Rich Howells

John Oliver pokes fun at Forty Fort and its funny name on HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight’

John Oliver pokes fun at Forty Fort and its funny name on HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight’
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Comedian John Oliver’s news satire program “Last Week Tonight” has talked about Scranton several times on HBO. In last night’s episode, a lesser-known town in Northeastern Pennsylvania received a mention – and a light ribbing.

During the main segment on Joe Biden winning the presidential election and “Donald Trump’s various attempts to overturn the results” with claims of “widespread voter fraud,” Forty Fort came up about halfway through. Robert Lynn, a registered Republican from the small borough in Luzerne County, was arrested for voter fraud after filling out an application for an absentee ballot for his mother, who has been dead for five years. The show played a clip from an Oct. 21 new report by WNEP-TV that noted that this was the first case of voter fraud in the county in 30 years.

“That’s one person allegedly trying to steal one vote that was flagged in September, and the person involved was a Trump supporter,” Oliver said before going off on a tangent about the town’s name.

“And this is not the most important thing, but it happened in a town called Forty Fort, which is just delightful. Just say the words ‘Forty Fort’ out loud right now. Forty Fort. It feels so good in the mouth. Now apparently the town was named after the original 40 settlers who built a fort there, but I called bullshit on that because I refuse to believe that there just happened to be 40 settlers who names their Forty Fort Fort without being fully aware of how funny that sounds. Here is what I think happened. They built the fort, then one settler said, ‘What should we call this place?’ And another said, ‘Who cares? Let’s just name it Forty Fort, and everyone justifiably laughed very hard and agreed to do just that. Then another settler who no really likes said, ‘Wait, what if someone asks why we called it Forty Fort? We can’t just say we did it because we thought it was funny.’ And everyone quietly muttered, ‘Oh my God, Ezekiel, you suck so much.’ So then they said, ‘OK, if anyone asks, we called it Forty Fort because there are 40 of us. I mean, there aren’t, but who’s going to call us out that. It’s fucking 1770 and most people can’t read.’ And that is how Forty Fort got its name. I will take that story to my gravy grave.

“And for the record, I have exactly as much evidence to back that up as Republicans currently do of widespread voter fraud in this election, so the allegations here are complete nonsense.”

Watch the segment below:

To wrap up the local part of this story, WNEP reporter Carolyn Blackburne said, “Lynn was arraigned on charges of forgery and interference of an election. He was released on $10,000 unsecured bail. If he’s found guilty, county officials said he could face up to 10 years in prison.”

Oliver has joked about NEPA before, most notably when he created a massive train set that is now on display at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton. In 2017, the Emmy-winning host played some viral Talkback 16 segments regarding WNEP-TV’s backyard train, amused by viewers getting so disproportionately passionate about how much they love or hate the little model train that runs in WNEP’s backyard during weather reports. After one viewer criticized him for making locals out to be “clowns for his entertainment,” the former “Daily Show” correspondent emphasized that he actually loved it and thought that the people of Scranton “deserve a better one… a bigger one… an almost irresponsibly large one.”

Oliver made his HBO team build a 16 foot tall and 18 foot wide spinning model train display that includes replicas of NEPA landmarks, including the famous Electric City sign, along with a working waterfall and fireworks. WNEP traveled to New York, picked it up, and donated it to the Trolley Museum, holding a dedication ceremony soon after that was attended by “Last Week Tonight” mascots Mr. Nutterbutter and Traffic Zebra. It also features a funny cut-out of Oliver’s head on its tunnel.

In 2018, Oliver referenced this again after donating movie props to one of the last Blockbuster stores in hopes of drawing enough customers in to keep it open. He asked the manager of the store to call them in the next 48 hours to let them know they were interested because, if not, he would send the movie memorabilia elsewhere.

“I really hope the Internet is good enough up there for you to see this in time because, if we do not hear from you in the next two days, I know a transportation museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania that I am sure could make room for a new exhibit,” Oliver said.

The week before that, “Last Week Tonight” produced a segment on crisis pregnancy centers and how they implement deceptive methods to trick women into thinking they offer all their available options, including abortions, when they are actually run by evangelical Christian organizations presenting their own misleading information. Oliver criticized how some news organizations are covering these centers, using a report by Haley Bianco of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre station WBRE/WYOU as an example. She talked about the opening of two Care Net facilities in Schuylkill County in 2016, comparing them to Planned Parenthood.

“No! Don’t say that! Because if you want all the options available to you, those two are not remotely the same. That’s like saying, ‘Hey, our town doesn’t have a youth sports league, but we do have a large scary man in sweatpants who will chase your kids around. He too operates out of a van.'”

He also went after Sinclair Broadcast Group in episodes airing last year and this year for injecting conservative political views into their news reports, forcing local news anchors to read off a biased script “like members of a brainwashed cult.” Sinclair owns Fox 56 WOLF-TV, though he did not use a clip from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre station directly.

Not all mentions of NEPA news can be positive, but Oliver and his team have kept their eyes on the area and made the news fun when they can.

See NEPA Scene’s photos of the Scranton train set dedication at the Electric City Trolley Museum in 2017 here.