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  • JOHN OLIVER: North Korea... America's number one excuse

  • for putting off chores this week.

  • "Y'know, I could do laundry, but if the world's

  • about to erupt into nuclear war, what really is the point?"

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • North Korea has clearly been on everyone's minds this week,

  • and I think you know why.

  • President Trump and North Korea escalate the war of words,

  • lobbing new threats and sending new tweets.

  • North Korea now accusing the president of the United States

  • of pushing the world to, quote, "the brink of nuclear war."

  • Wow. When Twitter was invented, I bet even they

  • didn't imagine that it would one day lead us to the brink

  • -of nuclear Armageddon. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • It's like if the invention of the Furby had led

  • -to the Sudanese civil war. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • Who knew that that's where it was headed?

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • Now, tensions have sharply escalated this week,

  • which is a little surprising, given that the world

  • has been dealing with North Korea's

  • provocative missile tests for years now.

  • Just two weeks ago, they were doing this.

  • CORRESPONDENT: North Korea fires yet another missile,

  • but Pyongyang claims this one

  • will be able to hit the U.S. mainland,

  • striking cities like Los Angeles, Denver,

  • Chicago, and possibly even New York and Boston.

  • Wait! New York? I live in New York!

  • -This shit just got real! -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • No, I think if anyone is-- if everyone is really honest,

  • your level of fear over the North Korea situation

  • is in direct proportion to whether or not

  • they can hit the exact place where you live.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • We film this show on 57th street.

  • If you told me that the blast radius stops at 56th street,

  • I'd think, "Well, I hope nothing happens,

  • but we've still got time before things get serious."

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • -Now, it is-- it is worth properly understanding -(AUDIENCE APPLAUDS)

  • what North Korea is currently capable of,

  • because while their missiles may be able to reach us

  • and they do have nuclear warheads,

  • most experts believe that they don't yet have the technology

  • to reliably hit the U.S. mainland,

  • so that is reassuring. Although, on the other hand

  • a recent Pentagon assessment did suggest that they could cross

  • that threshold next year.

  • So, if a job interviewer asks you, "Where do you see yourself

  • in five years' time?"

  • It is now perfectly acceptable just to scream in terror

  • -into their face. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • Look, this is clearly a very serious situation,

  • requiring a deft hand.

  • And, sadly, that's not what it got.

  • North Korea best not make any more threats

  • to the United states.

  • They will be met with fire and fury,

  • like the world has never seen.

  • "Fire and fury." The only way that that is not terrifying

  • is if you report it the way one newspaper actually did in Maine

  • saying, "Trump warns of fire and furry."

  • (AUDIENCE APPLAUDING)

  • In which case, Trump was threatening to send this

  • to North Korea, which is a very different kind of threat.

  • Now-- now, in response, North Korea announced plans

  • to fire missiles that would land just off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam,

  • which is frightening, although not unprecedented.

  • They have made similar threats before.

  • But what is different this time, obviously, is that we now have

  • a president who has the general temperament of a wet cat.

  • And, in response to that Guam threat,

  • Trump promptly doubled down.

  • Frankly, uh, the people that were questioning

  • that statement, "Was it too tough?"

  • Maybe it wasn't tough enough.

  • If anything, that statement may not be tough enough.

  • Well, you'll see, you'll see.

  • "Yeah, we're gonna go with that bomb more destructive

  • than the nuclear bomb. Why? I don't know!

  • Who cares that it doesn't exist? Sincerely yours, Donald Trump.

  • I'm not writing a letter. I'm talking. Says you!

  • Fake news. Goodbye!"

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS, APPLAUDS)

  • So, tonight, we thought we would ask,

  • "What, exactly, is North Korea thinking?

  • How did we get into this mess?

  • And what can we possibly do about it?"

  • And let's start by trying to understand just a little bit

  • more about North Korea.

  • And that in itself is difficult. It's one of the most isolated

  • and insular nations on earth.

  • If you know anything about it at all, it's probably just that

  • they have a wacky totalitarian leader who loves

  • military parades and Dennis Rodman,

  • and who really didn't like that Seth Rogen movie

  • about his assassination.

  • -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -And it can be hard

  • to trust any information about North Korea,

  • because lots of it is inaccurate for multiple reasons.

  • First, there's the outright state propaganda,

  • which glorifies North Korea's leaders, the Kim family.

  • Just last year, we showed you western journalists being taken

  • on a tour of a historic target range,

  • where they learned something suspiciously impressive

  • about Kim Jong-Un's father.

  • Comrade Kim Jong-il shot three bullets and three of them

  • got bulls-eye.

  • -They all got bulls-eye? -Mm-hmm.

  • -And how old was he at the time? -He was 7-year-old.

  • A 7-year-old's got

  • -three bulls-eyes? -Mm-hmm. yeah.

  • -That's pretty impressive. -(LAUGHS) Mm-hmm.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • I mean, that-- that is the "mm-hmm"

  • of someone who really wants to shut down a conversation.

  • She sounds like a parent fielding questions

  • about where babies come from.

  • -"So, a stork brings the baby?" -"Mm-hmm."

  • "It carries an eight-pound baby through the air in its mouth?"

  • "Mm-hmm."

  • -"Isn't that dangerous?" -"Mm-hmm."

  • "Where does the stork get the babies?"

  • "Storks fuck! They fuck each other! Storks fuck each other,

  • and the baby comes out of the stork's vagina!

  • Don't ask for the truth if you can't handle it!"

