Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 9 - IRS - full transcript

John discusses the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with a special appearance from Michael Bolton.

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight !
I'm John Oliver.

Time for a quick recap of the week.
And let's start with today.

This morning, everyone was expecting
a big political announcement,

and then spent most of the day
continuing to expect it.

Hillary Clinton's expected to announce
she's running for president today

but what is she waiting for ?

Reporters are expecting it to happen
in the next minutes, around noon.

We're waiting for Hillary Clinton
to make it official.

- Any moment.
- We're waiting for that.

She's 67 years old. We'll see
when the announcement comes out.

Okay, first of all: it's 67 years young.

Didn't you learn anything from
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ?"

And second: there's no point trying
to build suspense when there isn't any.

Because everyone knew
this was happening.

I'll save you the time
of watching this video.

It's 2 minutes, 18 seconds long,

it features one dog, one cat,
and exactly four relevant words.

I'm running for president.

There is nothing else to see.
And nothing else to talk about.

Let me be clear: speculating over who's
going to win the 2016 election now

is like speculating over who's going to
win the shot put at the 2016 Olympics.

The only thing we know for sure is that
Ted Cruz isn't going to win either.

That's it. That's all we know.
So we can put it on hold.

Let's move on to talk about an election
that's actually imminent in the UK.

The slightly damp corpse
of the British empire.

Because in less than a month,
voters there will head to the polls.

And it's close.

David Cameron is trying to fend off
the Labour Party and Ed Miliband.

They are neck and neck. They're
a tenth of a percentage point apart.

Things are starting potentially
to get a little bit exciting.

"Potentially a little bit exciting."
Quintessentially British enthusiasm.

"This election might be, it probably
won't be but it could be interesting.

I'm sorry to have brought it up.
I've wasted your time."

The thing is
this election is actually interesting.

From the race to determine
who'll be prime minister,

down to the local elections, where
there are some very unusual candidates.

A UKIP candidate for this year's
local elections in Bristol

has been revealed
as an international porn star.

He performs
under the name of Johnny Rockard.

For reasons of decency, we can't
show you most of what's out there.

"We can give you the general gist
though and it is this. It's that."

You may be picturing what a porn star
called Johnny Rockard looks like.

But what you're imagining is wrong.
Because this is him.

I wouldn't say
I'm that bothered about it

because it's nothing that I'm ashamed
of in any way shape or form.

Your reaction may justifiably be,
"That's Johnny Rockard ?

I didn't realize suburban middle-aged
pharmacist was a fetish in Britain."

You're not wrong.
I don't buy that man as a porn star.

I barely buy him
as a porn caterer.

But let's put Johnny Rockard
aside for a second,

because the main race pits
Prime Minister David Cameron

against Labour leader Ed Miliband,
who is fighting a public perception

that as 41% of Britons said in a
poll last year he's a bit "weird."

And he's not been doing
a great job to disprove that.

During one the one
and only debate in Britain,

he left his notes behind
on the podium.

Unfortunately for him,
the press found them.

On them, it would appear to say

"Happy warrior, calm never agitated,
me versus DC,

decency, values, and relish
the chance to show who I am."

That clearly sounds pretty bad.
Although, to be honest,

you haven't seen the note I keep
on my desk for myself which reads,

"you're a funny man, not a loser,
don't let them see the sadness."

Miliband has also had
some image problems

following this embarrassing photo,

of him eating
a bacon sandwich appallingly.

You might think that's nothing but this
has become a genuine story in the UK,

with headlines such as "Ed Miliband
looks weird eating a bacon sandwich."

And sensing his opponent's weakness,
the British prime minister has pounced.

The Prime Minister seems to be eating
his way around the country.

He popped into
someone else's family barbeque

and was trying to look
sort of normal and cool

and ended up eating a hot dog
with a knife and fork.

We saw him later in the day
in a pie factory sampling pies

and making Scotch eggs.

And he washed it all down
with half a pint of stout

so I don't now quite what's going on
but they seem determined

to see Cameron
out on the campaign trail eating.

This is pathetic.

The UK election has apparently
been reduced to an eating contest.

