself a stroke
getting through this process so far.

But if everything comes back clear,
you'll be enrolled in cultural classes,

all while your information continues to
be checked against terrorist databases

to make sure that no new information
comes in that wasn't caught before.

All of that has to happen
before you get near a plane.

This process typically
takes 18 to 24 months

once you've been referred
by the UN to the United States.

This is the most rigorous vetting

anyone has to face
before entering this country.

No terrorist in their right mind
would choose this path

when the visa process
requires far less effort.

But nevertheless, the House
still voted on Thursday

to add a few more steps.

The House voted 289 to 137
for tougher screening procedures,

requiring the FBI director to sign off
on each and every refugee.

He signs off on...
That is ridiculous.

At this point, why don't we just
include a pie eating contest,

a spelling bee
and an evening wear portion ?

But the really hard truth here is

no one can promise that someone
dangerous still might not slip through.

While that risk should not be denied,
it also should not be wildly inflated.

Let me ask this. If you bought
a five-pound bag of peanuts,

and you knew that in
the five-pound bag of peanuts,

there were about 10 peanuts
that were deadly poisonous,

would you feed them to your kids ?
The answer is no.

Yeah, of course it's no.

You should give your kids an actual
meal, not a handful of peanuts,

because they're human children,
not circus elephants. But second,

we wanted to do the math
on what he just said,

so we bought five pounds of peanuts
and we counted them.

There are about
1,000 nuts in there.

So if 10 of them are poisoned,
Mike Huckabee is essentially suggesting

that about one of every 100 refugees
is a terrorist.

But in reality, of the more than
784,000 refugees

admitted to the US since 9/11,

only three have been arrested for
planning terrorist activities,

none of which, by the way,
resulted in attacks here.

So the actual known ratio
of arrested terror suspects to refugees

is not one in 100.
It's one in roughly 261,000.

Peanuts themselves have killed
far more people in the last decade

than terrorist refugees.

I'll go one step further.

Men named Mike have killed more people
than terrorist refugees.

And I don't see us
rounding all of them up.

And that's kind of the point, 'cause,
as reasonable adults, we accept

tiny amounts of risk
baked into our everyday lives.

We drive cars despite knowing around
30,000 of us die in them each year.

We go swimming despite the fact
10 people a day die from drowning.

20 Americans every year
are killed by cows,

but no one is saying we should expel
all cows from the country.

We're happy just taking them out
one at a time, thinking,

"Well, we got them
before they got us."

This is what freedom tastes like.

Any rational person knows,
you cannot completely eliminate risk.

You can only manage it. We do it with
peanuts, cars, swimming and hamburgers,

and men named Mike, 'cause we rightly
think that they're worth the risk.

I would argue, for the tremendous good
we could do and the low level of risk,

refugees are worth it too.
And you may disagree,

but it is worth noting, as we devise
new ways to close our doors this week,

France, which had just
suffered a terror attack

and has far less ability
to police its borders, did this.

French President says France will still
welcome refugees into the country

despite the Paris massacre. Speaking at
a gathering of the nation's mayors,

he said France will keep
its commitment

to take in 30,000 refugees
over the next two years.

Hollande added that France will remain
a country of freedom.

Yeah, because they think
it's worth the risk.

And it's frankly not ideal
that Francois Hollande,

a man who broke up
with his partner of 30 years

to shack up with a lover who looks
exactly like her, 10 years younger,

only to quickly leave
that lover for another lover

who looks exactly like the second
lover, just 10 years younger again,

that man is currently functioning

as an effective moral compass
for our politicians.

And now this.

And now, the dismal prop comedy
of the US Congress.

Here you have a little
condiment package.

Here you have a bun
with a... something in between.

And then you have a half of fruit
over on the other side.

This administration has been
dangerously incompetent

in providing homeland security.

I have a couple of shots here
from this very same well,

where I gave
a very similar speech.

"Don't tax me to pay for
health care that you guys want."

Geraldo Rivera and Ted Koppel.

A large, orange,
slovenly, lazy cat.

Justin Bieber
and Selena Gomez.

Steak, vodka.

President Ronald Reagan.

We have Christmastime
and we have socks.

