HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver is committed to the art of the bit – so much so that he caused a fiasco for New Zealand’s “Bird of the Year” election.
New Zealand has held a yearly election for the country’s top fowl since 2005. The contest, run by the conservation organization Forest and Bird, raises awareness to protect the nation’s feathered friends. This year’s election will also be named “Bird of the Century” to coincide with the organization’s centennial anniversary.
But Oliver choreographed an aggressive campaign to back the pūteketeke, a water bird with a population of fewer than 1000, according to the Digital Encyclopedia of New Zealand Birds.
Oliver could vote thanks to a loophole in the rules that allows anyone to cast a vote with a valid email despite their country of residency, according to ABC News.
Starting on November 5 for two episodes the late-night host paraded the mullet-feathered bird on his HBO show and backed several billboards worldwide in New Zealand’s capital of Wellington, Paris, Tokyo, London, Mumbai, India, and a small town in Wisconsin, explaining “not everyone lives in big cities,” featuring a campaign slogan “Lord of the Wings.”
He even had a banner flown over a beach in Brazil and made an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” in a pūteketeke costume to promote his campaign and directed people to votethisbird.com to cast their votes.
Following Oliver’s efforts, hundreds of thousands of votes poured in before the Sunday deadline. The influx of votes forced Forest and Bird to delay announcing a winner by two days to verify each ballot. The organization now plans to announce a winner by Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
“It’s been pretty crazy, in the best possible way,” Chief Executive of Forest and Bird Nicola Toki told the outlet.
Before this year, the record number of votes was 56,000, which Toki said was surpassed within a couple of hours after Oliver launched his campaign. Before parading for the pūteketeke, Oliver reached out to Forest and Bird and the organization gave him its blessing to go ahead.
Oliver alluded to the reason for his stunt on his show, stating: “After all, this is what democracy is all about – America interfering in foreign elections.”