They're one step away
from putting 50 sausage rolls

in front of each of them and saying,
"Who wants it more ? Go ! Eat !"

The most nauseating thing
that either candidate did

was nothing to do with food.

It was when David Cameron
visited the set of "Game of Thrones"

in an attempt to pander to the public,
and he claimed to be a huge fan.

I'm on the set of Game of Thrones.
As a government,

we're going to go on supporting
film industry, television industry.

So more fabulous television
is made just like the set

that I'm very excited to be on
right now as a big throney.

Siphoning goodwill from people
who enjoy "Game of Thrones"

is my thing. Especially tonight.

And secondly, especially tonight,

I refuse to believe
that you are a throney,

unless, by throney, you mean
"someone who fucks throw pillows",

in which case,
you're definitely a total throney.

But finally this week: Cuba.
Florida's teardrop tattoo.

This week, this week brought
a seismic shift in US/Cuban relations.

Let's take a look at the picture
everyone was waiting for.

The leaders of the US and Cuba
sitting down together,

shaking hands
a couple of times

and making plans to normalize
relations between the two countries.

As everyone who's ever been
through a bad breakup knows,

you don't normalize relations
by going straight to a handshake.

First you start with liking
a couple of Facebook statuses...

Maybe you comment, "that looks
so fun !" on a brunch photo of theirs.

And only then, do you shake hands
and lift your trade embargo.

There's a process with this shit.
Don't skip a step.

The president was pretty clear
about his reasons for this shift in tone.

If you keep on doing something
for 50 years and it doesn't work,

you should try something new.

Nice work, Obama ! You gave
70-year-old adulterers everywhere

an excuse to leave their wives
for their dental hygienists.

"Lorraine, to paraphrase
America's first black president,

we've been doing this for 50 years.

It isn't working.
It's time to start something new.

I'm off to bang Carly
in my Porsche boxster.

To quote the president."

This was clearly a historic meeting

and it turned out to be even
more cordial than anyone expected.

The president of Cuba saying
that he admires President Obama,

that he considers him
to be an honest man,

that he's read
President Obama's autobiography.

He's read the president's books !

That's both flattering,
and a bit of a fuck-you

to the concept
of a fifty-year trade embargo.

"I read your book on my iPad
'cause my Kindle Fire was broken.

You've been wasting your time."

For my peace of mind,
I need to clear this up:

was Castro saying
he read the president's book,

or that he had
the president's book ?

Those are two very different things.

That he's read
President Obama's autobiography.

He hasn't read all of them but
that he's started skimming those books.

Exactly. He skimmed them.
He did what millions of us have done:

he saw the president's book, thought,
"I guess I should read this,"

read a few pages,
went, "I'll finish it later"

and put it up on a shelf
next to Ulysses, the Bell Jar,

and all our other favorite books
we've never actually read.

I think the US and Cuba
are gonna get along just fine.

And now, this !

Excruciatingly awkward silences
caused by technical difficulties.

Terry Lyles, welcome back.

Terry Lyles, can you hear me ?

One more time.
It's Brooke on CNN, you got me ?

What's the best thing we can say
about this economy tonight ?

David, maybe you can't hear me.

Can you hear me Colonel ?

We are having audio problems.

Phil, can you hear me ?
I think we lost Phil.

Jim, good morning.

Phillip, can you hear me now ?

My... Our apologies.

- Can you hear me Congressman ?
- I didn't, I was listening to your...

Thank you.

Moving on.
Our main story tonight is the IRS.

I know that sounds unappealing.
But I promise you,

if you stay to the end of this,
there'll be a very sexy reward.

Now this Wednesday is April
the 15th, the day every year

when Wesley Snipes pokes
his little head out of his burrow

and, if he sees his own tax return,
quickly dives back in.

Like clockwork, tax season brings
with it an annual gnashing of teeth.

Two dreaded words
this time of year - tax time.

It is tax day.

Maybe you're holding your nose
while finishing up your taxes.

Tax season officially begins.

Tax season. It's the most
wonderful time of the year.

Happy tax day everybody.
That's sarcasm of course.

