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My Experience Being in the Studio Audience of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

I’ve been a huge Last Week Tonight with John Oliver fan since high school, when my history teacher showed us a clip from one of the shows as part of a lesson. I’ve watched every episode multiple times, and I’ve even gotten my family to become fans of the show as well. As someone who wants to be informed but also feels stressed about the seemingly constant cycle of bad news, Last Week Tonight is the perfect show for me. I learn a lot, but I also get to laugh and feel like maybe there are solutions to the problems the world faces.

I’ve wanted to go see the show live forever, and my dad and I have been entering the online ticket lottery. Although tickets are free, which is amazing, the lottery closes within minutes, and there’s a degree of luck involved. (Or, as John Oliver joked in the latest episode about tickets, “We do it the right way, distributing tickets at random to anyone who happens to be walking by the studio at the time. Half these idiots think I’m the warmup act for Drew Barrymore.”) I got an email the night before the show filmed saying that we were being offered tickets due to a cancellation, and after freaking out for a few minutes, I called my dad and figured out how we were going to get to New York City for the following afternoon. It was a little chaotic but so exciting.

The show has a strict COVID-19 policy, so I spent the night frantically searching for my vaccine card, which had gone missing. Luckily, I found it, and we made our way to the CBS Broadcasting Center the next day. Last Week Tonight‘s new studio fit a small audience and had a cool design, with a skyline background and blue lighting. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in front of the desk I’d watched on TV for so many years. We watched a video of the show’s highlights and a comedian on the show talked to us to get us excited, not that we could be any more excited. John Oliver then came out to answer audience questions, and there were some very funny exchanges. I got to ask if HBO had ever rejected any of his proposals, to which he explained that they tended to ask for forgiveness, not permission and that HBO had been really supportive of the show. Filming the show then got underway. It was surreal to be in person, but it was so fun watching the episode live and seeing how the show actually gets made.

Being in the studio audience of Last Week Tonight was one of the best days I’ve had in a while (even though Drew Barrymore did not make an appearance). We’ve just passed the two-year mark of the first lockdown and getting sent home from UMass. I have had some fun in two years, but any spontaneity or carefree fun is precluded by discussions about safety and logistics, and the fear that the event will be canceled. Those conversations were and still are important (we’re still in a pandemic!), but it’s nice to enjoy a live event again. I felt really safe at the show because of the precautions they took, which let me relax and enjoy. It’s still important to be safe, but it’s also important to have fun.

For me, that was seeing Last Week Tonight live, but everyone should go see the live event or do the trip they’ve always wanted to take. Go see that concert or show you’ve wanted to see forever — after the last two years, we all deserve a little fun.

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Allison Brookhart

U Mass Amherst '23

Ally Brookhart is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is majoring in biochemistry and is interested how science interacts with society. Ally enjoys exploring new places, reading, working out, and playing volleyball.