It's a snowball.

It's a catfish.

US jobs.
This is the Pac-Man.

Chicken noodle soup.

Moving on...

Just so you know,
this is our final show of the year.

And after all the big, intractable
topics we've taken on this season,

we thought it might be nice to go out
on a problem that's not just tidy

but also totally fixable.

The penny,
once again on the cover

of this month's
"Infant Swallowables" magazine.

The US Mint produces around eight
billion new pennies every single year,

which is strange, considering pennies
are currently worth so little,

they're not even worth
what they're worth.

According to the government, each new
penny now costs 1.7 cents to make,

rendering each a loss
from the start.

It's true.
1.7 cents to make one cent.

That really makes the phrase, "You have
to spend money to make money,"

ring painfully true.

So we spend around
$136 million a year

making $80 million worth of currency
that, let's face it, no one uses.

One study found that two-thirds of
pennies don't circulate.

And yet the penny
hangs around for no reason,

like the appendix
or the new "Muppets" TV show.

How is this still on ? And how did
someone somewhere think,

"You know what the problem with this
is ? Kermit doesn't fuck enough pigs.

"Let's have him fuck a different pig.
Let's do that. Let's all do that."

In fact, a few years back,
a local station in New York

sent out a camera crew
to put the penny to the test.

I performed a little experiment
on the street today.

I dumped 150 pennies
onto the sidewalk and just watched.

Who would pick them up ?

People saw the pennies,
like this woman, but kept walking.

After 25 minutes,
not one person bent down.

Think about that.
A penny is actual US currency,

and yet the prospect of the free one
on the ground is treated like

a free copy of Kirstie Alley's
memoir resting in a used diaper.

And if you're thinking, "John, that's
just one instance," no, it's not.

A few years later, a San Francisco news
crew ran the exact same experiment.

It's your lucky day. Abe Lincoln,
face-up on the sidewalk.

Better move quick.
He'll be gone any second, right ?

- You don't want them ?
- No.

What ?

Throwing pennies on the ground
is catnip to local news crews.

"Hey, did an old woman
celebrate a birthday ?" "No."

"Okay, did an animal
do something funny ?" "No."

"Okay, get me a handful
of pennies and a camera.

"I'm getting us to the 10:30
repeat of 'Friends.'

Who wants a penny ?"

But our indifference to pennies doesn't
stop there. In a 2002 Gallup poll

two percent of Americans admitted to
throwing pennies in the garbage,

which means the US Mint
is spending millions to make garbage.

And that's not their job.
That's M. Night Shyamalan's job.

And when we're not
throwing pennies in the garbage,

we're doing even
worse things with them,

as attested to
by a Reddit thread titled

"I put a penny in my butt
and now I can't get it out."

And, before you ask, apparently the
reason they did it was, and I quote,

"I wanted to know what it would feel
like to put a cold penny up my butt.

(I put it in the fridge
for like... 2-3 hours.)"

First, a little-known fact.

That's actually how Daniel Day Lewis
prepared to play Abraham Lincoln.

And incidentally,
and this is also true,

that penny is currently
in your pocket.

And it's not just hard
to carry pennies around.

It can be hard to spend them.
According to the Treasury Department,

private businesses are free
to prohibit payment in pennies.

And some of them
have caught on to this.

At a growing number of businesses,

including Mike's Bikes in San Rafael,
pennies have fallen from favor.

Now at Mike's, every cash transaction

rounds down to the nearest nickel
in a customer's favor.

Their reaction has been
overwhelmingly underwhelming.

Whatever is easier.
I don't care. Am I helping ?

I'm pretty sure.

We found the man who gives the least
amount of shits in American history.

Someone out there needs to meme
this beautiful man, and do it now.

In fact,
as far as I can tell,

there are only two things
pennies are genuinely good for.

One, you can throw a penny
in a fountain to make a wish.

But at its current value,
no fountain is granting you a wish,

unless it's incredibly small, like

"I wish somewhere in the world
a mouse has a good day,"

or, "I wish I knew what a penny
looked like underwater."

The only other option is
use pennies out of pure spite,

like this UNC-Charlotte student
did with a parking fine.

