Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (2014) s11e13 Episode Script

Indian Elections

Welcome to "Last Week Tonight"!
I'm John Oliver.
Thank you so much for joining us.
It has been a busy week.
Israel continued
its assault on Rafah,
even as Biden unveiled
Israel's new peace plan that,
fun fact, the Israeli government
apparently hasn't agreed to yet,
and a New York businessman
got into some legal trouble,
which was undeniably fun
to watch unfold live.
We have our verdict, Savannah,
here we go:
Count 1, guilty.
Count 2, guilty.
Count 3, guilty.
Count 4, guilty.
Count 5, guilty.
Count 6, guilty.
Count 7, guilty.
Count 8, guilty.
Count 9, guilty.
Count 10, guilty.
Count 11, guilty.
Count 12, guilty.
Count 13, guilty.
Count 14, guilty.
Count 15, guilty.
Count 16, guilty.
Count 17, guilty.
Count 18, guilty.
Count 19, guilty.
Count 20, guilty.
Count 21, guilty.
Count 22, guilty.
Count 23, guilty.
She did that
for all 34 different counts.
And it is so satisfying to watch,
I'd honestly be surprised
if someone hadn't already
uploaded it to Pornhub by now.
Anyway, that will be so fun
to remember five months from now,
when we're watching
that exact anchor count
the 270 electoral votes
that Trump's won,
because nothing matters
and we live in a broken world.
There might well be more to say
about this after the sentencing,
but for now, we're going to dive
straight in to our main story,
which concerns India,
the last country in the world
that wants to be discussed
by someone with this accent.
Which is why I'll be doing the rest
of tonight's show in this one!
Everybody love-a-da
Giovanni Oliver show!
Mamma mia, Buca di Beppo.
Everybody love the…
Yep, that's right, that's fair,
that's probably right,
I didn't love
the way that was heading.
India's in the middle
of an election right now,
and I do mean "in the middle",
voting started several weeks ago,
and only just ended,
with results expected on Tuesday.
It's a long process for a reason.
India is the largest country
in the world by population,
with over 1.4 billion people.
That's the equivalent of roughly
four United States, six Brazils,
nine Russias, 34 Canadas,
or 1.4 billion Kevins.
It is a lot of people.
And the sheer mechanics
of setting up an election that size
are mind-blowing.
By law, every voter
must be within two kilometers
or a little more
than a mile of a polling station.
Officials trek over rough and
mountainous terrain and across rivers.
Taking boats,
choppers, even horses,
trekking through mountains
deep in the Himalayas
and through
lion-infested jungles.
a team travels 70 kilometers
to set up a booth
for just one person.
That is incredible.
And just imagine if workers
dragged a polling place
through mountains and rivers just
for you, and then you forgot to vote.
"Was that today?
I'm sorry, it slipped my mind.
Thanks so much for trekking through
that lion-infested jungle for me!
I'll definitely try and remember
next time!"
Results for India's election
will be announced on June 4th,
and while we don't yet know
who's going to win,
we kind of do,
because it's gonna be Narendra Modi,
who is overwhelmingly
favored to win a third term.
In fact, most experts agree
the only real question mark is,
how much will he and his party,
the BJP, win by?
One polling organization found
he has an approval rating of 74%,
more than any world leader
they track.
And for some Indians,
part of Modi's appeal
is the sense that under his leadership,
the country's been on the rise,
enjoying increased prominence
on the world stage,
from Biden hosting Modi
for a state visit last year,
to the Australian prime minister
introducing him at a packed arena
in Sydney with this memorable line.
The last time I saw someone on
this stage here was Bruce Springsteen,
and he didn't get the welcome
that Prime Minister Modi has got.
Prime Minister Modi is the Boss.
That is some weapons-grade
ass-kissing there,
and also a pretty strange way
of transferring titles.
"Bruce Springsteen didn't get this
reaction, so you're the Boss now.
You also got
a bigger reaction than Madonna,
Luxembourg's Henri Guillaume,
and Lizzo,
so by the transitive property,
you're now Queen of Pop,
the Grand Duke of Luxembourg,
and 100% that bitch".
Despite Modi's popularity, there
are some major causes for concern.
If you're thinking "Haven't
you talked about this before?"
you're half right, because we've
actually covered Modi twice before;
once four years ago
and once for our very first episode,
which was, based on this photo,
200 years ago.
And those episodes
actually stand up pretty well.
