John Oliver delivered the sermon of a lifetime on Sunday night, turning his "Last Week Tonight" studio into his church and the audience into his congregants.
And he did it legally: Oliver created Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, "a tax-exempt organization that you certainly can't say is not a church."
He was of course trying to make a point -- revealing his new faith right after exposing the massive fraud of televangelists who preach what's known as the Prosperity Gospel.
As Oliver explained, these televangelists exploit their often impoverished followers by convincing them that donating to the church is a "seed" that will grow into wealth they will be able to harvest later on.
"As an investment, you'd be better off burying your money in the actual ground," Oliver said. "At least that way there is a chance your dog may dig it up and give it back to you one day."
Some televangelists actually urge followers deep in debt to make donations via credit card -- and claim that by doing so, God will wipe out your debt.
"That is the equivalent of saying, 'the key to you losing weight lies at the bottom of this giant Costco bulk bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Go find it, it's definitely down there,'" Oliver said.
Some televangelists even claim that donations will cure everything from cancer to lupus.
And not only is it perfectly legal, but the "pastors" are living a tax-free life of luxury, in massive mansions that are legally declared to be "parsonages" and taking vacations via private jet, all paid for with donation dollars.
To show how the scam works, Oliver donated some money to televangelist Robert Tilton, kicking off a months-long correspondence in which Tilton continued to asked for more money and Oliver often paid.
At one point, Tilton sent Oliver a one-dollar bill -- then asked him to return the dollar (with more money) and warned of dire consequences if he didn't.
"You know what? I kept that one dollar bill because fuck him," Oliver confessed.
Tilton also sent Oliver an outline of his foot and asked him to trace the outline of his own foot... and of course send more money.
"This is all hilarious until you imagine these letters being sent to someone who cannot afford what he’s asking for,” Oliver said.
So taking a cue from Tilton, Oliver formed his own church -- a process he said "was disturbingly easy," as his show already (and entirely by accident) met several of the vague legal requirements for a church.
And to kick it off, he did his own televangelist-style plea for cash, complete with his "radiant wife" Wanda Jo Oliver (played by comedian Rachel Dratch), a gospel choir and even a special message from the "megareverend" via a toll-free number: 1-800-THIS-IS-LEGAL.
See the full segment in the clip above. Then go ahead and call that number -- it's real... and amazingly, it's legal.
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