John Oliver Totally Ripped Into Operation Fortitude At His Show In Melbourne Last Night

"What has happened in this city? You people have gone fucking insane!"

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It has been a difficult few days for proud old Melbourne. First there was the tram strike, which made everyone early for their appointments because trams make ‘moving at a crawl’ a literal rather than figurative proposition.

Then on Friday, the government decided to take Australia’s most fashionable city’s commitment to retro to its logical conclusion and adopt a 1940s approach to public rights.

The people of Melbourne needed a hero, and John Oliver was in town. No longer did we need to watch endlessly shared YouTube clips of him tearing down US policies and institutions; he was there to lampoon Operation Fortitude on home turf, in person, in real time.

John Oliver’s trademark approach to political lunacy is a range of WTF riffs — so Border Clusterforce was right in his wheelhouse.

“What has happened in this city? You people have gone fucking insane!” he opened, employing the standard greeting of the day.

“Now you’ve decided to dabble in being Nazis, just to see how it feels. ‘We won’t do the uniforms yet, that’s a commitment; we’ll find out if you like it, and then get the uniforms made.” (I believe Border Force do actually have some pretty dapper dressings — but we can’t expect HBO-quality research when he’s working spontaneously.)

Oliver also noted how, particularly for an undertaking called “Operation Fortitude”, it seemed to fold pretty quickly under the immense force of dozens upon dozens — at least two dozen — dissenters.

“Are you doing [Operation Fortitude] tomorrow?” he asked. “No? You’ve decided not to? Just dipped your toes in the Nazi pond and said, ‘Actually, no that’s a little spicy’. Pick a fucking lane, Melbourne.”

“To his credit, Hitler was a terrible human being,” he continued — an amazing start to any sentence, “but when he suggested doing things and people said ‘are you sure?’, he didn’t say, ‘You’re right, it’s a terrible idea’.”

As he observed, this kind of response has become the convention of the past few years: “Tony Abbott seems to be some kind of installation art-piece that you’ve put up to pose the question, ‘What would it be like if a major international country were to elect a man like this? It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?’ … What’s your long term plan with that guy?”

At this point, someone up the back yelled out, “Taxidermy!”. Despite my reticence to encourage helpful ‘contributions’ from the audience, it got a great laugh — and did not, as Oliver pointed out, invoke dissent among the crowd. “I can’t help but notice you all acted like that was a viable option.” (Is it? Someone check the Constitution.)

Barnaby Joyce’s willingness to campaign on the admittedly untried platform of “puppy-killer” also didn’t escape Oliver’s attention; nor did our accents, questionable taste in public art, casual-yet-oddly specific racism, and the gallows humour required to bring into being the Harold Holt Memorial swimming pool.

But for someone who has made their name shining a light on institutional ineptitude, political cruelty, and popular delusions, his takeaway was unabashedly upbeat. He told a story about waiting in an airport for delayed flights among a typically miserable group of fellow commuters, who were lifted up and brought together by the sight of an impudent indoor pigeon marching about the airport.

“It this how tantalisingly close we are to everything being magically okay?” he asked.”A pigeon where it shouldn’t be?”

This was the take-home message from his show last night, and the one I would like to impart. Despite it all — despite the political peacocking, embarrassing exhibitions of ineptitude, and breathtaking insularity of Australia — we are able to rally behind the most unlikely displays of defiance. An indoor pigeon, strutting around an airport, who could take off and fly any time he damn well likes.

(One more thing: despite a rapturous reception, Oliver did point out that there was something wanting. He has recently adopted a puppy, and when she greets him after a trip away both her joy and her bladder overflows. So while it would be irresponsible of me to explicitly state that should you approach your hero and urinate on him you might be well-received, I will say that, if it were to happen, he only has himself to blame. Just a heads-up.)

John Oliver will be bringing his brain to the State Theatre in Sydney for two sets on Sunday August 30, and a final show on Monday August 31. Head here for the few tickets that are still available.

Maddie Palmer is a writer, broadcaster, TV and digital producer whose work has appears on The Feed on SBS2. She talks about TV with Myf Warhurst on Double Jay, and tweets from @msmaddiep.Feature image taken at February’s A Night Of Too Many Stars in New York, by Stephen Lovekin for Getty.