Coyle went to three different banks to
get five $25 boxes with 2500 pennies.

That got him to reach
his total of 11,000.

And I brought them in three
separate buckets for them.

He sat there while two workers
counted every single penny.

It took them approximately
three hours and 40 minutes.

Wow, that college kid
sure taught those two employees

who had nothing to do with the policy
he was protesting a lesson.

I bet the school gave him
his own parking spot after that.

And it is worth noting,
pennies don't just waste our time.

Having them hanging around
can sometimes be downright dangerous.

Jack is a voracious eater,
says his owner Tim Kelleher.

He jumped up on the desk trying to get
something, he chewed through the bag

and knocked the box over
and pennies were everywhere.

And he licked up the pennies
and he licked up 111 of them.

Holy shit.
111 pennies.

At that point, that dog had more
Lincoln in him than Mary Todd.

And by the way,
and this is also true,

one of the pennies inside that dog is
in your pocket right now.

So why haven't
we gotten rid of the penny ?

One reason, believe it or not, is
that there is a penny lobby.

And at the forefront is
a terribly named group called

"Americans for Common Cents,"

whose spokesman has some
pretty unconvincing arguments.

Americans overwhelmingly
want to keep the penny.

And no one has explained
how we would replace

the millions of dollars
that are raised by charities

and charity drives every year
if we didn't have the penny around.

Wait, so his argument is
no one would give to charity

if they couldn't give something
basically worthless,

which is a pretty cynical
view of humanity.

I'll be honest,
I don't think much of people,

but even I have to believe they'd be
willing to break out a fucking nickel.

And you might want to take his argument
with a grain of salt,

given his group's backers.

Weller is a lobbyist
for Jarden Zinc,

the Tennessee company
that sells those little blank discs

for the Mint to turn
into Lincoln pennies.

So they're in the pocket
of Big Zinc.

If not for the penny, what are they
supposed to do with all those discs ?

Hold a mini Olympic discus throwing
competition starring hamsters ?

Yes, that's clearly
exactly what they should do.

But even that zinc company doesn't seem
to care that much about pennies.

So far this year, they've only spent
around $140,000 lobbying on it,

which isn't much,
considering that Jarden Corporation,

their parent company,
is a $10-billion business.

The penny contract
is nothing to them,

next to the money that they make from
products like, and this is true,

Yankee Candle,
Crock-Pots, and class rings.

Jarden makes anything that you would
find left behind after a burglary.

But there is actually one more staunch
defender of the penny,

Lincoln enthusiasts.

As the Lincoln Library told us,
they'll fight for the Lincoln penny

right down to the last cent.

Yeah, but why ? Lincoln doesn't need
the penny for notoriety.

He's everywhere. We've put him on
novelty bandages,

cup-and-ball games
and creepy Chia pets.

And you know where else
we put him ? The five-dollar bill!

You know, the thing that's worth
500 times more than the penny.

And if you're thinking, "We could make
the penny out of something cheaper,"

we can't. The US Mint admitted "there
are no alternative metal compositions

that reduce the manufacturing cost of
the penny below its face value."

Essentially, there is no cheaper way
to make a penny,

'cause there is no other substance
that is so worthless

without making them out of
DVDs of "The Cosby Show."

And we don't want to...

We don't want to do that.
We don't want to do that.

And if we wanted to get rid of
the penny, we could do it.

Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand
and many others have all done so.

It wouldn't even be the first time
the US got rid of a coin.

We used to have a halfpenny,
and guess when we got rid of it.

The halfpenny was dropped
at 1857,

because inflation had rendered
its buying power obsolete.

They knew it didn't make sense
to keep a currency that had no value,

and that was back in 1857,

when people were scared of the moon
and wiped their asses with rocks.

So come on,
let's dump the penny,

not 'cause we need to, not 'cause
it will change a great deal,

but because there are certain things
we know are impossible to get rid of,

terrorism, herpes
and Guy Fieri.

But the penny is a nuisance
we could actually do something about.

So let's do it, America. Let's get
the penny out of our pockets,

out of our dogs, out of our fridges
and out of our asses.

We can do this !

And now this.

