JOHN OLIVER: North Korea... America's number one excuse
for putting off chores this week.
"Y'know, I could do laundry, but if the world's
about to erupt into nuclear war, what really is the point?"
North Korea has clearly been on everyone's minds this week,
and I think you know why.
President Trump and North Korea escalate the war of words,
lobbing new threats and sending new tweets.
North Korea now accusing the president of the United States
of pushing the world to, quote, "the brink of nuclear war."
Wow. When Twitter was invented, I bet even they
didn't imagine that it would one day lead us to the brink
-of nuclear Armageddon. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
It's like if the invention of the Furby had led
-to the Sudanese civil war. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
Who knew that that's where it was headed?
Now, tensions have sharply escalated this week,
which is a little surprising, given that the world
has been dealing with North Korea's
provocative missile tests for years now.
Just two weeks ago, they were doing this.
CORRESPONDENT: North Korea fires yet another missile,
but Pyongyang claims this one
will be able to hit the U.S. mainland,
striking cities like Los Angeles, Denver,
Chicago, and possibly even New York and Boston.
Wait! New York? I live in New York!
-This shit just got real! -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
No, I think if anyone is-- if everyone is really honest,
your level of fear over the North Korea situation
is in direct proportion to whether or not
they can hit the exact place where you live.
We film this show on 57th street.
If you told me that the blast radius stops at 56th street,
I'd think, "Well, I hope nothing happens,
but we've still got time before things get serious."
-Now, it is-- it is worth properly understanding -(AUDIENCE APPLAUDS)
what North Korea is currently capable of,
because while their missiles may be able to reach us
and they do have nuclear warheads,
most experts believe that they don't yet have the technology
to reliably hit the U.S. mainland,
so that is reassuring. Although, on the other hand
a recent Pentagon assessment did suggest that they could cross
that threshold next year.
So, if a job interviewer asks you, "Where do you see yourself
in five years' time?"
It is now perfectly acceptable just to scream in terror
-into their face. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
Look, this is clearly a very serious situation,
requiring a deft hand.
And, sadly, that's not what it got.
North Korea best not make any more threats
to the United states.
They will be met with fire and fury,
like the world has never seen.
"Fire and fury." The only way that that is not terrifying
is if you report it the way one newspaper actually did in Maine
saying, "Trump warns of fire and furry."
In which case, Trump was threatening to send this
to North Korea, which is a very different kind of threat.
Now-- now, in response, North Korea announced plans
to fire missiles that would land just off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam,
which is frightening, although not unprecedented.
They have made similar threats before.
But what is different this time, obviously, is that we now have
a president who has the general temperament of a wet cat.
And, in response to that Guam threat,
Trump promptly doubled down.
Frankly, uh, the people that were questioning
that statement, "Was it too tough?"
Maybe it wasn't tough enough.
If anything, that statement may not be tough enough.
Well, you'll see, you'll see.
"Yeah, we're gonna go with that bomb more destructive
than the nuclear bomb. Why? I don't know!
Who cares that it doesn't exist? Sincerely yours, Donald Trump.
I'm not writing a letter. I'm talking. Says you!
Fake news. Goodbye!"
(AUDIENCE LAUGHS, APPLAUDS)
So, tonight, we thought we would ask,
"What, exactly, is North Korea thinking?
How did we get into this mess?
And what can we possibly do about it?"
And let's start by trying to understand just a little bit
more about North Korea.
And that in itself is difficult. It's one of the most isolated
and insular nations on earth.
If you know anything about it at all, it's probably just that
they have a wacky totalitarian leader who loves
military parades and Dennis Rodman,
and who really didn't like that Seth Rogen movie
about his assassination.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -And it can be hard
to trust any information about North Korea,
because lots of it is inaccurate for multiple reasons.
First, there's the outright state propaganda,
which glorifies North Korea's leaders, the Kim family.
Just last year, we showed you western journalists being taken
on a tour of a historic target range,
where they learned something suspiciously impressive
about Kim Jong-Un's father.
Comrade Kim Jong-il shot three bullets and three of them
-They all got bulls-eye? -Mm-hmm.
-And how old was he at the time? -He was 7-year-old.
A 7-year-old's got
-three bulls-eyes? -Mm-hmm. yeah.
-That's pretty impressive. -(LAUGHS) Mm-hmm.
I mean, that-- that is the "mm-hmm"
of someone who really wants to shut down a conversation.
She sounds like a parent fielding questions
about where babies come from.
-"So, a stork brings the baby?" -"Mm-hmm."
"It carries an eight-pound baby through the air in its mouth?"
