John Oliver had a few questions about how, exactly, the whole Dalai Lama thing works — so he took them to the reincarnated leader himself.
For an interview segment that aired during Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, Oliver traveled to Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile since China pressured him out of his native Tibet in 1959. As Oliver detailed in an introduction to the segment, China has called the Dalai Lama “a wolf in monk’s robes” and banned his image. China has even appointed its own “Panchen Lama,” a figure tasked with finding the new Dalai Lama once the current one dies. (The Dalai Lama vehemently disavows China’s actions as a blatant move to undermine his authority.)
As China tries to keep its grip on Tibet, Oliver said, its move to delegitimize the Dalai Lama is a strategic way to try to tamp down a massively influential Tibetan leader, whose followers are so devoted to him that some self-immolate as protest against China.
Oliver’s interview with the Dalai Lama was wide-ranging, and sometimes even tense. Oliver asked in no uncertain terms why the Dalai Lama won’t condemn the practice of self-immolation among his acolytes, and the Dalai Lama replied that he didn’t want to make the families left behind feel ashamed of how their children died because it went against his will.
When Oliver asked the Dalai Lama if he might be the last reincarnation ever, he replied that it’s “very possible,” but added with a grin that this might not be such a terrible thing, since he’s “very intelligent,” after all.
“If you don’t resolve your reincarnation issue,” pressed Oliver, “are you not worried that China will appoint their own Dalai Lama?”
The Dalai Lama didn’t quite answer the question, but he did offer this piece of wisdom: “Our brain has the ability to create common sense. The Chinese hard-liners ... that part of the brain is missing.”
Oliver laughed in delight at this unexpected turn of phrase — a sentiment that, come to think of it, describes many parts of the interview itself.
The Dalai Lama and his resting beaming face brought many hearty belly laughs to Last Week Tonight in ways Oliver clearly didn’t expect. When the Dalai Lama talked about how Chinese authorities have called him a “demon” over the years, he basically rolled his eyes before throwing up his hands in mock horns. “Oh, yes,” he said sarcastically, “I’m a demon.”
At one point, the Dalai Lama offered up an anecdote about how he once inspired Mongolians to swap their beloved vodka for horse milk, a claim that practically gobsmacked Oliver into amused speechlessness.
By the end of the interview, the Dalai Lama decided that if people were going to call him a demon, he might as well have company.
“I want another demon,” he told Oliver. “So you become demon.”
“You can’t reincarnate the demon into me!” Oliver replied in horror.
“Yes!” the Dalai Lama crowed, laughing the entire time. And while Oliver insisted to the Dalai Lama that this wasn’t exactly how he had wanted the interview to go, his giddy grin sure suggested otherwise.
Watch the full Last Week Tonight clip above.