tv John Lithgow Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown CSPAN October 19, 2020 1:00am-2:06am EDT
get to the policy. so, this is a flight 93 election in a much bigger way and we will have a series of these elections until democrats decide decide ts is actually not where they want to lead the country but what works for the country is what worked in the past and there are some democrats who know it but the ones who control are not on the same page. ♪ he wanted a robe made of velvet. the constitution he wanted to shelve it. with impeachment of wash, he wanted an orb, a sector, a throne. six palaces, six carriages, a
church dispensation for six royal marriages. court yearcourt years installedn supreme court and royal beheadings, if only for sport. he craved the occasional royal procession and gasp, the eventual royal succession. he gets his way and lets the public have something to say. if we let him all have his favorite things, the divine right of kings. >> hello everyone and welcome to the virtual program at the commonwealth club of california. i'm a senior partner emeritus at mckinsey and company and a member of the commonwealth club board of directors. today i will be moderating the program. we would like to thank our members, donors and supporters for making this and all of our other programs available.
we are grateful for your support and hope others will follow their examples to support the club, particularly during these uncertain times. today i'm particularly pleased to be joined by john lithgow, an award-winning actor and author of a new book, "trumpty dumped wanted a crown. he is known for his contributions in theater, television and film industry throughout the years with rules and things and my personal favorite, the world according. after receiving degrees in history and literature from harvard, john went on to study the performing arts at the london academy of music and dramatic art on a fulbright scholarship. from then he went on to become a notable award-winning actor with two tonys, two golden globes and six emmys under his belt. in recent years, john has taken a public stance on political
commentary and is known for his critiques of the trump administration through satirical art, trumpy dumpty uses the traditional children's rhyme to criticize presidential decisions made in the last year and covers recent events such as trump's impeachment, the covid-19 pandemic, the black lives matter protest and much more. we will be discussing a lot in the next hour and i want to ask your questions as well. if you are watching along with us, please put your questions in the text chat on youtube and we will be getting to them a little bit later in the program. so, thank you john lithgow for joining us tonight. it's a pleasure. >> guest: thank you. nice to meet you and talk to you. >> host: we are especially pleased to have you after the newest book came out which is out this weekend i had the pleasure of reading it. also had the pleasure of watching you on stephen colbert
last night so joining us after the cold air show. >> did i make a fool of myself. >> host: fantastic. appreciate you joining us today and talking about the book and more of a chance to get a feeling for it including what we sought to kick off the program with a reading of one of your poems. before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about why poetry. we all know you as an amazing actor and all kinds of wonderful things as i mentioned earlier. and relatively recent what made you do that? >> i certainly didn't set out to write political satire in verse. i've always written verse just occasional. i had written funny poems that include everybody's name in the
cast of a play on closing night. i've actually done to two commencement speeches at private schools for small graduating classes, in which i used the names of every single one of the graduates in poems, completely to their surprise. talking to the dean of the school about all the scandals they'd been involved in within the last couple of weeks. the little things like that. and then around about the late 1990s, i'd been doing a lot of entertaining of children. concerts with orchestras. in fact even the san francisco symphony and doing videos for kids and albums for kids. i began writing rhyming verse stories and picture books and i wrote nine of them, some of them times best selling picture
books. but in all of that i was never serious about it. i'm still not serious about it, but i'm viewing serious subjects now. >> host: >> guest: i rewrote the third verse of gilbert and sullivan's i am the very model of a major general for new york public outdoors at central park a couple of years ago and it was just after michael flynn had been charged and apprehended and fired. he was very much in the news, and i sang the entire song in the character of michael flynn. when i unleashed my own verse when president obama made me head of all things and realized he brought to life a governmental frankenstein but that made killing in the pillory
by shouting lock her up, et cetera. when i told my literary agent about this, it was like the sun coming up. he immediately saw a book. we had gotten together to discuss. you've got to write something. what are you going to write. he knew exactly and said i could sell this book tomorrow. that was two years ago. i set off to write my first book, simply trumpy dumpty the age of trump in verse. it was a smash hit covering the first two years of the administration that my publisher, chronicle prism in san francisco, pride and joy, begged me to write another one and i said i just can't. it's so hard thinking about all of those rhymes.