-"Isn't that dangerous?" -"Mm-hmm."
"Where does the stork get the babies?"
"Storks fuck! They fuck each other! Storks fuck each other,
and the baby comes out of the stork's vagina!
Don't ask for the truth if you can't handle it!"
(AUDIENCE CHEERS AND APPLAUDS)
But, here's the thing.
Inaccuracies like that are easy to spot.
What is trickier is that a lot of eye-catching western
reporting about North Korea can be shakily sourced,
like this one.
JOY-ANN REID: The BBC reports all of the men in the hermit kingdom
must now sport the same haircut as the dear leader, Kim Jong-un.
His look was known as the Chinese smuggler haircut
not too long ago in the region, but now it will be known as
"The haircut every man in North Korea must have."
Here's the thing...
There is no solid evidence that that story is true.
But it is seductive because it sounds like it could be.
It's like if you saw the headline
"Trump to NATO: I invented Squirrels."
You'd believe it because it sounds like something
he would've claimed, even though as of this taping, he has not.
And, while it may not be true that all men had to get
the same haircut as Kim Jong-un, state TV did run a series
called "Let Us Trim Our Hair in Accordance
with the Socialist Lifestyle."
And it's weird when a verifiable truth is almost as strange
as a wild rumor.
It's like how the "Richard Gere Put a Gerbil in His Ass" story
is completely false, but what if the truth
was that he engaged in consensual mutual anal play
with a chinchilla? That would still be bizarre.
You wouldn't have to exaggerate that.
And sometimes, the truth about life in North Korea
can be just as striking as the urban legends.
For instance, you may have seen claims online that every teacher
in North Korea is obligated to play the accordion.
We could not confirm that.
Although, in trying to, we did discover that North Korea
does love the accordion to a surprising extent.
The country is full of them. Here is an accordion factory.
Here's some schoolchildren playing the accordion.
Here's Kim Jong-un looking at an accordion.
Here is an air combat exercise where the camera pans
across pilots, and guess what?
-Yep. It's a fucking accordion. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)
They also have a very popular song called
"Nothing to Envy in the World" that begins with the line
"The sky is blue, my heart is merry,
let the sound of accordions ring."
And then there is this video of North Koreans playing
the last song that you would expect.
♪ (ACCORDIONS PLAYING "TAKE ON ME" BY A-HA ) ♪
-Yes. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
That is North Korean accordionists playing
"Take on Me."
So beat that, everyone else who plays the accordion!
By which I mean exactly two old French men
and one "Weird Al" Yankovic.
And if you think that that is the most amazing piece
of North Korean Pop culture that you're gonna see tonight,
you are wrong.
Because let me introduce you to Pulgasari,
a 1985 movie known as the "North Korean Godzilla."
The whole thing is incredible,
but this is undoubtedly my favorite part.
You know why I love that? It's relatable.
No matter where you're from or what your religious or political beliefs are,
at some point, everybody has been about to decapitate
someone and then out of nowhere a baby monster jumps up
and takes a bite out of your sword.
-It works because it resonates. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)
And look, look, we're all having fun.
We're laughing about North Korea!
And it can be very funny, but the very fact
that that is true
can be extremely frustrating to journalists who cover it.
BARBARA DEMICK: It's always, you know, an exaggeration,
and a parody, and you know, kind of a freak show.
Which, I think, those of us who cover North Korea
find a little bit distressing, because it's not actually
very funny to the 24 million people who live there.
She's right. She's absolutely right.
And even when North Korea is objectively funny,
like with Pulgasari, it has dark undertones.
Because Kim Jong-il got that movie made by abducting
two of south Korea's biggest names in film,
and forcing them to make movies for him, for years.
And you know what? They did eventually escape,
so I'm gonna go ahead and say, and I know
this is not gonna be a popular opinion,
but, if that's what it took
to give us that baby monster scene,
it was fucking worth it.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -Just my opinion!
Just my opinion.
But the underlying truth of North Korea is that
it is a dark place, not just figuratively, but literally.
You can get a sense of how little development there--
has been there when you look at it from space.
See that void where there is almost no lights?
That's North Korea.
It looks like a divorced dad's Christmas tree,
where he gave up halfway through hanging the lights,
got drunk and fell asleep watching Ken Burns' Baseball.
And the Kim family is known for their bone-chilling cruelty
They were largely responsible for the deaths of somewhere between
600,000 and 2.5 million people during a famine in the 1990s.
And we know that there are large, brutal camps
where political dissidents are imprisoned, sometimes
alongside their extended families.
REPORTER: Satellite images show their scale,
but for a picture of what they're really like,
we can only rely on those who've been there.
