John Oliver didn’t report the news on Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight. Instead, he baked a cake.
It all started with Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who may be missing or perhaps even dead. As Oliver noted, Berdimuhamedov hasn’t been seen in weeks, but his government swears he’s just on an adventure-filled vacation, even going so far as to release a video showing his vacation highlight reel, without him in it, including a recreation of a person driving circles around a burning crater. “You can’t do doughnuts around a fire pit if you’re dead,” Oliver said, laughing.
According to Oliver, Berdimuhamedov is an authoritarian leader who has made Turkmenistan “one of the worst places to live in the world,“ which he notes is a high bar. “One of the worst places on Earth, that is quite a claim” says Oliver, “Especially considering the Earth also includes Syria, North Korea, and Twitter.” Of course, “dangerous world leaders are currently a dime a dozen,” Oliver noted. ”It’s just one of the many things that makes being alive right now simply great.”
Oliver believes that Berdimuhamedov is worth a few minutes of time, though. “In 20 minutes you won’t be so much wondering why we talked about Turkmenistan, but why we talk about anything else ever again,” Oliver said, promising a “very weird” story.
According to Oliver, Berdimuhamedov has a variety of interests including cycling, guns, being a rap artist (with a viral video to prove it), DJing, playing the piano, and being “a guitarist who goes to great lengths to conceal his blistering chops.” That’s not even the “truly weird stuff,” though. According to Oliver, Berdimuhamedov also really likes horses, as in “the incorrect amount” for someone to like horses to the point that it “distracts from everything” he’s done as president. According to Oliver, Berdimuhamedov has 600 Akhal-teke horses, which is almost 10% of the world total. He has given horses as presents (puppies, too) and written books about them and has given himself the title of “national horse breeder,” established beauty contests for horses, and made “it illegal to change an Akhal-teke horse’s name during its lifetime.”
He is also a horse racer, although perhaps not a very good one, as he was involved in a fall in a horse race. Berdimuhamedov was reportedly so humiliated by the fall that he asked reporters to remove the footage and even searched journalists’ bags for memory devices where video of the spill may be recorded. Naturally, Oliver showed it three times.
Berdimuhamedov’s other “bizarre obsession” is in collecting Guinness World Records. Under his rule, Turkmenistan has become the record holder for titles like world’s largest Ferris wheel, the highest density of buildings with white marble cladding, and world’s largest horse head statue. (“Of course,” Oliver noted.)
During his research, Oliver realized that Guinness works with authoritarian governments, including Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, and the police force in Dubai, to set records. According to Oliver, “authoritarians love getting Guinness World Records” as they help earn publicity and reinforce “a cult of personality” for the leaders.
To that end, Oliver decided the best way to get under Berdimuhamedov’s skin would be to bake the world’s largest marble cake featuring the “human rights abusing horse f–ker” tumbling from his horse and have Guinness enter it into the record books.
Guinness, though, wouldn’t work with the show, sending them a letter explaining that they weren’t family-friendly enough. “I guess we don’t run a brutal enough dictatorship to meet Guinness World Record’s high ethical standards,” Oliver noted. They also asked them to sign an agreement asking them to not criticize them on the show, which Oliver said was “clearly ridiculous.”
Then they realized that they didn’t need Guinness to bake a large cake, and doing so would annoy both an authoritarian leader and Guinness. With that, Oliver had two questions for the audience: “Are you ready to make history? And who wants some f—ing cake?”