I asked my staff to pick a clip
that they feel is representative,
and they tell me that they've found
the perfect one, so go ahead, roll it!
Hitler is the only one
who stepped up and got it done,
and for that I say
"Way to go, Hitler!"
Hold on! That needs
a lot more context around it.
Fuck you for choosing that!
What we explained in those episodes
is that Modi's party, the BJP,
has a long history
of espousing Hindu nationalism,
essentially, rejecting India's history
as a pluralistic nation,
and trying to push it toward
becoming an explicitly Hindu one.
It's long been affiliated with
a paramilitary group called the RSS,
whose early leaders admired Hitler,
and that was the context for that joke.
It was a pretty good Hitler joke,
so good, in fact,
I'm guessing even Hitler would say
"Way to go, John!"
And please do not take that image
out of context as well.
We also talked about how,
over the course of Modi's rise,
he's chosen
to be strategically quiet
about his pseudo-authoritarian,
pro-Hindu vision of India.
There's been a noticeable shift in his
rhetoric during this election season,
because his speeches have started
to contain overt anti-Muslim statements
like this one,
in which he claims that, if elected,
his rival political party will hand
over the country's wealth to Muslims.
The earlier government
said the Muslims
will have the right
over the resources of the country.
This means
they will gather all the wealth
and give it to the people
who have more children.
They will distribute it
among the infiltrators.
Do you think
your hard-earned money
should be distributed
to the infiltrators?
Do you accept that?
That is Modi referring to India's
Muslim citizens as "infiltrators",
and that's not
the only troubling sign.
The BJP's produced
incendiary videos like this one,
showing a bird labeled "Muslim"
being planted in a nest
and then consuming all the funding
while the other birds get nothing.
That's already ugly enough.
But it's also coming at a time
when Modi and his party have seemed
increasingly comfortable
threatening democratic institutions
by, among other things,
stifling political opposition
and freedom of the press.
On multiple fronts, India seems
to be sliding toward authoritarianism.
So given that, tonight,
let's check in on Narendra Modi,
what he's been doing in office,
and what he might do next.
Let's start with why it seems so likely
that he's going to be re-elected.
Some of his popularity
comes from the very real advances
that India's made under his leadership,
especially when it comes
to infrastructure.
He initially campaigned on issues
like expanding access to sanitation
and water facilities,
and has invested billions
in "a nationwide upgrade
of the country's roads,
railways, airports, and seaports."
On top of that, there've been
programs to alleviate poverty,
for which some citizens
do thank him personally.
60% of the population benefits
from Modi's food distribution scheme,
which he has pledged to renew
for another five years.
Every month, they give me
five kilos of rice and flour.
If Modi is no longer
the head of the country,
I don't think we'll get any help.
And that scares me to death.
We want Modi in power,
not anyone else.
Yeah, you can see why people
might love him for that,
especially since the grain literally
arrives in a bag with his face on it.
Which feels a little egotistical.
It'd be like if Lyndon Johnson
signed the Food Stamp Act of 1964,
but insisted that food stamps
be rebranded
as "Lyndon's Lucky
Yum-Yum Vouchers".
It's still a good program,
but maybe turn it down a notch.
And that's not the only way
that Modi has tried to take credit
for progress on his watch,
up until this election began, some
train stations had Modi selfie booths
where you could take a picture with
him and symbols of his achievements,
from India's space program, to a giant
tap representing water connections,
to a huge bottle of Covid vaccine.
It was his not-so-subtle way
of making sure that you associate
his face with all of India's wins.
Kind of like how Trump makes sure
his name is on all of his products,
and Elon Musk modeled all of his
Cybertrucks on his weird penis.
I'm not body-shaming.
I'm saying his penis does look
like that, including the wheels,
and that's what he wants you to think
about the next time you see one
slowly rolling
into a tree whenever it rains.
Although I will say, sometimes,
Modi's tendency to take credit
for things can be a bit of a stretch.
In this promotional video,
it's even suggested
that he halted the war in Ukraine
to ensure the safe
return of his citizens.
Modi brought us home.
He stopped the war, dad.
Wait! He stopped the war?
Are you completely sure about that?
I feel like I'd remember if Modi
had hit pause on the war in Ukraine
like it's a "Call of Duty" game and
his mom had just called him for dinner.
Now, a key thing Modi likes to brag
about is his economic record.
India has grown to become
"the world's fifth largest economy".
