John Oliver and Stephen Colbert Take on Confederate Statue Replacement

The 'Late Show' host was a surprise guest on Sunday's 'Last Week Tonight.'

During Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver addressed the Confederate monument debate, arguing for their removal and even enlisting help from his friend and fellow Daily Show alum Stephen Colbert to make his case.

Oliver cited a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center showing that 1,503 Confederate memorials exist across the country, with a total of 718 being statues and monuments and 10 U.S. military bases named for Confederate officers.

"Think about that … they were the enemy and they killed U.S. soldiers," Oliver commented. "That's like finding out Nancy Kerrigan named her child Tonya Harding. Why would you do that? That's a weird choice."

Oliver then cited another report finding that only 38 percent of Americans think slavery was the primary cause for the Civil War. "In other words, look to your left, look to your right, statistically all three of you live in a country where only 38 percent of people think the Civil War was mainly about slavery," Oliver said to the laughing audience. 

Oliver proceeded to show a montage of clips of protestors from both sides of the Confederacy debates. While some white males argued to keep the statues as a way to honor their ancestors, two black men are shown saddened to be reminded of the suffering their ancestors endured during the time period. To further elaborate, Oliver referenced the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, where celebrities attempt to uncover their family history.

Ben Affleck demanded the show remove all references to his slave-owning ancestors, which he later apologized for. "There is no easy way to respond to learning that horrible kind of information," Oliver said.

Oliver also showed more clips of stars discovering their ancestors owned slaves from Finding Your Roots — Larry David expressed disbelief, whereas Anderson Cooper expressed a different reaction, upon learning that his ancestor was beaten to death by a slave. When asked if he thinks his ancestor deserved it, Cooper said, "Yeah."

"As a general rule, try not to live a life that could lead a descendant of yours to one day say, 'A guy smashed grand poppy's head in with a garden hose? That's amazing. Great job that guy,'" Oliver joked.

Oliver assured the audience that no one is at fault for what their ancestors did, with the host joking about his own heritage saying, "I have to believe that; I'm English and I would like to go to an Indian restaurant at some point in my life."

After showing a clip of President Donald Trump claiming that statue removals are a method of "taking away our culture," Oliver argued against the president's comments. "Monuments are not how we record history. Books are, museums are, Ken Burns 12-part miniseries are. Statues are how we glorify people, or in the case of one in Tokyo, how we glorify giant radioactive lizards."

While Oliver states that "imperfect people" can deserve statues, the country's "standards change over time." Oliver then proceeded to propose alternate statues that included sculptures of Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery but escaped and went on to be a congressman, and Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot. 

Prior to presenting the statue that could reside in Charleston, South Carolina, Oliver said, "Why have a divisive Confederate statue when instead that pedestal can be filled by your favorite son, the actual Stephen Colbert," revealing Colbert himself standing beneath the sheet as the audience at the surprise appearance. 

"Charleston is the site of the first free public library in America. Every year we host Zagoon Row Fests, the Southeast's most comprehensive migration-focused birding festival," Colbert said, citing fun facts about his home town.

"That sounds incredible! I'll Google it," Oliver said. Adding, "See Charleston, you can have this 24 hours a day, seven days a week," with Colbert then interrupting, "Actually, I need to do my show five days a week."

"Five days a week. How do you do it?!" Oliver asked. "I don't know," answered Colbert, who famously took a jab at Oliver while hosting the Emmy Awards, saying that the best late night show winner's program is "so high-quality, they can only make one a week."