Stephen Colbert knew before he even asked that his guest, John Oliver, wouldn’t be able to answer his question.
“Correct me if I’m wrong here and I don't know how much you can talk about this, but you know what I am going to ask about here, because you already decided not to talk about it,” The Late Show host said Wednesday night. “You are being sued right now by a coal company. What can you tell me?”
Oliver, anxiously nodding along, replied, “You are torturing me. I literally promised my executive producer before I came here I won’t talk about it and now we’re here. There are many things that I want to say, I’m bursting. Look into my eyes, there is so much, so much I want to say, Stephen.”
It all started just a few weeks ago when Oliver dedicated the bulk of his Last Week Tonight episode on HBO to the issue of coal. He specifically singled out Trump supporter and Republican coal baron Robert Murray, knowing full well that he has a history of suing media organizations that criticize him. And right on cue, a couple of days later, Murray filed a lawsuit against Oliver and his writers—along with HBO and its parent company, Time Warner—alleging character assassination.
Acknowledging the lawsuit at the top of his show the following week, Oliver told viewers, “I desperately want to talk to you about this tonight, but our lawyers have suggested that the court be the venue where we work this out. And I do get that, but I promise we will tell you all about this as soon as it is over.”
Colbert continued to lay out details of the suit on The Late Show, while Oliver let his discomfort be known, saying, “This is hell. I’m in hell right now,” he said. “All I have is a sequence of thoughts in my head. ‘Oh, this would be funny to say, this would be funny, this would be interesting’ and then another thing going, ‘You're dead if it happens.’”
As the first Daily Show correspondent to be sued by one of his subjects—“Mazel tov,” Oliver said—Colbert could relate to his guest’s plight. He was hit with legal action for suggesting that a retired lawyer in California “might be akin to Hitler,” and eventually won the case.
“I’m going to do that as well,” Oliver said, before adding, “Oh God, that was too much.”
And if he loses, Colbert suggested that he just go hide out with his old friend Edward Snowden. “I’m sure Russia would love to have you back,” he joked.