wrestling / News

John Oliver Targets WWE on Last Week Tonight For Independent Contractor Status, Lack of Health Care (Video)

April 1, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
John Oliver WWE Last Week Tonight

– John Oliver made WWE the focus of his main segment on Last Week Tonight, slamming the company for its treatment of talent (full video at the bottom of this post). The majority of the HBO satirical news series’ half-hour running time was focused on the company ahead of this coming weekend’s WrestleMania 35, with the majority of the focus being on how the company classifies its talent as independent contractors.

The segment, as Last Week Tonight’s main segments always are, tackled a serious topic with several bits of humor. It’s worth noting that Oliver referenced some points without context and was fuzzy on the timeline, though to be fair he was trying to explain the complexities of a long-standing issue in wrestling in about twenty minutes’ time.

The segment started with Oliver talking about WWE being the dominant company in the industry and professed to be a fan of professional wrestling. “I like wrestling,” he said. “And you might be surprised to hear that, but I’d argue it’s objectively entertaining. And the WWE has, over the years, delivered numerous ludicrous and genuinely incredible moments,” referencing the Jake Roberts/Randy Savage cobra segment, Braun Strowman suplexing Big Show and making the ring collapse, Steve Austin’s beer truck, “not to be mistaken with the time Kurt Angle drove a milk truck into the arena and sprayed Stone Cold Steve Austin with a milk hose.”

He then cited WWE’s popularity before going on to reference the oft-cited reports of wrestlers dying young and how much higher the statistics are than both the average population and the NFL. Much of the rest of the segment looked at Vince McMahon and his consolidation of the industry into a monopoly, as well as McMahon’s heavy involvement in WWE and his on-screen work as a villain, specifically calling out his treatment of Trish Stratus on-screen during the Attitude era, beating up Hornswoggle and the segment where he uttered a racial slur to John Cena. (Littered throughout the segment for comedy were scenes of McMahon taking bumps from foreign objects, a superkick from Shawn Michaels and the Stink Face.)

The segment moved on to look at WWE’s treatment of wrestlers, using Bret Hart’s Wrestling With Shadows documentary from 1998 when he left WWE and was subject to the Montreal Screwjob and making reference to Owen Hart’s death, though it notably made it seem like part of Hart’s beef with WWE at that time was Owen’s death, which had not happened at the time of the documentary (Owen died in 1999).

This is when they moved onto the independent contractor issue, using a quote from Jesse Ventura in 2010 stating that the government should not allow it. Oliver broke down what independent contractor status means, arguing that WWE classifies talent that way for particular reasons like making them exempt from most discrimination and occupational safety laws and not having to have paid annual leave or health insurance. Oliver broke down why WWE performances should not qualify for independent contractor status in the current era. He showed off some older contract language from 2007 and 2010 protecting WWE from liability regarding injury and death. CM Punk’s stories about Z-Packs and concussions from Colt Cabana’s podcast were brought up, and how he was pressured to go on tour and pretend he didn’t have a concussion.

The show then played a clip of McMahon on HBO Real Sports in 2003 being asked about wrestler deaths where he turned hostile to the interviewer and saying he felt no responsibility for talent’s early deaths, and reaching out to swipe at the interviewer. Oliver pointed out that WWE pays for drug rehab now, but suggested that the company doesn’t do enough to deal with the situation that cause talent to be hooked and referenced an interview with Roddy Piper in his forties where he was having to return to the ring for financial reasons.

Oliver then pointed out that the one group WWE does occasionally listen to is the fans, pointing out the “Give Divas a Chance” campaign leading to the Raw Women’s Championship main event at WrestleMania. He also showed clips of WWE fans booing, chanting profanity and shouting at Roman Reigns, describing how the company failed to get him over as a top babyface, and then suggested that fans bring signs and chant for a change to independent contractor status at WrestleMania. The whole thing concluded with a tongue-in-cheek promo about talent getting health insurance, pensions and the like.