On last Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver shocked us all by landing an interview with famed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and then conducting an inquisition that was as brutal as it was hilarious. The big get solidified Oliver’s status as the media’s biggest hero.
Oliver put his heroic position in precarious jeopardy on this Sunday’s episode of his show, however, by doing the unthinkable: He defended the IRS, the anus of our country.
“I know that sounds unappealing,” he warned when he announced that this week’s big story would be an examination of our relationship with the IRS. “But I promise if you stay to the end of this there’ll be a very sexy reward.”
Depending on how arousing you find the idea of Michael Bolton crooning a love song with the word “anus” in it, that last part of Oliver’s statement is a debatable one. But he did make good on another mission. “I’m going to attempt the impossible,” he said. “I’m going to try and make you feel a small amount of sympathy for the IRS.”
And damned if he didn’t do it. Not that he made it easy on himself.
No, Oliver began his labored—and, ultimately, brilliant—defense of the most loathed organization in the country, especially as Americans scramble to get their affairs in order for Tax Day on April 15, by revisiting all the reasons why paying taxes sucks. “They combine two things we hate the most in life: people taking our money and math,” he reminded us.
But it’s more than having to cut them a check that we hate the IRS for. It’s the tortured process of paying that check.
Lines at IRS offices are down some city blocks, with only two people working at some locations. So far this year, only 4 in 10 callers to the agency’s toll-free phone line have actually reached a human representative. More than 5 million calls have ended with a “courtesy disconnect,” bullshit terminology for “hanging up” because the wait has been too long.
More, there have been an unmanageable 579 changes in the tax code this past year. As Oliver rightfully pointed out, “The only document that should change that often is the Wikipedia page for Bill Cosby.” Considering all of that, it’s no wonder that some Americans send their tax checks stained with mustard, among other things, and governors are caught comparing people who work for the IRS to the Gestapo.
There are two things wrong with that, Oliver explained. One, comparing IRS employees to the Gestapo “doesn’t match up when you see what they’re actually like.” Video testimonials from IRS workers about their jobs posted on the IRS YouTube channel—these are things that really exist, God Bless America—reveal that the workers “don’t seem as much evil as unbelievably boring.”
More, it’s not fair to vilify the IRS because they’re the wrong target for our rage. The amount of money we pay in taxes each year has nothing to do with the IRS. It is determined by acts of Congress. So, said Oliver, “blaming the IRS because you hate paying your taxes is like slapping your checkout clerk because the price of eggs has gone up. It’s not her fault. She’s just trying to help you get out of the store.”
And as for those long lines at IRS offices, that’s also the fault of Congress, which slashed the IRS budget by 20 percent this past year. But Oliver took his argument a step further. Not only should we not hate the IRS, we should openly embrace the organization.
The hard evidence for that? Every dollar spent on tax enforcements yields $6 back. In other words, the IRS sextuples your investment. “We should fund them because the IRS is one of the safest investments for public money available,” Oliver said, concluding, “I’m not saying that the IRS is a likable organization. But not everything important is likable.”
But, like he said himself, nobody likes math. So he came up with a way to explain the usefulness of the IRS that is inarguable in its logic, unshakable in its connotation, and brilliant in its memorability.
The IRS, he said, is the anus of our country. “It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to shit real quick.”
To drive the point home, Oliver brought out Michael Bolton to sing a love song—or, more accurately, a “reluctant support” song—for the appropriate funding of the IRS. Set to the tune of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” Bolton summed it up thusly: “You never miss your anus ’til it’s gone.”
No, you can’t live without an anus. Or, apparently, the IRS. So think twice before wiping your ass with that tax check.