It's almost twice as big as it was,
and its stock market "has grown
threefold since he took office."
But, those numbers
only tell part of the story here.
The economy was already improving
before Modi took over,
so he inherited
an upward trajectory.
And for another, the precise measures
of growth his government cites
have been called into question, with
"even Modi's former economic aides
finding growth rates of 8% announced
by the government 'mystifying'".
Similarly, while he claims
he's lifted millions out of poverty,
as this economist points out,
that comes with a massive asterisk.
So the government changed
how it is going to define poverty.
It's using one multidimensional
poverty measure,
which is, shall we say, problematic,
and which is designed to suggest
that less and less people are poor.
We have a very large number of poor,
and all kinds of data are telling us
that not only do we still have
a very large number of income poor,
but other kinds of poverty like
food poverty may well be increasing.
Anyone can get rid of all poverty
if you just change
the definition of "poor people"
to something else, like
"fire hydrants" or "opposite snakes".
And if you're thinking "Wait, so,
there's been substantial growth
and increasing poverty
at the same time?"
The reason is… I can feel
you're getting hung up on something.
Opposite snakes are just arms and legs,
no face or tail.
four legs with fingers on the end
and a butt in the middle,
covered with hair.
If you're wondering how growth
and poverty can coex,
they live in the jungle,
by the way.
That is where opposite snakes live.
Just to get ahead
of any habitat questions, okay?
If you're thinking
that growth and… sorry.
Viewers at home probably can't tell,
but it's got a bit tense in here.
I'll address as many questions
as I can: how do opposite snakes eat?
Through a vertical slit
on the underside.
What are its known predators?
Badgers, mongeese,
any of those gorillas
they taught sign language to,
bees, man, and dolphins.
Like regular snakes,
opposite snakes come from eggs,
but their eggs are violent,
they live for 85 years,
they have tongue tails, the proper
collective noun is a nightmare.
A nightmare of opposite snakes
is hounding that capybara.
Their meat's inedible, their skin's
toxic, and their bones are haunted.
If you have any other questions
about opposite snakes,
- you can go to Opposite-Snakes
- dot-com to learn more.
What were we talking about?
That's right!
If you're wondering how
there's been both substantial growth
and increasing poverty,
that is because India's economic
gains have been widely unequal.
By some estimates,
just one million people now control
around 80% of India's wealth.
And as they've gotten richer,
much of the country has gotten poorer.
Even with all those bags of grain
with his face on them,
under Modi "The country has fallen
in the Global Hunger Index",
and now "sits below North Korea
and war-torn Sudan".
And you would think that all
of this would be fertile ground
for Modi's critics to exploit.
But it's actually
hard to do that in India.
For one thing, it's difficult
to confront him to his face,
because he hasn't held a single
press conference in India
in the last 10 years.
The interviews that he's granted have
been the opposite of hard-hitting.
Do you carry a purse on you?
A wallet to hold your cash?
Do you have a best friend?
Best friend forever, with whom
you share matters of the heart?
At this age,
how do you bring so much energy?
Does our prime minister
eat mangos?
Does he cut it first
or eat with the stone still in?
Okay, most of those questions
are embarrassing softballs,
but "how do you eat a mango?"
is a valid thing to ask.
Mangos are notoriously hard
to peel and eat.
They're basically fruit juice grenades
covered in rhino skin.
And it's not just me who thinks that.
There are endless Reddit posts
about the subject,
including "How the hell
do you eat a mango?"
"How the fuck
do you eat a mango?"
"Mango eaters of Reddit,
what is your go-to plan of attack?"
and my personal favorite
"How does one eat a mango
without making a huge mess?
With a spoon? With a knife?
It's like that fruit was designed
by napkin manufacturers."
Which received
the pitch perfect response:
"You do not. You accept
that the mango is a delicious mess
and prepare for it beforehand,
do not make the mango prepare for you.
You may need a bib
and moist towelettes for the process,
but this is simply
the way it must be".
Which is excellent.
Because it's true:
there is just no way
to eat a mango with dignity.
Ergo, embrace the sloppy chaos
of the mango.
But it is not
just fawning interviews.
What criticism there is of Modi
often gets suppressed in India,
sometimes in a pretty
heavy-handed way.
Publications that have done stories
critical of India's leadership,
like the BBC,
recently saw their offices raided
on charges of tax evasion
or money laundering.
