Robin Williams, a pep band and hundreds of cheering college students are not typically hallmarks of American political discourse. But all were on hand last Friday when “Hardball,” MSNBC’s leading political talk show, came to Gaston Hall as part of its college tour.
Students packed the auditorium to watch the taping, which lasted over an hour and supplanted the show’s combative political rhetoric with Williams’s brand of stand-up comedy that touched upon issues ranging from politics to pop culture to his latest film, “Man of the Year.”
The evening before the taping, students were invited to a special screening of the film in Gaston. The first 400 attendees were given passes to the “Hardball” taping.
In the movie, which opens today, Williams plays a political humorist who gets elected president. “Hardball” host Chris Matthews made his acting debut in the movie, playing a news anchor. Barry Levinson, the film’s director, also took part in the interview.
Levinson, who has directed other political comedies, including “Wag the Dog” and “Good Morning Vietnam,” told Matthews that he hoped his latest film had a political message that would resonate with the American public.
“We can’t have a democracy where we’re questioning whether or not our vote actually counts,” he said.
After the discussion of the film, William’s stream of one-liners and repertoire of impersonations quickly emerged as the main attractions during the taping, keeping the audience laughing even when the cameras stopped rolling for commercial breaks.
The humorist didn’t pull any punches in talking about President Bush, dismissing those who have compared Bush to Winston Churchill.
“Yeah, and Paris Hilton is our Margaret Thatcher,” he said.
Williams also quipped about a hypothetical presidential match-up between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey. “That’s a Pay-per-view event,” he said. “Dr. Phil mediates – be there!”
During one break, a student shouted from the audience, “Hey Robin, how long’s it been?” and brought the entire audience to its feet in a rendition of the Georgetown fight song. Unfamiliar with the words, Williams dropped to one knee and pumped his fist as the final strains rang out.
Lindsay Anderson/The Hoya Actor and comedian Robin Williams discussed his latest film, ‘Man of the Year,’ during the ‘Hardball’ taping.
Matthews kept the event on course during the taping, though he made few attempts to rein in Williams during his repartee.
“I mean, it’s out of my control,” he said to the audience as Williams launched into an impersonation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In an interview before the taping, Williams said that he was unlikely to ever pursue a political career of his own because of the impact public life has had on politicians he knows.
“You see the changes and what it does to them,” he said.
Still, he said that there were politicians he admired, including former Texas governor Ann Richards (D), who died last month.
Matthews, who brought “Hardball” to the Hilltop in 2003 for another college tour, offered his own words of praise for Georgetown during the taping.
“It seems like it’s the one place in America where you have really smart kids,” he mused. “And also normal.”
The taping proceeded almost without a hitch, until the last segment. The Georgetown Pep Band walked onto the stage while atthews was still talking to the camera, but was supposed to wait until the very end of the segment, causing producers to tape the segment over.
Before the end of taping, Williams offered some words reminiscent of soliloquies from two of his movies, “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Patch Adams,” when asked by atthews to give advice. He encouraged students to vote and take advantage of every opportunity.
“I believe that you can do it . so good luck,” he said.
The episode, which was filmed one week after CNBC’s financial analysis program “Mad Money” filmed in Gaston, aired Thursday.