and besides, i'm working. i'm working a lot. i just won't have time to do it. but once again, my agent who thought of the first book, a fantastic literary agent said you've got to do this. there's going to be an election in november. if you get this book out before then, you can discharge your political duties, and he was absolutely right. so i said yes and i thought i'm never going to be able to do this. a along comes the pandemic and sheltering in place and walk down with nothing to do, except i have something to do. that's when i wrote all of those poems and i had extraordinary subjects. i had the impeachment pandemic, the incredibly inept handling of all of that and then the black lives matter movement.
that was at my deadline but i even got to address that. why in verse, i don't know. you don't come to me for political punditry. you come to be for entertainment. that's what you would expect. so i thought what better use of my entertainment skills than to skewer this man and expresse exy own anger and rage and pessimism and fear through lighthearted and very funny, witty poems. inevitably, just as happened with the first book, the poems get more savage as the book goes along because you are dealing with some very, very dark subjects. but there's something fascinating about that. i love dealing with dark subjects in a lighthearted
manner. thomas nast and jonathan swift, great satirists. i am not. i'm a total beginner at this, but it's struck a cord and i'm just delighted. >> host: that's fantastic. talk a little bit about the illustrations as well. to get a sense kind of visually about what we are talking about. >> guest: the same as i don't really consider myself a professional poet or a professional humorist, i'm not a professional illustrator either, but my original ambition was to be an artist. i grew up in a theater family and i had no intention being an actor. i didn't want to go into the family business. as long as i could remember, i
had a certain facility with art. age seven and 8-years-old, people would ask what i want to be when i grow up, it was an artist and i say very serious by osmosis i was becoming a very experienced actor. my father produced shakespeare festivals, and i appeared in about 20 shakespeare plays by the time i was 20-years-old and arrived at college as a fully formed actor and became a campus star and that was that. if you get a big enough response as an actor, you're doomed. you're not going to do anything else with your life. >> host: wonderful. >> guest: the wonderful thing about doing the poems is i would imagine the illustrations even as i wrote them. the by the time we finish, i
will be reciting a poem, joe mccarthy's lullaby, and i knew exactly the drawing i was going to make of that. calling it a little baby donald trump in his lap in a rocking chair wailing away. it's wonderful to find a visual joke to go along with a verbal joke. >> host: as you said, it was at a pretty dark time and a serious topic. you throw covid on top of it and have many cases not happy about the world. is this cathartic for you and feel to be part of your own release in dealing with these times or what is it for you? >> guest: that is a good question. i am not sure catharsis is the right word but it's pretty close. there is a certain iteration to
the creative process. i can look at something like that and i remember the moment when i thought of every single one of those rhymes and you think of it as a kind of mini orgasm, a way of saying it. it's very, very hard work. it's dogged drudgery because you sit in complete silence. we talk about if a pickup truck backs up and makes that little sound three blocks away, i go into a fit. you have to go into this trancelike state which is why i was hesitant to do it again. but when you think of the last line of the last stanza of the poem, it's cathartic.
they are very savage. i take a few people completely to pieces like eric prince, john mack at the, elaine chao, but i myself am not the kind of person who would get on msnbc and forth. with my own anger and wrath, a man i absolutely loved listening to but i can't do that. i could be very plovers and subversive and get at it in my own way which is with satire. >> host: you have a chance to do readings of your poems and have other actors and actresses read them as well. how did that come about and what does that feel like?
