John Oliver says a Disney-owned streaming platform in India has been censoring jokes mocking Disney characters in its broadcasts of his HBO late-night show, Last Week Tonight.
Oliver started out Sunday night's episode by explaining that Disney-owned Hotstar, which distributes the series in India, decided to, in his words, "self-censor," and did not upload a recent episode of Last Week Tonight that was critical of Narendra Modi, India's prime minister.
"What's worse is, it's apparently not even the first time they have censored us," Oliver said. "We've discovered that they've been quietly doing it for a while now, but not for the reason that you might expect."
He referred back to a 2019 episode about the U.S. census in which he'd shown a clip of an ad from the 1980s encouraging citizens to fill out their census form; the ad included a cameo from Mickey Mouse. In the episode, Oliver joked that Mickey was a cocaine addict. But in the episode that streamed on Hotstar, the joke was cut out entirely with a jarring transition to a close-up of Oliver's face.
"Did you catch that? That barely noticeable moment when they smashed to an unflattering close-up of my face. You probably didn't, because it fits so seamlessly with the familiar rhythms and consistent visual style of this television show," Oliver quipped as the camera then zoomed in on his face and then zoomed out, showing his entire desk — two shots that the show does not typically employ.
As for the deleted joke, Oliver questioned, "Why did they do that? It's hard to say, but it might be because Hotstar is actually owned by Disney, and they seem extra-sensitive about Disney references." (Hotstar describes itself online as "India's largest premium streaming platform with more than 100.000 hours of drama and movies in 17 languages, and coverage of every major global sporting event.")
Oliver then showed a clip from another 2019 episode featuring a segment focusing on China's one-child policy in which he joked that Donald Duck's penis is "shaped like a corkscrew," which Oliver pointed out is an actual fact about the anatomy of real-life ducks.
"I frankly resent that factually accurate joke being cut out almost more than I resent our Modi episode being pulled," Oliver said. "And let me say this to Hotstar right now. If you think that you have to remove anything that reflects poorly on Disney from this show, I have some bad news for you, my friend. I'm fucking Zazu right here," he said, referring to the character he voiced in last year's The Lion King.
"Everything that comes out of this beak is a 'Disney Fact.' If I say that Cogsworth [from Beauty and the Beast] collects Nazi memorabilia, guess what? That's canon, baby! That's a 'Disney fucking Fact' right there. And for the foreseeable future, Hotstar, you can look forward to learning a lot more of them on this show because we're going to be sliding them into our stories like Chip and Dale slid into Richard Gere. That's right — 'Disney Fact,' motherfuckers."
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Disney for comment. Watch the segment below.