John Oliver Explains How His 'Last Week Tonight' Salmon-Slapping Finale Came Together
"It's not rocket science; Monty Python had hit people with fishes before. But I think it still holds true — a human being hit by a flying fish is objectively funny, as objective as comedy can be."
Back in November, the first season of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver ended on a high note — rather, a soaring one, as a segment of the finale sent salmon flying, and slapping a slew of celebrities square in the face.
"It was just one of the most joyful two minutes of TV," John Oliver laughed of the clip to a handful of reporters on Tuesday morning at HBO's New York City headquarters. "It's not rocket science; Monty Python had hit people with fishes before. But I think it still holds true — a human being hit by a flying fish is objectively funny, as objective as comedy can be."
The clip was Last Week Tonight's take on CBS' recent coverage of a "salmon cannon" that shoots the fish upstream so they can procreate. He used his own salmon cannon to shoot fake fish at a host of different celebrities, including fellow late-night hosts Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, as well as Dwight Howard, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper, Joel McHale, Wanda Sykes, Wayne Brady, Kelly Ripa and J.J. Abrams, among others. Fish even showed up on The Simpsons, Modern Family and Grey's Anatomy.
When asked about how it all came together, he explained, "We can't take credit for the genesis; the genesis is just one Seattle area man's dream. We saw that and thought, that is an absolutely magnificent piece of equipment. Then I think someone had the idea of, because this was months out, we could just do our own version of salmon hitting people in the face.
"We started putting out the feelers of, 'Would you like to have a salmon hit you in the face?' And it was just an amazing amount of yeses. It doesn't seem like a good offer, but yeah. When we were getting The Simpsons and David Letterman's one coming in — even when I heard that Letterman said yes, I was still not expecting to see a fish thrown at his face. So that took a couple of months of just preparing the salmon, of mailing the salmon, throwing the salmon! And then getting the tapes back. I can't even remember how many people, but it was incredible. It was really fun."
Oliver promised that season two will have similar "long-term mayhem production things like that," or "things we can spend months building that have no tangible value whatsoever," all to lighten up viewers' Sunday night after the show covers a heavier topic.
"Whenever we're going into something really dark or detailed as a story, we always try to get to that point of doing the dumbest thing you can see that week on television. The salmon cannon definitely qualifies for that."
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver returns on Sunday, Feb. 8 at 11 p.m. on HBO. Watch the salmon-soaring segment below.