>> you couldn't do a proper book tour. when i was releasing the first book just a year ago, i was there in san francisco at a lecture for an audience of a thousand people having a fantastic time and doing book readings and book signings everywhere. i went to three different cities. all of that was out this time. we arranged things like this. a lot of virtual interviews and appearances. a couple months ago i thought let's get creative about this. why don't i -- i was being asked to do all sorts of things. talking into my iphone, they are on dropbox. i made a little list of my favorite people and favorite
actors and i mixed in some politicians and journalists and epidemiologists and i asked if they would be willing to record themselves in their home reading a few of my poems. i got in touch with a director, a good friend of mine. i said what about this, what about making videos of my poems as a way of selling the book and he said yes, immediately. he was a van and he loved what i was doing. so i contacted and they all said yes and this is meryl streep, glenn close, joseph gordon levitt, on and on and mixing in steve schmidt, james carville,
>> did you watch the debate? >> guest: yes, i did, an unbelievable spectacle. who would have thought our politics would be so debased. the only thing not while it was happening. while it was happening i wanted to vomit but as soon it was over and i saw all the commentary which was completely appalled by donald trump, i began to feel a certain elation as we had just watch him. for three or four years now we have been thinking he's done it now there's no way to recover from this and we have always been wrong. i don't know, i remain
optimistic. >> he is certainly given you a lot of material. >> in december and january of last year when we were talking about what this book should be i said you know, this is bad. this book has to be tough and dark. he's now behaving like a king. why don't i make up an opening poem and make that the title of the book. look how precious that was, not to congratulate myself but that is how he's operating now more than ever. i wrote that lighthearted problem back in january. it's taken on such dark meanings when i say for example court years installed in his own
supreme court and royal beheadings if only for sport that's a much better line now than it was eight months ago. >> i think you were going to read another problem for us. >> yes, fake news. i urge you all to go to the youtube channel i was talking about. i will read it but not as well as my friends, whoopi goldberg, sam jackson, just completely wonderful. taking me a moment. i'm not sure where it is in my own book. this explains why my career has
faltered. fake news. it's one of the firsts. page 15. and i will show you the illustration just for the fun of it. you have the illustration. this is his pedestal. people say here to four i kept black tenants from my door using legal trickery but fake news doesn't bother me. they say falsifying facts is how i skirted my taxes. people call it larceny but fake news doesn't bother me. constantly i am charged with sexual assault, harassment and adultery but fake news doesn't
bother me. students had their futures ripped away but fake news doesn't bother me. things like payoffs with my feelings. people say i' i monetized. all my presidential ties boosting my prosperity but fake news doesn't bother me. they say my meddling in ukraine left a stain tantamount to treachery but fake news doesn't bother me. they say coronavirus i propelled the downward spiral of but fake news doesn't bother me. notwithstanding crimes like these i will continue as i please, fake news doesn't bother me i will just rewrite history.
>> fantastic. if we had an audience there would be a lot of applause. had you seen his income taxes? >> no, that's what, i mean. i wrote that early on in january, one of the first ones i wrote. coronavirus had never even been heard of but i was able to put that last one in. by the way, it was a wonderful event i can tell you about. i had written three or four of these poems, one about roger stone, one about the fake news and one called twinkle twinkle kenneth starr about the defense
team and i was invited by debbie stabenow to be the after dinner entertainment at the library. i flew to baltimore and i read my first four poems from the book. it was the first time i ever read them aloud for anybody and i was reading them to the united states democratic senators. they laughed and applauded and gave a standing ovation. for me it was a historical night. >> that would be great after dinner entertainment. >> i'm sure they will look up the book in the meantime. >> i've sent to the book to all of my democratic friends.