Yes, tax season is a lot
like bathing suit season.

You dread it unless
you're the kind of person

who spends a lot of time
in the Cayman Islands.

People hate taxes,
and they hate the IRS.

They can't help but express that,
whatever the circumstances.

This should make you
a real crowd favorite

John works for the IRS.

We've never had
a contestant booed !

He works
in collection for the IRS.

Come on !

What are you doing, Regis ?
Stop baiting the crowd !

"Boo him ! Let's lock the doors and
turn off the cameras and burn him !"

To be honest the IRS have not
been good at winning people over.

with this current tax season.

Yes the IRS warning this year
will be worse than most for you.

If you need to visit an IRS office,
a word of warning - prepare to wait.

A little after 8, the line already
snaked around the sidewalk,

reaching out into the parking lot.

I came here Monday
and I was here from 7 to 4.

It's 2 people working inside.

Two employees ! That is not good.
If you're in that line, you need help.

No one waits that long for something
they could fix themselves.

It's the same way
that you know the people in line

at the emergency room at 2 am have
something stuck inside their butt.

"You ?" "Corn dog. You ?"
"Boba Fett action figure."

"I've been there."

If you're thinking,
this doesn't affect me,

I'll just call the IRS on the phone,
good luck with that.

4 in 10 callers to the toll-free line
are getting through to a real person.

The number of courtesy disconnects
when an overloaded system hangs up

has now reached 5 million
so far this year.

If the IRS's system gets overloaded, it
will give you a "courtesy disconnect,"

which means hanging up on you.

Can't put a nice word in front of an
unpleasant one and change meaning.

It's like the phrase "politely decline",
or "Care Bears."

They're still bears,
they'll rip you the fuck apart.

They're bears. It's in their blood.

Is it any wonder
that everyone hates the IRS ?

Dealing with them is obligatory,
it functions badly,

and it combines two of the things
that we hate the most:

someone taking our money,
and math.

And yet, tonight, I'm going
to attempt the impossible.

I'm going to try and make you feel
a small amount of sympathy for the IRS.

Because it cannot be
a pleasant place to work.

Listen to what extra little gifts they
get alongside people's tax returns.

We've had everything come
in from brown sugar to dust

out of a vacuum cleaner to people
spreading mustard on a check.

We wipe the mustard off
and send it to the bank.

Listen to how matter-of-fact he is.
This must happen all the time.

Some people
put mustard on the checks.

Some people file their returns
inside of a dead fish.

One man covered his check
in Vaseline and pubic hair.

We just wipe it off
and send it to the bank.

And it's not just furious mustard
enthusiasts taking it out on the IRS.

Even state governors
have publicly demonized them.

Governor LaPage didn't want
to talk about the outrage

he sparked when he compared
the IRS to the Gestapo.

But when we pushed him for
a comment, here's what he said.

It was never intended
to offend anyone.

You compared them to the Gestapo !
Of course they were offended !

If you compare someone to the Gestapo
and they don't get offended,

that's a big red flag.

The public perception of IRS
employees as Gestapo-like villains

doesn't quite match up when
you see what they're actually like.

On the IRS YouTube channel,

there are videos where employees
talk about their jobs.

And they don't seem evil
so much as unbelievably boring.

A data transcriber
takes the physical return

and inputs it
into the computer system.

You gotta know about
budgetary, proprietary accounting.

You're meeting taxpayers at their
residences, their places of business.

You're conducting
interviews on taxpayers.

You're investigating their assets.

You're there
interviewing third parties,

looking for assets that possibly
the taxpayer didn't disclose to you.

Those people aren't Nazis.
Nazis are inherently interesting.

Those people
are the physical equivalent of Ambien.

There is a weird kind of heroism
to doing jobs that are that boring.

'Cause not only
could I not do their job,

I can barely even listen
to them talking about it.

Why do we hate the IRS so much ?
Because it's worth remembering:

if you're angry about the amount of tax
you pay that's nothing to do with them.

That's determined
by a vote in Congress,

much like declarations of war and how
often Orrin Hatch is allowed to orgasm.