  • (AUDIENCE CHEERS AND APPLAUDS)

  • But, here's the thing.

  • Inaccuracies like that are easy to spot.

  • What is trickier is that a lot of eye-catching western

  • reporting about North Korea can be shakily sourced,

  • like this one.

  • JOY-ANN REID: The BBC reports all of the men in the hermit kingdom

  • must now sport the same haircut as the dear leader, Kim Jong-un.

  • His look was known as the Chinese smuggler haircut

  • not too long ago in the region, but now it will be known as

  • "The haircut every man in North Korea must have."

  • Lucky them.

  • Here's the thing...

  • There is no solid evidence that that story is true.

  • But it is seductive because it sounds like it could be.

  • It's like if you saw the headline

  • "Trump to NATO: I invented Squirrels."

  • You'd believe it because it sounds like something

  • he would've claimed, even though as of this taping, he has not.

  • And, while it may not be true that all men had to get

  • the same haircut as Kim Jong-un, state TV did run a series

  • called "Let Us Trim Our Hair in Accordance

  • with the Socialist Lifestyle."

  • And it's weird when a verifiable truth is almost as strange

  • as a wild rumor.

  • It's like how the "Richard Gere Put a Gerbil in His Ass" story

  • is completely false, but what if the truth

  • was that he engaged in consensual mutual anal play

  • with a chinchilla? That would still be bizarre.

  • You wouldn't have to exaggerate that.

  • And sometimes, the truth about life in North Korea

  • can be just as striking as the urban legends.

  • For instance, you may have seen claims online that every teacher

  • in North Korea is obligated to play the accordion.

  • We could not confirm that.

  • Although, in trying to, we did discover that North Korea

  • does love the accordion to a surprising extent.

  • The country is full of them. Here is an accordion factory.

  • Here's some schoolchildren playing the accordion.

  • Here's Kim Jong-un looking at an accordion.

  • Here is an air combat exercise where the camera pans

  • across pilots, and guess what?

  • -Yep. It's a fucking accordion. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • They also have a very popular song called

  • "Nothing to Envy in the World" that begins with the line

  • "The sky is blue, my heart is merry,

  • let the sound of accordions ring."

  • And then there is this video of North Koreans playing

  • the last song that you would expect.

  • ♪ (ACCORDIONS PLAYING "TAKE ON ME" BY A-HA ) ♪

  • -Yes. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • That is North Korean accordionists playing

  • "Take on Me."

  • So beat that, everyone else who plays the accordion!

  • By which I mean exactly two old French men

  • and one "Weird Al" Yankovic.

  • And if you think that that is the most amazing piece

  • of North Korean Pop culture that you're gonna see tonight,

  • you are wrong.

  • Because let me introduce you to Pulgasari,

  • a 1985 movie known as the "North Korean Godzilla."

  • The whole thing is incredible,

  • but this is undoubtedly my favorite part.

  • (DEVILISHLY LAUGHING)

  • (GROWLING)

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • You know why I love that? It's relatable.

  • No matter where you're from or what your religious or political beliefs are,

  • at some point, everybody has been about to decapitate

  • someone and then out of nowhere a baby monster jumps up

  • and takes a bite out of your sword.

  • -It works because it resonates. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • And look, look, we're all having fun.

  • We're laughing about North Korea!

  • And it can be very funny, but the very fact

  • that that is true

  • can be extremely frustrating to journalists who cover it.

  • BARBARA DEMICK: It's always, you know, an exaggeration,

  • and a parody, and you know, kind of a freak show.

  • Which, I think, those of us who cover North Korea

  • find a little bit distressing, because it's not actually

  • very funny to the 24 million people who live there.

  • She's right. She's absolutely right.

  • And even when North Korea is objectively funny,

  • like with Pulgasari, it has dark undertones.

  • Because Kim Jong-il got that movie made by abducting

  • two of south Korea's biggest names in film,

  • and forcing them to make movies for him, for years.

  • And you know what? They did eventually escape,

  • so I'm gonna go ahead and say, and I know

  • this is not gonna be a popular opinion,

  • but, if that's what it took

  • to give us that baby monster scene,

  • it was fucking worth it.

  • -(AUDIENCE LAUGHING) -Just my opinion!

  • Just my opinion.

  • But the underlying truth of North Korea is that

  • it is a dark place, not just figuratively, but literally.

  • You can get a sense of how little development there--

  • has been there when you look at it from space.

  • See that void where there is almost no lights?

  • That's North Korea.

  • It looks like a divorced dad's Christmas tree,

  • where he gave up halfway through hanging the lights,

  • got drunk and fell asleep watching Ken Burns' Baseball.

  • And the Kim family is known for their bone-chilling cruelty

  • and mismanagement.

  • They were largely responsible for the deaths of somewhere between

  • 600,000 and 2.5 million people during a famine in the 1990s.

  • And we know that there are large, brutal camps

  • where political dissidents are imprisoned, sometimes

  • alongside their extended families.

  • REPORTER: Satellite images show their scale,

  • but for a picture of what they're really like,

  • we can only rely on those who've been there.

  • (MAN SPEAKING KOREAN)

  • REPORTER: These sketches are the recollections of other

  • prisoners who've managed to escape the camps.

  • That is truly horrific. But the existence,

  • the continued existence of those camps

  • brings us to a really important point to understand.

  • Kim Jong-un is terrified of losing power.

  • And while we love to present him as a madman, many experts

  • believe that his actions are motivated by rational

  • self-preservation.

  • He has seen leaders like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi