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John Oliver explains how his ‘stupid Watergate’ joke has suddenly turned relevant

These may not be typical times for jokes.

A heated health-care debate. An investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government — and a series of tweets from the president’s eldest son that only add to suspicions.

Still, John Oliver says, his behind-the-scenes humor made its way to TV.

The late-night host, who is on vacation from his own program, appeared Wednesday on Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show,” expressing confusion over what Donald Trump Jr. may have been thinking.

“We called this whole looming scandal … way back in March, we came up with this framing device for this, ‘stupid Watergate’: The idea that it’s something with all the gravitas of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was supposed to be just a self-contained joke, but current events are making it more and more relevant. Which is not normally how jokes work.”

What Stephen Colbert really thinks about Donald Trump

In May, Colbert talked about the professional and emotional exhaustion that comes with attempting to perform comedy night after night in sometimes serious circumstances.

“It’s all so petty and venal, and there’s nothing grand about it,” he said at the Vulture Festival — a one-on-one conversation before a live crowd of a few hundred people, according to The Washington Post’s Avi Selk.

“It’s not Shakespearean at all. It’s ‘Veep.’ ”

Late-night comedy hosts worked through their disbelief at the outcome of the presidential election by poking fun at President-elect Donald Trump. (Video: The Washington Post)

Colbert also spoke about the morning after President Trump was elected, when the comedian and his team had to prepare jokes for the next night’s show.

Selk reported:

“We came to work weak-kneed and watery boweled, and really afraid for the country,” Colbert recalled.
He gathered his staff and they briefly reflected on the path ahead.
One of his writers remarked: “It felt like people who felt the culture had treated them cruelly decided to respond with cruelty in return by electing this person.”
The comedian recalled trying to buck up his show runners: “Well, you’re forever wondering whether your work has purpose. Don’t worry anymore. It does. Because this is terrible. And your job is to make people feel better about it every day.”
This heart-to-heart lasted about half an hour, Colbert said. “Then we went, okay, that’s it. Jokes.”

Since then, however, late-night comedians have built shows around political issues facing the country.

In March, Oliver explained “stupid Watergate.”

“The relevant question isn’t so much, ‘What did the president know and when did he know it,’ as it is, ‘Is the president physically capable of knowing things at all?’ ” he said, after Trump accused former president Barack Obama of wiretapping.

In May, he did an entire segment on that joke.

On Wednesday, Colbert told Oliver that he was used to living in a country where people were divided on political issues, but “have we come to a nation where colluding with a hostile foreign power to manipulate our election is a left-right thing?”

“I don’t know,” Oliver responded. “But the very fact that you just said that sentence out loud shows that we are turbo——.”

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