Not yet, Orrin... Not yet...

Now. There you go.

If you think our tax code
is too complicated,

well that's Congress's fault, too.

And you know who agrees with you ?
The people who work for the IRS.

Because even they
have trouble keeping up.

We looked at how many changes
in the tax law had occurred.

In the last year alone it was
something like 579 changes.

- 579 changes ?
- Changes in the tax law.

- That's more than a change every day.
- Yes.

- How do you keep up ?
- I don't.

I don't know how individuals
or businesses keep up.

579 changes in one year !
The only document

that should change that often
is the Wikipedia page for Bill Cosby.

"What are we now ?
32 accusers ? 34 ?

Holy shit,
I don't know how anyone keeps up.

This really should be going
above Fat Albert at this point."

Blaming the IRS
because you hate paying your taxes

is a bit like slapping
your check-out clerk

because the price of eggs
has gone up.

It's not her fault ! She's trying
to help you get out of the store.

That scenario is also my pitch
for "The Slap" season 2.

That apropos of nothing.
But let's recap:

the IRS does a difficult, thankless,
almost dangerously boring job.

That job has actually been getting
even more difficult, because of this !

The IRS budget
has been slashed in recent years.

Since the GOP won control
of the chamber back in 2010,

the agency's funding
has shrunk by nearly 20 percent.

You can't lose nearly 20 percent
of what you are and be as effective.

It's like pretending
Zayn leaving "One Direction"

doesn't tear the heart
out of that band.

He was 20 percent of the band,
but he was 99 percent of the soul !

It's over everyone.
Jordan has left the Bulls.

I don't like it anymore than you
but the DNA of the band is broken.

I can't believe I'm the one in this
room that cares the most about this.

Shame on you !

Congress has slashed the IRS's budget,
but largely out of anger.

Which was not entirely unjustified.
You may remember, a few years ago,

there were scandals over
overspending on conferences

and training videos like this
horrific parody of "Star Trek".

It would seem captain. The no Taxions,
lack of skilled tax leaders

has resulted in a widespread
case of confusion,

uninformed taxpayers, high
noncompliance, no strategic vision.

I'm afraid
without a wealth of skilled leaders,

anarchy is spreading
across the planet like a virus.

That's depressing.

I have seen "Star Trek" porn parodies
less depressing than that.

But that was nothing
next to the IRS's big scandal.

A report shows IRS officials
were targeting Tea Party

and other conservative groups
when those apply for tax exempt status.

The Tea Party targeting scandal.

Where the IRS inundated many
conservative groups with questions,

sometimes delaying
their applications for years.

While they did
target liberal groups as well,

those groups were scrutinized
to a much lesser extent,

and made up only 29
of the 298 groups targeted.

If you want to find liberal groups
to harass, it's easy.

Just Google "what was that thing
Alec Baldwin was going on about ?"

But, the investigation
into all this is ongoing.

And while current evidence
strongly suggests

this was more of a giant
bureaucratic fuckup,

for the sake of argument,
let's assume the absolute worst:

that this was deliberate
political targeting.

The best thing to do would be to get
rid of the people who were in charge,

and make some changes to how
the agency reviews political groups.

The worst thing to do
is what we've done,

and that's angrily slash their budget
so they can't operate properly.

Remember those long lines ?
You can thank the cuts for those.

Between 2010 and 2014,
the IRS lost over 13,000 employees.

A portion of our workforce
over 50 years of age

has been growing rapidly.

We have only 650 employees
out of 87,000 who are 25 or younger.

Most IRS employees are over 50,
and less than 1 percent are under 25.

That does not bode well for the IRS,
because a government agency

should not have the same age ratio
as an Eric Clapton concert.

IRS's staff is not the only thing
that is aging at a dangerous rate.

Some think
the IRS has fallen short

in their efforts to keep up
with modern day technology.

Almost half of all tax data
exists on a magnetic tape

and cartridge system
developed in the 1960s.

That is terrifying.
We should at least be using technology

invented after an era when it was okay
to call a female co-worker "toots."

We shouldn't fund the IRS because
we want our information stored

on something more sophisticated
than a fucking duck hunt cartridge.