(MAN SPEAKING KOREAN)
REPORTER: These sketches are the recollections of other
prisoners who've managed to escape the camps.
That is truly horrific. But the existence,
the continued existence of those camps
brings us to a really important point to understand.
Kim Jong-un is terrified of losing power.
And while we love to present him as a madman, many experts
believe that his actions are motivated by rational
He has seen leaders like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi
scale back their nuclear programs, only to be overthrown,
either by the U.S., or by their own people,
and die gruesome deaths.
And it's true that dictators generally don't
end their careers like disgraced American politicians,
with a stint on Dancing with the Stars,
although, that would've been an incredible season.
Saddam, that foxtrot was a weapon of mass seduction.
And, Muammar... You worked hard and it showed.
So, Kim Jong-un has continued his family's military-first
policy, spending huge amounts of money on what is the fourth largest military on Earth
and an expensive nuclear program
in an impoverished country whose economy has been estimated
to be smaller than that of Birmingham, Alabama.
And Birmingham is a small economy.
Their most notable export
is American Idol season five winner, Taylor Hicks.
Not that I'm saying that's a bad thing.
Soul patrol forever!
Soul patrol 'till I fucking die!
So, how can Kim Jong-un justify that spending?
Well, he argues that the huge military is the only thing
staving off imminent invasion from a host of outsiders
and that is where we come in.
Because the most dominant and useful villain
in North Korea's narrative is the United States.
And it is not like that comes out of nowhere.
We sided with the south during the Korean War.
And while many Americans may have forgotten just
how devastating that war was,
the North Koreans certainly haven't.
They have an entire museum devoted
to American war atrocities.
And I'm not saying there were none, but I don't think any were
quite as over-the-top as this.
REPORTER: In the last liberation war, during our strategic
retreat, the American hyenas occupied the land of Sinchon.
They arrested Min Youngshik
and stabbed her muscles with a three-pronged spear
and sucked her flowing blood.
They also took the flesh from her thighs using a bayonet,
dipped it in salt, and ate it.
And, in case you were wondering, yes, you can buy
coasters depicting that scene in the museum gift shop,
but they are 16 dollars,
which is the real war crime there!
And the North Koreans' indoctrination
in anti-Americanism starts extremely young,
as one defector remembers.
-Holy shit! -(AUDIENCE GASPS)
It is fascinating when a country's culture seeps
even into their math lessons,
although, it's not really surprising.
As a British child, our math questions were,
"If Johnny has two artifacts and Dinesh has two artifacts,
then how many artifacts is Johnny about to have?
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -The answer, of course, "All the artifacts."
Dinesh's family can come visit them in the British museum
whenever they're in town.
And the notion that North Korea is working on a bomb that can,
"Kill all the American bastards,"
is a tremendous source of national pride,
there have been stamps depicting missiles hurtling towards
the U.S. Capitol, and a few years ago,
they produced a video depicting the destruction of New York,
set to the least appropriate song imaginable.
(♪ WE ARE THE WORLD ♪ INSTRUMENTAL PLAYING)
Yes, you heard right.
That was a karaoke version of "We are the World",
set to New York in flames.
And the last time I saw a karaoke song
with background imagery that inappropriate was
every time I have ever sung karaoke.
I don't know what L.L. Cool J's "Doin' it" has to do with
these two babies in a field of sunflowers,
but it's making everybody uncomfortable.
So, the North Korean regime has been very careful about
presenting a threatening image of Americans to its people.
And some activists have actually been trying to undermine that
by sneaking information into the country on USB drives.
(SPEAKING IN KOREAN)
INTERPRETER: We send various content
from stories on human rights, general information on
South Korea, to images depicting the average American.
KARLA MURTHY: For a fictional version of the average American,
TV shows like The Mentalist, and Desperate Housewives,
Kang says, scenes like this one from NCIS...
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
MURTHY: ...That show police officers reading suspects
their rights, are especially useful.
You know what? If nothing else, we finally have our answer
to the decade-long question,
"Who the fuck is watching NCIS?"
It turns out, it's all your mom's friends
and the people of North Korea.
And if you think about it, that is very dangerous
for Kim Jong-un, because if people get a sense
that the image of America that he has carefully painted
for them is false, he could have huge problems.
And, when you understand him in that light,
as a dictator desperately hedging against a loss of power,
it is possible to understand why all his recent threats
against the United States, have been reckless,
but in his mind, also rational.
And that brings us to the key question here,
what are we going to do about this?
Because on the campaign trail, Donald Trump
made it all seem very simple.
They said, "Would you speak to the leader of North Korea?"