And now, what in God's name
are they covering on WCBS News at 11 ?

"Shock Yourself Happy,"
tonight on CBS2 News at 11:00.

"Barcode Bandits,"
tonight at 11:00.

"Women are Shaving Their Faces,"
tonight at 11:00.

"New Age Networking.
The Kava Craze."

"Secret Lives of Suburban Wives."

"Mirrored Pain."
"Virtual Kidnapping."

"The ATM Panic Button."
"Shaming Your Name."

"The Anger Room,"
tonight at 11:00.

"Scalp Botox,"
tonight at 11:00.

"The Vampire Facial,"
tonight at 11:00.

"Younger Hands,"
tonight at 11:00.

"Viagra for Kids,"
tonight at 11:00.

"Long Distance Chicken,"
tonight on CBS2 News at 11:00.

And finally tonight,
this is our final show of the year

and we just wanted to take a moment to
say thank you so much for watching.

We've had such a fun year.
And we made a sex ed video.

We created mascots
for government agencies.

Dueted with both Kenny G
and Michael Bolton.

I sat down
with Edward Snowden

in the most terrifying
48-hour trip of my entire life.

We replaced the Marlboro Man

with Jeff the Diseased Lung
in a Cowboy Hat.

And we managed to get him
onto billboards in Uruguay,

T-shirts in Togo,
and, thanks to you,

a top spot when you Google image search
"Marlboro" on the Internet.

I can only imagine
they're so pleased with that.

We got into a spat
with the president of Ecuador

who called this show
"more unpleasant than a diuretic,"

as well as with former
FIFA vice president Jack Warner,

which culminated in us buying time
on Trinidadian television

and nearly setting fire to the set.

You have no idea how true that is.

I also drank a whole Bud Light Lime
to celebrate Sepp Blatter's downfall,

which, for the record,
tasted like unflushed toilet water

after margarita night
at a frat house.

Oh, and I nearly forgot.
We founded a church!

A church.

Our Lady
of Perpetual Exemption,

which raised nearly $70,000
and five cups of human sperm.

Praise be. Praise be.
Praise be unto sperm.

It has been quite a year, so
thank you so much for watching.

And what more disgusting
way to say goodbye

than by sipping on a room-temperature
Bud Light Lime ? Cheers.

Repellent. It takes like a lacrosse
player's night sweats.

There are so many people
I have to thank.

First, I have to thank my wife,
specifically, Wanda Jo Oliver.

Wanda Jo, my darling,
thank you so much for being here.

Wanda Jo, since the church
has disbanded, how have you been ?

Oh, my John, I have been
deep in prayer with our accountants,

studying the scriptures
of US tax codes.

- Praise loopholes.
- Praise them. Praise unto loopholes.

Praise unto them,
Wanda Jo.

Yes, and praise
the holy relics of our church...

Specifically, this...

...three-foot wooden penis
and this bag of seed. Praise seed !

- Praise it. Praise it.
- Praise seed.

Now, Wanda... Wanda, I have to ask,
just for the record...

We took people's money after making
them unsubstantiated promises

about wealth coming their way.

Did we get into any trouble
whatsoever for that ?

Well, my John,
does this answer your question ?

It answers it pretty good.

Praise be.
I'm gonna make it rain.

- Make it rain.
- Thank you so much, my darling Wanda.

I would like to thank
our entire staff and crew,

including, of course,
Janice from accounting,

who has worked hard,
so hard all year.

Janice, have you had fun
this year ?

Ouch. Okay. Is that my favorite
coffee cup, Janice ?

Wow, Janice don't give a fuck.

Oh, and before we leave, someone else
wanted to say goodbye.

It's Jeff the Diseased Lung
in a Cowboy Hat.

How are you doing, Jeff ?

Jeff's not doing well. In fact,
he's doing objectively terribly.

And now, to play us out
for the year,

please welcome the band
responsible for our theme song,

Valley Lodge !

And with them, a few
of our government mascots,

Stunk the Steampunk Skunk,

the Illuminati Pyramid,

and Creepy Baby
with Hulk Hands in a Tutu !

Thank you so much for watching !
We'll be back in February !

Goodbye !