One of the country's
most popular news channels
that reported critically
on the government, NDTV,
had its founders raided
for bank fraud.
It's true. Not only were
the founders of NDTV raided,
but a few years later, a billionaire
with close ties to Modi bought it,
and its tone
is now much friendlier to him.
Basically, if you criticize Modi,
there's a pretty good chance
that things are gonna
get very unpleasant for you.
And given we're here in America,
I'm honestly not too worried
about Modi's goons coming after me.
On the off chance that their reach
does extend this far, you know what?
Fucking try it. You want to try
and shut us down for being critical?
I dare you.
Do you have any idea who I am?
I'm Bill fucking Maher, and my show
has been on for over 20 years,
and if you want to take us down,
take your best shot.
I, Bill Maher, would welcome it.
It is no wonder that India
is currently ranked 159th
out of 180 countries
for press freedom.
That is 19 places lower
than when Modi first came to power.
But it's not just national media.
Local outlets have been targeted, too.
This network in Kerala was taken
off air by the government in 2020,
for reasons explicitly
linked to its content.
The shutdown
was triggered by the channel's
reporting on anti-Muslim riots
in Delhi in February 2020.
According to the notice
from the information ministry,
Media One's coverage
was biased and critical
of the role of the Delhi police and
of a Hindu nationalist outfit, the RSS.
The ban was soon reversed,
the channel back on air,
but the signal was clear:
fall in line or else.
That's not good. That crackdown
creates a clear chilling effect,
where media outlets may well be
intimidated out of criticizing Modi.
And that could actually help
explain why HotStar,
the platform that we were on in 2020,
mysteriously chose to block
our episode criticizing Modi.
There are plenty of reasons
to not watch this show.
Depressing subject matter,
too much profanity,
and the very fact that the frantic pace
of my talking voice
causes dogs to,
and this is a medical term, go nuts.
Also, the show seems biased,
it's too long
"I prefer Jimmy Fallon, Kimmel,
Colbert, Seth, or James Corden".
Hi, Mom, by the way.
Whatever your reason,
at least it's your choice,
not someone else's, to not watch.
Meaningful criticism of Modi
is scarce on TV in India.
Many veteran anchors
who were critical of him
have migrated
to sites like YouTube instead,
but the government may soon be able
to help regulate digital media too.
It's pushing a law
which could mean
that "anyone making
social commentary online"
would have to "adhere
to advertising and program codes
prescribed by the government".
Meanwhile, an amendment
is working its way through the courts,
which would establish
a "fact check unit",
allowing "the government to identify
'fake news' about itself"
and order it to be taken down.
And I actually have a lead
for that fact-check unit:
check out the batshit claim that Modi
stopped the war in Ukraine.
There's a weird video going around that
you should probably get taken down.
And it's not just the press
who've found it hard to take on Modi,
the same goes
for his political opposition.
He's currently
facing off against a coalition
called the Indian National
Developmental Inclusive Alliance,
or INDIA for short, a monumentally
weak name for a coalition.
The first I in INDIA
stands for "Indian".
It'd be like if the H in HBO
stood for "HBO".
Which it obviously doesn't.
It stands for "Hank".
Hank's Box Office.
The INDIA coalition
is led by the Congress Party,
the face of which is Rahul Gandhi.
And while his party never stood
a realistic chance of challenging Modi,
even so, its campaign
has been significantly hampered
by the fact that, just weeks
before this year's election began,
tax agencies moved
to freeze their bank accounts.
And on the same day
that that was announced,
the head of one of India's other
opposition parties was arrested.
Those could be just more lucky,
complete coincidences for Modi.
Except for the fact that,
over the years, multiple politicians
who've opposed the BJP
have found themselves
facing charges of fraud
or financial malfeasance,
only for those charges
to suddenly stall or be dropped
when they switch parties
and join the BJP instead.
There's even a term for this,
the washing machine,
where supposedly dirty politicians
come out clean once they switch sides.
And it is a completely
open secret there.
One opposition politician
who joined the BJP in 2022
let the cat out of the bag
when he said he sleeps easier
now that he's a member
of the ruling party.
I also had to switch to the BJP.
Now I am stress and tension free.
All is good. No official inquiries,
no investigation,
and I can sleep peacefully,
I'm tension free.
It is so universally understood,
everyone in that audience laughed.
And laughed so hard, honestly,
I'm a little bit jealous.