I said, "Absolutely. Why not? Why not?"
And they come out, "Trump would speak to him!"
Who the hell cares? I'll speak to anybody.
-(AUDIENCE CHEERING FOR TRUMP) -Who knows?
There's a ten percent or a 20 percent chance
that I can talk him out of those damn nukes,
'cause who the hell wants him to have nukes?
And there's a chance!
-No! No! There really isn't. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)
Partly because, remember, Kim Jong-un believes they are
critical for his survival, and on top of that,
Donald Trump is a shitty negotiator.
In his short presidency, he has failed to get Mexico
to pay for his stupid wall, he's failed to get
a Congress his party controls to pass a health care bill,
and even when his administration does get something done,
it way oversells it, like when the White House
announced a trade deal with China as,
"Very Big News," "Gigantic," and "Herculean,"
and one much-celebrated component turned out to be
lifting a ban on beef imports that China had preliminarily
agreed to last September.
So way to fucking go there, Donald!
What a very big, herculean deal!
Thanks to you, except, not entirely thanks to you,
America is now marginally more able to export beef again!
And since taking office,
Trump has voiced support for an even simpler solution.
China... is helping us
possibly or probably,
with the North Korean situation.
-(AUDIENCE CHEERS) -Okay? Which is a great thing.
So, in the space of 14 seconds there,
he said the word "great" twice,
he pronounced "China" with three syllables,
suggested someone else should do the work for him,
and then, threw in a "possibly or probably,"
rendering the whole thing meaningless.
I think I may have just hit Trump bingo,
and the prize that I want is to go drown in a river.
But Trump's idea there of convincing China
to exert influence on North Korea,
is not inherently crazy.
China shares an 800-mile border with North Korea
and accounts for as much as 90 percent
of North Korea's total trade,
so they do have significant leverage.
But, some are skeptical about just what China could,
or is willing to do.
Take sanctions. The U.N. have tried multiple rounds
of increasingly-harsh sanctions, but North Korea has always found
easy ways around them.
INTERPRETER: North Korea is a 100% state enterprise,
so these companies change their names the next day
if they're listed for sanctions.
That way the company stays, but with different names
whenever there are sanctions.
If I'm included in the list, my name can be changed, too.
Yeah, and that is some pretty weak enforcement.
Think about it this way,
let's say HBO decided they wanted to cancel this show,
their hand would be pretty weak if I was able to get around that
simply by changing the name to
"Earlier Times but Now Starring Spance Mörgendörffer."
(AUDIENCE LAUGHS, APPLAUDS)
And it is true that China could increase
enforcement of its sanctions, but they are understandably
worried about where that could lead.
What they worry about is, if they do that,
will the regime collapse?
What does that mean? Millions of refugees
pouring into China, uh, possibly a unified Korea,
that is then a Pro-American country
sitting on their southern border where, don't forget,
there are 30,000 American troops in South Korea,
which would then be on China's border,
and by the way, 15 nuclear weapons.
You know that there are a lot of problems when you end up
saying, "Oh, and by the way, 15 nuclear weapons."
Imagine you were a babysitter and you heard,
"Okay, you've got his EpiPen, you know about his nut allergy,
he needs his inhaler every hour, oh, and by the way,
he has 15 nuclear weapons."
Now Trump has also been mentioning military solutions,
but even targeted strikes against weapons systems
could get out of hand very fast.
North Korea would likely retaliate and they have
an estimated 8,000 pieces of heavy artillery stationed
just north of the DMZ, which is here.
And that artillery is capable of reaching Seoul,
which is just 40 miles away,
and is an area with 25 million people.
So, even a non-nuclear war could have horrific results.
And, let's just engage in some truly magical thinking.
What if you could somehow just take out Kim Jong-un?
Well, you've probably got an immediate humanitarian crisis
on your hands, as well as a leaderless country
with a power vacuum and nuclear weapons.
And, as we've learned from Iraq and Afghanistan,
when regimes fall and there's no plan in place,
that vacuum can be filled with terrible things.
We do not want to find out what North Korea's ISIS would be.
Even just the phrase, "North Korea's ISIS"
is absolutely terrifying.
It's like saying, "9/11's Bill Cosby."
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -What would that even be? I hope we never have to find out.
So, sanctions are no guarantee and military action could be
catastrophic and diplomacy is going to be extremely difficult,
given that you usually need to have a specific goal in mind,
and Trump seems to be making all of this up as he goes along.
We are learning stunning new details about
President Trump's extraordinary "fire and fury" threat tonight,
multiple sources telling CNN the president ad-libbed
those words, they were improvised, on the fly.
