Yo, John Oliver: 'Rocky' isn't Philly's only monumental achievement

Rocky Statue Reopens
FILE – The bronze statue of Sylvester Stallone portraying the boxer from the film "Rocky III" is seen shortly after workers installed it near the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia on Sept. 7, 2006.

Talk about cheap shots.

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver used a tiny bit of his HBO show Sunday to poke fun at Philadelphia and its tourist-attracting Rocky statue, just hours after the poor Phillie Phanatic got dragged into a Saturday Night Live comparison with President Trump.

“Sending messages is kind of what statues are often for,” Oliver said.

Of a picture of the Statue of Liberty, he said, “This one says, ‘We love freedom.’ ”

Pointing to a picture of the Rocky statue, he said, “This one says, ‘The most notable thing about our city is a fictional character.'” (Big laugh from studio audience.)

Oliver’s main point, to be fair, had nothing to do with Philly, or Sylvester Stallone’s enduring image, but was about Confederate monuments and the history they actually represent. Most, he noted, were erected long after the Civil War, many during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and seemed intended to send a “hostile” message to African Americans.

No argument here.

Camera icon ERIC LIEBOWITZ/HBO
John Oliver, host of “Last Week Tonight” (ERIC LIEBOWITZ/HBO)

But if Oliver, who had the misfortune to be born British, would like to bone up on his U.S. history, we’d be happy to take him on a tour of Philadelphia that has a lot more to offer than the Rocky steps and a trip to Pat’s or Geno’s. (We might take him to Jim’s.)

Not only did America start here — we have a national park that’s all about it — but lately we spend a lot of time talking about another statue and the messages it sends.

Perhaps we could start Oliver’s visit with the recently unveiled monument to Octavius V. Catto on the southwest apron of City Hall.

As my colleague Stephan Salisbury wrote last month of Catto, who was assassinated in 1871:

“Educator, scholar, writer, pioneering baseball player, and fearless civil rights activist,  Catto had fought unflaggingly for an equitable society in the wake of the Civil War. He successfully protested to desegregate Philadelphia’s trolleys, he fought to pass constitutional amendments enfranchising black citizens, and then he worked to bring those new black voters to the polls.”

Nothing funny about that, and yet Catto’s monument seems like one Oliver should want to get to know.

Here’s Oliver’s full report (Rocky statue appears about 13:24, but context is everything):