It kind of makes me wonder
if I should have spent our last show
admitting to political corruption
instead of…
what were we talking about?
What, corn?
I did 25 minutes on fucking corn?
And people watched it?
What exactly is this show?
But in general,
and to put it mildly,
it seems good to be
on Modi's good side,
and very, very bad
to be on his bad side.
And that brings us back
to his attacks on Muslims.
As I mentioned earlier,
he and his party
are adherents to Hindu nationalism
or "Hindutva".
It used to be a fringe ideology,
but is now mainstream,
and it's been said
"nobody has done more
to advance this cause
than Prime Minister Narendra Modi".
And Muslims,
as India's largest religious minority,
have borne the brunt of this.
Earlier this year, Modi famously opened
an over $200 million Hindu temple,
showing up personally
to help consecrate it.
Which might seem benign,
until you learn that temple was built
on the former site of this mosque,
that was demolished
by a Hindu mob in 1992,
in an incident that set off riots
reportedly killing over 2,000 people,
most of them Muslim.
So, it's a site of tremendous pain
for Indian Muslims,
and the symbolism of opening a temple
on that exact spot has been called
"the crowning achievement
of a national movement
aimed at establishing
Hindu supremacy in India."
But the damage here
isn't just symbolic.
In the climate that Modi's stoked,
Muslims have been
"lynched by Hindu mobs
over allegations
of eating beef or smuggling cows,
an animal considered holy
to Hindus".
And then there's been this.
Muslim-owned buildings
are literally being bulldozed
in what the government calls
a crackdown on illegal construction
and accused criminals.
A brand of bulldozer justice
all too common in India.
That is awful.
And it's happening so much now
that "bulldozer justice"
has become a commonly used term.
In fact, the bulldozer itself has
become a Hindu-nationalist symbol,
and it's been featured during election
victories, and in political rallies.
This hard-line BJP leader has even
earned the nickname "Bulldozer Baba",
and there's now a whole new genre
of Hindu-nationalist pop songs,
or "H-pop" as it's also known,
with bulldozers appearing front
and center, including this one,
which, if you knew nothing else
about it,
would honestly
sound pretty good.
Baba bulldozer has won!
Baba bulldozer has won!
The enemies have been put to shame.
Baba bulldozer has won!
The enemies have been put
to shame.
I hate what she's saying,
but the way she's saying
it is undeniably catchy.
All that bulldozer video needed was
Bob the Builder shaking his ass to it.
I'm sorry,
did you not know about Bob?
There were two dumptrucks
on that show,
and the biggest one
was in his overalls.
And while Muslims
are a minority in India,
there are still 200 million of them,
the equivalent of nearly
two-thirds of the United States.
And with anti-Muslim hate speech
and violence on the rise,
it is no wonder many are feeling
increasingly targeted,
and in incredibly grim ways.
Muslim shopkeeper Shamsher Ali
feels like he's being pushed out.
Anything can happen at any point.
That is the amount of hate now.
Violence against Muslims
is on the rise.
A Delhi police officer
was caught on camera last month
kicking a group of Muslim men
praying by the side of the road.
The video went viral.
The officer suspended.
Another police officer arrested
for killing three Muslims on a train,
praising the prime minister
while standing over their bodies.
Yeah. And it's worth remembering,
that is not a bug of Modi's leadership.
It is a feature. So, given
all of this, what can we do?
For those of us who don't live
in India, nothing really.
Also, asking a British person
"what should we do about India?"
is a little bit dangerous, as we tend
to have quite a lot of ideas,
none of which
should be listened to.
But as an international community,
it seems past time to stop
the uncritical, fawning praise
of a man who is, to put it mildly,
a deeply complicated figure.
So, maybe we could at least stop
comparing him to Bruce Springsteen.
And when you talk
about what he's done for India,
at least acknowledge that while,
yes, he's responsible
for giving bags of grain to people,
he's also responsible
for some getting sent bulldozers.
And it should be possible
to acknowledge the good things
that Modi's managed to do for India,
while acknowledging that many Indians
live in active fear of what he seems
more than happy to represent.
I know that this episode is almost
not gonna end up airing in India.
And depending on what they do
with the laws around YouTube,
I'm not totally sure
what'll happen to it there either.
So, if this show does get taken down,
and if you have friends
or family living in India
who would like to see it,
just encourage them to visit
where they'll find tons of fascinating
facts on opposite snakes,
as well as a 25-minute video
titled "Opposite Snakes"
which is, in fact, this entire story.