For fuck's sake! That is just not a good idea.
As I'm sure someone has had to say to Wayne Brady at a funeral more than once,
"Now is not a good time to improvise."
Here's a one-word suggestion, Wayne,
"Mourn, mourn like a person.
And look, the thing is that's not a surprise!
Deep down, we all assumed that he was winging it.
We have become accustomed to discounting
a large percentage of what comes out of his face.
But North Korea is listening to what he says.
And the people there have been primed for decades
to believe that America is on the brink of an invasion.
Just look at their government's response
to his "fire and fury" line.
(SPEAKING IN KOREAN)
INTERPRETER: The American Commander-in-Chief
remains stuck at a golf course, oblivious to what is happening
and talking about such nonsense as 'fire and fury'.
Since it is impossible to have talks with people who are
incapable of rational thought, the strategic armed forces has
judged that we must respond with absolute force.
Hey! hey, hey! Okay, just to be clear,
the president is not stuck at a golf course.
-(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -Unless the cart ran out of gas and he has to walk,
in which case, yes, the president is very much
stuck at the golf course and may need to be airlifted out.
So, here is where we are,
we have two nuclear-armed leaders,
who are accustomed to issuing empty threats to impress their
own people and they are now currently goading each other
Which is absolutely terrifying.
And I don't really have a solution to this.
But, part of me would love the chance, just the chance,
to speak directly to the North Korean people.
So, on the off chance that this show is smuggled
over their border on a USB drive crammed with NCIS episodes,
I would just like to say this,
-Hi, North Korea. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)
You may be hearing some frightening rhetoric
from our president, but if it helps at all,
when our president says words, he doesn't necessarily mean
what those words mean.
It's very difficult to describe to you,
we're still trying to wrap our heads around it ourselves.
Really, it's our problem, except it is now kind of
your problem, too.
But I want to talk to you about some misconceptions because
we certainly have misconceptions about you, uh,
but you should know, ideally,
that we are not remotely what your state propaganda implies, either.
We honestly do not spend our days plotting your destruction.
We spend them sharing cat memes and spinning fidgii,
and getting furiously angry about a singing boy
barely appearing in our favorite dragon show.
So, for what it's worth, I would like to give you,
the North Korean people, a sense of how America
is feeling right now, in a way that you might
understand and enjoy.
And, that is through the international language
of the accordion.
And I have some good news and some bad news, there.
The bad news is, I do not play the accordion.
The good news is,
I know someone who plays it like a fucking angel.
Ladies and gentlemen, and the people of North Korea,
please welcome, Mr. "Weird Al" Yankovic!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUDING)
♪ Would you annihilate us If you had the chance? ♪
♪ That's such an Anti-social thing to do ♪
♪ You've got us crapping Our collective pants ♪
♪ May I suggest you take it down A notch or two ♪
♪ We're not exactly sure Why you're upset ♪
♪ Did that Seth Rogen movie Make you super mad? ♪
♪ You'd like us if you got to Know us I bet ♪
♪ We're mostly harmless, Decent people ♪
♪ Hey, we're really not so bad My point is ♪
♪ Please don't nuke us, North Korea! ♪
♪ Right now, We're all a little tense ♪
♪ Believe me, We don't hate you ♪
♪ Frankly, we don't even think That much about you ♪
♪ No offense! ♪
♪ Now you might call 'em "Blood-thirsty dogs" ♪
♪ But that metaphor's Not very apt ♪
♪ We're just a bunch of simple Fidget spinnin' goofy dorks ♪
♪ Who probably couldn't find Your country on a map ♪
♪ No, we're not savages Or cannibals ♪
♪ Well, maybe just a really, Really, really small percent ♪
♪ So, I think it would be best ♪
♪ If you'd knock off Those missile tests ♪
♪ Don't turn us into cinder While we're swipin' ♪
♪ Right on Tinder ♪
♪ Don't jump-start Armageddon or Our beds we'll soon be wettin' ♪
♪ Won't you think this through For a moment please ♪
♪ Now why would you bomb our Nice celebrities? ♪
♪ Oh, why in the world would you Kill Tom Hanks? ♪
♪ 'Cause nobody doesn't like Tom Hanks! ♪
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
♪ So, please don't nuke us North Korea! ♪
♪ That would seriously ruin Our day, remember... ♪
♪ We're not evil Psychotic monsters ♪
♪ No matter what the news May say ♪
♪ We're just those goofballs ♪
♪ From the U.S.A! ♪
♪ Please don't nuke us Please don't nuke us ♪
-♪ Hey! ♪ -(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
"Weird Al" Yankovic, ladies and gentlemen!