Beth Stebner
April 06, 2015 10:30 am

Nobody expected this: Last night, John Oliver surprised the country with an interview that broke both comedic and political boundaries in a few gripping minutes.

During Last Week Tonight, Oliver unveiled his secret sit-down interview with Edward Snowden, the man he describes as “the most famous hero and/or traitor in U.S. history!”

Snowden, who has been held-up in Moscow since his extraordinary leaks of classified National Security Agency documents in 2013, showed up an hour late, leaving Oliver to fret about the KGB building across the street (in true John Oliver fashion).

After asking a few light-hearted questions (and getting Snowden to confess he misses Hot Pockets, but not necessarily the state of Florida), the host began asking Snowden about bigger issues, like why he decided to turn over thousands of these documents to journalists, forcing him to flee the U.S. on criminal charges.

“Why did you do this?” Oliver asks seriously.

“The NSA has the greatest surveillance capabilities that we’ve ever seen,” Snowden says. “What they argue is they don’t use this for nefarious purposes against U.S. citizens,” but he compares it to the NSA holding a loaded gun to your head and having them simply ask you to trust that they won’t pull the trigger.

“Spies are great when they’re on our side,” he continues, “and if they’re off the leash, they can come after us.”

Of course, the interview is peppered with Oliver’s signature humor (he dumbs down a segment by asking Snowden about the security of d— pics), but the points hit home — the NSA, Snowden says, has access to much more than we think.

Oliver also asks Snowden if he really understands what he did two years ago.

Snowden says he does. “It felt like vindication. I think we’re seeing something amazing, which is if you ask the American people to . . . confront tough issues, they’ll actually surprise you.”

It’s a fascinating interview, and for those who haven’t been following the total “1984”-ness of government surveillance, a must-watch (the main interview with Snowden starts around the 16:00 mark).

It’s also really impressive how straight-faced, and insightful Snowden is when it comes to answering the, shall we say, less hard-hitting questions.

Despite all the humor, Snowden, his life now, and the actions he took are no laughing matter. Note the warning he gives Oliver, who asks at the end of the interview conducted at an undisclosed location in Russia, “What are the odds of me getting home safely?”

Snowden replies, “Well if you weren’t on the list before, you are now.”

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