At the end of Sunday's Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver announced that he published a children's book to mock and rival Vice President Mike Pence's family's own book about their rabbit, Marlon Bundo — but with an important twist. Oliver's version of the story made the family bunny fall in love with another male bunny — a taunt to Pence's history of anti-gay politics. Days later, Oliver's Marlon Bundo book about Pence's gay bunny is already a bestseller, and the internet is loving it.
Pence was the subject of Sunday's episode, as Oliver deconstructed his views on women in the military, LGBT issues, and social justice causes over the years. Pence has opposed anti-discrimination laws that would have protected LGBT people at risk, objected to LGBT people serving in the military, and he has routinely criticized the push for marriage equality as an attack on God.
Oliver's trolling stemmed from the Pence family's commissioning of a book about their bunny, which was released Monday. Pence's daughter, Charlotte, wrote the book, Marlon Bundo's Day in the Life of the Vice President, which was illustrated by second lady Karen Pence. The family pet has upwards of 25,000 followers on Instagram, where you can see photos of it snuggling with cute kids or posing with phones and books.
"It's an objectively good name for a bunny," Oliver quipped about Marlon Bundo, before revealing that the writers at Last Week Tonight had commissioned and published their own version of the story.
Oliver was quick to feign ignorance about any sort of copyright infringement, revealing that his version of the book, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, featured a gay rabbit.
"You'll notice right away that our rabbit has a bowtie, so there's that," he said. "Also, our story is about Marlon Bundo falling in love with another boy rabbit, because our Marlon Bundo is gay, just like the real Marlon Bundo."
The profits from each of the books about Marlon Bundo will go to different charities. The Pences have said they plan to donate a portion of the proceeds to A21, a nonprofit focused on combating human trafficking, and an art therapy program at Riley Children's Hospital. Oliver announced that the proceeds from his book would benefit The Trevor Project, which advocates for homeless LGBT youth in America.
A spokesperson for Regnery Publishing, which issued the Pences' book, called the parody "unfortunate" in a statement to CNN:
It's unfortunate that anyone would feel the need to ridicule an educational children's book and turn it into something controversial and partisan. Our and Mrs. and Charlotte Pence's goal is — and will continue to be — to educate young readers about the important role of the vice president, as well as to highlight the charities to which portions of the book proceeds will be donated.
Oliver's version of Bundo's tale has outsold Pence's — taking the number one spot on the Amazon best seller list (Pence's book inched up to the number four spot on Wednesday).
On Tuesday, Oliver was a guest on Ellen and he joked that his book was already in its second printing. "I did hear that unfortunately we have sold out, because we were not anticipating people really buying it," he said with a laugh.
"Part of the reason of writing this book was so that I could read something to [my 2-year-old son] which kind of paints the world in the light that you want it to be, rather than the way that it's currently being painted," Oliver said.
Right-wing outlets spun the story in a slightly different way
In the end, both books are raising money for charity, but that didn't stop Fox News and other outlets from claiming that Oliver had gone to far.
Charlotte Pence, however, seems to be fine with Oliver's parody — so much so that she reportedly bought a copy of the book.
“He’s giving proceeds of the book to charity, and we’re also giving proceeds of our book to charity, so I really think that we can all get behind it,” Charlotte said Wednesday, according to published reports.
Whether or not America is ready for tales of gay rabbits remains unclear, but Oliver certainly knows how to incite a reaction with his whimsical trolling.