We should fund them
because the IRS

is one of the safest investments
for public money available.

Every dollar spent on tax enforcement
yields back six.

The IRS sextuples your money !
They should make that their motto,

were it not for the fact that
"sextuples" is already the name

of Sandals spinoff most likely to get
shuttered by the health department.

"Welcome to sextuples,
where all you need to bring

is an open mind
and lots of bleach !

Lots of bleach.
Lots, that's on you."

The problem is, our whole tax system
is built upon trust.

And if people lose faith in the IRS,

the whole system by which
we fund everything is in trouble.

We collect 3 trillion dollars a year
in a voluntary compliance system.

If the compliance rate
goes down by 1%,

either because people think the
chances of getting caught are down

or because
they get aggravated with us,

a 1% decline in the compliance rate
costs 30 billion dollars annually.

The IRS compliance rate
is entirely based on confidence,

much like Lyle Lovett's sex appeal
or Channing Tatum's acting ability.

You lose that confidence,
everything collapses.

I'm not saying
the IRS is a likable organization.

But not everything
that's important is likable.

Think of our government as a body.
The IRS is the anus.

It's nobody's favorite part. But you
need that thing working properly,

or everything
goes to shit real quick.

And we don't need to love the IRS.
Or even like them.

But after decades of us calling
them Nazis and sending them mustard,

they deserve at least a few minutes
of at least grudging acknowledgement

of the unpleasant
but necessary function they serve.

Unfortunately, expression of sincere
emotion is not my forte. I'm British.

I have some serious help tonight.

So to serenade the IRS
with if not a love song,

a song of reluctant support
for their appropriate funding

please welcome Grammy award-winning
singer and songwriter, Michael Bolton.

I could hardly believe it
when I heard the news today.

Congress cut your budget
right in two.

I guess you make people angry
with the things you do and say.

'Cause you make us give
our money straight to you.

But we need you real bad, though
it's clear nobody really likes you.

You're the anus of our country,
don't you know...

Tell me how are we supposed
to live without you ?

We couldn't functionally survive, no.

How are we supposed
to live without you ?

And though saying this
just cuts me like a knife:

we need the IRS to stay alive.

And yes you've had fuckups
like that stupid "Star Trek" thing.

Tell me: who was it
who really thought of that ?

You'll be pleased to know:
the people responsible are all gone.

- I'm sorry to hear that.
- Why ?

- They got staffing problems too.
- That's actually true.

Their recruitment numbers
are at best a little flat.

That's a nuanced point,
Michael Bolton.

I don't wanna know
just how we'd get along without them,

'cause you never miss
your anus till it's gone.

Tell me, how are we supposed
to live without you ?

We cut and cut
your budgets till you bleed.

How are we supposed
to live without you ?

And how'll we pay
for everything we need ?

Like Colorado National Park
procurement assistant Brian Reed.

That's a specific example, Michael.

IRS: you're never going
to be anyone's favorite agency.

You're boring, you're unlikeable,
but here's the thing:

deep down, we need you.

We need you
like we need our own anus.

Because like our anus,
we may not love you,

or like to talk about you,
or even want to look at you,

through a series
of strategically-placed mirrors.

But deep down,
we're glad you're there.

Is that now right, Michael ?
Tell them about it ! Tell them !

I don't wanna know
what life is like without an anus !

Sing it to them, Michael !

Won't you think of Brian Reed ?

Do you know that man, personally ?

Tell me how are we supposed
to live without you ?

We've relied on you
for funding for so long.

How are we supposed
to live without you ?

And how are we supposed
to carry on ?

When the only way to collect revenue
under our current governmental system

pending a significant
overhaul of the tax code

which seems
unlikely at best... is gone ?

Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Bolton !
That's our show. Good night !

How am I supposed
to live without you ?

Good night !

We couldn't functionally survive.

How are we supposed
to live without you ?

And though saying
this just cuts me like a knife.

Say it anyway, MB.
Say it anyway.

We need the IRS to stay alive.

Michael Bolton ladies and gentlemen.
Michael. Bolton !