Alternatively, you can send them
to How-to-Eat-Mangoes-dot-com,
which features this video,
promising tips in Hindi
on mango-eating technique,
but is this entire story instead.
And if any of Modi's people take
offense at this, let me just repeat:
I'm not remotely scared of you.
In fact, I'll meet you,
and your stupid bulldozers,
in front of this studio,
right here, in Los Angeles,
or my name is not Bill Maher.
Which it very much is.
And now, this!
And Now:
Fox Business's Kennedy
Reflects on Her Prom Night.
Authorities were forced
to bring in an emergency crew
to raise the beleaguered boat,
but once they got
everything strapped on,
it only took a few minutes
to finish the job.
Just like my prom night.
Republicans are also salty
because the project is much
smaller than initially planned.
Like my prom night.
It's not great
to be drunk with no pants on,
but I'm gonna go not guilty.
Depends where you are. Did I
say that on prom night? I didn't.
I've got tons of bags like this
because my prom date
used to put 'em all over my face.
Here's Junji Nakasone juggling
more balls than any human should.
Just like my prom night.
The new app will connect users
with a series of random strangers
for four minutes at a time.
Just like my prom night!
I haven't seen this many trouser
snakes since my prom night.
Check out the Donner Pass
in Lake Tahoe, California,
getting plowed by a train.
Just like my prom night!
Massive hole is now 16 meters wide
and 20 meters deep.
Just like my prom night.
Uber has released its 2021 lost
and found index with details
about people who lost something
in back seats of their cars.
Just like my prom night,
all 15 times!
I miss prom night.
Moving on. Finally tonight,
a word about Red Lobster.
One of many restaurants
that sounds like a sex position,
alongside Jack in the Box,
Hard Rock Cafe, Sonic Drive-In,
and, of course, Five Guys.
As you may have heard,
Red Lobster has had a rough month.
With no notice,
signs like this are popping up
at Red Lobsters across the nation.
This sudden shut down
here in Mira Mesa
is one of dozens of abrupt closures
nationwide today,
an unwelcome surprise
to loyal customers.
What was your reaction
when you got to the door?
Got to the door, you know what?
I can't say it on camera,
is what my reaction was.
Although, I'm now a little curious
to know what he was gonna say,
given that they've chosen to blur out
whatever's on his hat there,
so, it might've been pretty spicy.
But the fact is, last month,
Red Lobster,
Long John Silver's hot cousin,
officially filed for bankruptcy.
It tried to spin this as a positive,
issuing a letter to customers saying
"Bankruptcy is a word
that's often misunderstood.
Filing for bankruptcy does not mean
we are going out of business.
In fact,
it means just the opposite".
Except, no, it doesn't.
You either don't know
what "bankruptcy" means
or what the word
"opposite" means.
Because while the company as a whole
isn't going out of business,
they've abruptly closed at least
99 restaurants in at least 27 states,
amounting to 15% of the chain,
and could shut down 120 more.
And as the news spread,
it's notable that what many people
were concerned about losing access
to at this seafood restaurant
wasn't actually seafood at all.
- What about Cheddar Bay Biscuits?
- Are they not the best?
Is it just me, or do you also want
those Cheddar Bay Biscuits?
We've been talking about them
all morning, and we are hungry.
I like their Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
Tried to make them at home
one time, they sucked.
They're soft and then they're buttery
and then they're cheesy
and then they're garlicky
and it's like the perfect biscuit.
They've got good food. Good seafood.
And the biscuits just slap.
It's true!
The biscuits are so good that any time
someone's talking about Red Lobster,
the conversation
inevitably turns to them.
You could call 911 and say
"There is a Red Lobster on fire"
and the dispatcher would say "I bet
it's warming up those biscuits nice".
The point is, a lot of people
are fond of Red Lobster,
to the point that it once got the
ultimate name-check from Beyoncé.
When he fuck me good,
I take his ass to Red Lobster.
When he fuck me good,
I take his ass to Red Lobster.
That is the single greatest endorsement
a restaurant could ever get.
It is no wonder their sales
actually spiked 33%
after that song came out.
Also, how does Beyoncé's
rewards system work, exactly?
Do they talk about it
in the moment,
or, the next time
they drive past a Red Lobster?
Is Jay-Z like "Can we go?"
And Beyoncé
has to search her sexual archives
to determine
whether or not he's banked a trip.
I don't think I want to know.
I am just posing the question.
So, how the fuck did this restaurant
get into such a mess
that it's going into bankruptcy?
Many have speculated that
it's all thanks to their disastrous
"ultimate endless shrimp" special.
Multiple articles cited it
while covering the bankruptcy,
and even regular customers assumed
that it was the main problem.
They shouldn't have done
the all-you-can-eat shrimp.
You don't know
how many people are pigs,
and they'll just keep eating.
I'm feeling a little bit attacked!
What you don't seem to understand
is that unlimited shrimp
is not a suggestion,
or a recommended serving size.
It's a fucking challenge for anyone
brave enough to accept it.
So frankly, you should either
embrace the madness and join in,
or just go to Starbucks, where
you get to speak fancy fake Italian
to distract from the fact that it's
just a public toilet with more rules.
But while endless shrimp
was undeniably stupid,
it wasn't actually the crucial factor
in the company's bankruptcy.
It cost them more than $11 million,
but given that their total debts
stand at $294 million,
it's clearly a drop in the bucket.
Red Lobster's decline is about a lot
more than just a single bad promotion.
I'd like to take just a moment
to talk about what happened exactly,
because it's a case study for what's
happening to so many companies in US.
I'll skip over the early years.
Suffice it to say that it was founded
in 1968 by a man named Bill Darden,
seen in front of his first restaurant,
The Green Frog, in 1938,
while holding a sign promoting
"swamp boy breakfast",
which I assume is like girl dinner but
in the morning and for male crocodiles.
When Darden started Red Lobster,
it was an immediate hit,
and by 1978, it had 236 restaurants
around the country.
It even became the first casual dining
chain to advertise on network TV.
And over the years,
it's had some great ads,
featuring lemons being squeezed
over various seafood products,
and even last year, the co-opting
of a Shirley Caesar classic.
We got tails, shrimp,
waiters, potatoes,
sauces for bosses,
cheddar bay stuffing.
Tails, shrimp, waiters, potatoes,
tails, shrimp, waiters, potatoes,
tails, shrimp, tails, shrimp,
tails, tails, tails, tails.
Three lobster and shrimp entrees
for a limited time.
Come taste it!
That is fantastic.
Though it is a little weird
for a restaurant
to boast about having waiters.
That's a pretty basic component
of sit-down restaurants!
They may as well be proudly
announcing they have a stove
and some plates.
But in the early 2010s, the chain
had a few years of sluggish sales,
and in 2014, its parent company,
Darden Restaurants,
sold Red Lobster
off to a private equity firm
called Golden Gate Capital
for $2.1 billion.
That private equity firm did exactly
what private equity firms always do:
immediately try and suck
the value out of the company.
One of the first things Golden Gate did
was sell off Red Lobster's real estate
and then immediately
lease the restaurants back.
Meaning Red Lobster had to pay rent
on stores that it had previously owned,
setting it on a downward spiral,
as the rent they were suddenly paying
was about $118 million a year,
roughly half
the chain's annual earnings.
It was terrible for Red Lobster,
but pretty great for Golden Gate,
because that real estate deal
covered most of what it had paid
for the company in the first place.
Very basically, Red Lobster
got fucked, fucked so good,
it probably should have taken
Golden Gate's ass to Red Lobster.
And, in 2020, Golden Gate
sold off what remained of the company,
and Thai Union,
a major seafood supplier,
with no experience
in running restaurants,
became the leading shareholder.
Now initially, it said it wouldn't
get involved in day-to-day operations,
but dozens of veteran Red Lobster
leaders were fired or resigned,
and Red Lobster ended up
having five CEOs in five years,
a level of corporate turnover
usually reserved for whoever
owns fucking HBO.
They also instituted
cost-saving measures,
from squeezing waitstaff by switching
from servers covering 3 tables to 10,
to charging for a side salad
for the very first time,
and leaving
tails on shrimp in pasta.
Which suddenly makes it
a lot less fun
that they were telling customers
to expect this.
Tails, shrimp, tails, shrimp,
tails, tails, tails, tails.
Yeah, exactly, there's gonna be
unwanted tails fucking everywhere.
Hope everyone's okay with that.
And all this brings us back
to that incredibly stupid
endless shrimp for $20 promotion.
Even at the time,
it seemed like a very bad idea.
Their CEO was reportedly
warned by the company's leaders
that $20 was too cheap
to make a profit.
And they were right about that.
Because even as the company
raised the price to $22 and then 25,
customers made it a point to get
more than their money's worth.
It even became a TikTok trend
to see how many you could eat,
in a single sitting,
leading to videos like this.
My waitress
was so proud of me.
I set a new record
at my local Red Lobster.
This is my greatest
achievement in life.
that's one quarter per shrimp.
So proud of myself,
best day of my entire life.
Yeah, of course, it was.
If I'd done that,
even if I then cured cancer
and achieved world peace,
I think I'd open my Nobel Prize
acceptance speech with:
"Who gives a shit
about any of that?
One time, I ate 108 shrimp
in a single sitting."
But interestingly, while that offer
was terrible for Red Lobster,
you can see why Thai Union
might've thought that
it would turn out great for them.
Because remember,
it's primarily a seafood supplier.
And as it happens,
Red Lobster had cut
two of its longtime
shrimp suppliers
to purchase more shrimp
from Thai Union at higher costs.
It seems they were basically
just selling shrimp to themselves,
sinking Red Lobster
even further into debt
that it's now trying
to discharge through bankruptcy.
Which is, at best,
incredibly shitty.
And the end result
of all this mismanagement
is Red Lobsters shutting
across the country,
leaving unemployed workers
in their wake.
And the restaurants themselves
are now being sold off for parts.
This location is now part
of restaurant liquidator TAGeX Brands'
largest restaurant
equipment auction ever.
One top bidder
for each location will walk away
with commercial appliances
and furniture.
Images posted
by Restaurant-Equipment-dot-bid
even include the lobster tank.
It's unclear if the crustaceans
are part of the deal.
It's true.
You can even get the tank!
So, if you've been searching
for the perfect gift
for that one friend who's impossible
to buy presents for
but who also has a bunch of loose
lobsters roaming around their house,
I've got great news for you.
The chain's auctions
were winner-take-all,
meaning each winner
would receive
the entire contents
of the Red Lobster they bid on.
And before you even ask,
no, we didn't.
I know, we buy
a lot of stupid shit on this show,
but not even we would be interested
in old furniture
from a carpeted seafood restaurant
containing a fish smell
that's just never coming out.
Besides, we went all-out
on a purchase earlier this season
that didn't really turn out
the way that we hoped it would.
So, as far as where Red Lobster
goes now, it's kind of hard to say.
One or more of the company's
lenders might buy it,
and since one of their key lenders
is yet another private equity firm,
this whole merry-go-round of asset
stripping may still continue.
The frustrating thing is,
it seems about any random idiot
could run a Red Lobster better
than these companies have done.
But there's really only one way
to put that to the test.
Which brings me back to those auctions
that I mentioned a second ago,
because the truth is, I lied to you,
we did participate in one,
for the contents of this Red
Lobster in Kingston, New York,
and we fucking won
everything inside it.
And though we have no prior
restaurant experience,
that doesn't seem to be
So please, come with me!
And welcome to Red Lobster with
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
It's a new concept
in casual dining,
where we're not looking
to get rich off this.
We very much won't do that.
Thanks so much.
Instead, what we do want to do
is give people
the single item that they want
most from a Red Lobster.
And that is the biscuits.
They are the only things
that this location will sell.
We'll still have the inexplicable
nautical themed artwork,
and the lobster tank.
But those lobsters
are really only there
so that they can watch
you eat biscuits.
I'm excited to say, we've got
a "finite biscuits" promotion on,
where for just $1 you can get
one biscuit, and that is it.
It's a limited-time promotion,
for the duration of this taping,
so please, bring out the biscuits!
Because we've got waiters,
biscuits, biscuits, waiters,
biscuits, waiters, biscuits, biscuits,
and that is all.
Now, is this a good idea
for a restaurant?
Who can say?
Lots of people, and the answer is no,
but you've got to admit,
it is a much better idea
than any of Red Lobster's
previous owners have had.
And at least we're not bleeding it
dry to make a handful of idiots rich,
which is what is happening
to so many companies nowadays.
That is our show, thank you!
See you next week, good night!
Biscuits for everybody!
Biscuits for everyone!
Waiters, biscuits,
biscuits, waiters,
biscuits, biscuits, waiters!
Come taste it!
Tails, shrimp, tails, shrimp,
tails, tails, tails, tails.
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