>> great. in the course of writing this, there's a lot going on every day in the news and the president doing something else. what prompts you that this is something i want to write about or something that gave me an idea is it pick up the paper and look at twitter and find something or -- >> things become self-evident. with both books i sat down and wrote down a database of 40 great subjects were characters.
the poems. people's response would be my god i forgot about those people and i began to realize that's what i'm doing to these books. i am writing an offbeat history but it is a history book and history books are there to remind you about what happened. you may have forgotten this, but it was important and in my mind it's even more memorable if it's told in rhyme.
a little firecracker goes off in your brain when you read that line and you just remember i did an entire lion in the first book and it was on the subject of scott pruitt. everything rhymed with pruitt but you didn't hear the word until the last line. you don't forget scott pruitt after that. >> i will say when i was reading the book in the introduction and then read the book, it did remind me that if this were a film you would say there's too many characters. it all happens like slowdown i can't handle this, which is what everybody is feeling in this
administration. somehow or another, volume one and volume two putting the stories together it has an incredible impact just how grotesquely bad this presidency was and this administration. maybe you could name a couple of people who are long gone and left with their head held high, people like jim matus but you can't name any other. there's only four people that truly lasted from day number one, trump, jared kushner and
that little creep, stephen miller. they are the only ones that are still around. how grotesque that those are basically the people running the country. >> as you are out having these virtual conversations what do you like to have people take away. >> you ask such great questions. the entertainment in me wants them to be delighted if you have a wonderful time, ironically enough a wonderful time contemplating a terrible time. i feel ambivalent in many ways about the whole process because
i know that i'm preaching to the converted and i know the only people enjoying the book are people who agree with me. people who don't agree with me hates this book. i always say i hope you will sell copies because they will only want to burn it but then they have to buy it first. that would be a laugh line if it were a lecture last year. >> are you worried at all we are
doing this discussion. you can't have a live audience. are you worried about what is going to happen? >> i'm deeply worried and it's been an economic catastrophe. i don't think i know any actor that has been paid to act for the last ten months. i could go back to work on a tv series that was suspended and i'm one of the lucky actors. it's been a catastrophe again the optimist in me says it may take a while but they will be
back. people are desperate but it's very hard because you cannot convey the arts without connecting with people and the saddest part is how lonely we all are. we're just not used to being so isolated. thank god i have a wife i'd rather be with her than anybody else, so sheltering in place has been a sweet experience but it's been very melancholy and the news is so disturbing every day. we will recover from this. my own grandfather passed away
when my dad was 4-years-old and the spanish flu epidemic and during that epidemic it must have felt like the world was coming to an end but we did recover and we will recover from this. the awful thing is this terrible political anxiety that sickens us at the same time is a tough thing to live through. when i was growing up, my parents generation they would tell their funny stories about the depression. my mother was a waitress at
stouffers on fifth avenue which was a great job and they fed everybody in the village and tell the story as if it were the most exciting time in their lives. maybe we will look back on this and tell people how we survived. restarting your acting in a couple of weeks given the environment, how has that been enabled? >> they are taking us through all sorts of protocols. i've been going to recording studios.
somehow we will just sort of creep back into the interaction the way sports have. just because of two or three infections, i don't know. it's going to be a little tough. >> i do hope you are right and i feel like there's a pent-up interest in people wanting to get out personally will i assume as soon you are able to start producing again and act, there will be an audience just bursting for it. we are not seeing anything new
in the last eight months. >> in addition to spending more time, how are you keeping saying besides writing poetry? >> that's been a big part of it. i illustrated the book and then i produced these 21 videos. i've been reading novels. but maybe it's been the book and that's been pretty special. i've had a wonderful time with this one. >> host: >> let me ask a question. i am in my wife's studio that has wonderful light until the sun goes down. should i turn some lights on? >> you are fine.
remember reading back before knowing you are going to do it as part of this discussion, it's one of my favorite ones and a challenging topic obviously but written in a way that reminds you of what happened to this disaster we are talking about and how much the leadership is responsible. >> that is by far the darkest. when i wrote it there were about 80,000 people dead and now there ithere's more than 200,000. our president talks about it as if it hasn't happened or it's
all over and it's far from over. >> as you were working on the book through this time a lot of events that have occurred in the forefront of our minds the president has continued to be in the media about what's happening. are there things you wrote about or consider that were some that were illustrating.
>> the characters against him i wrote about poems we didn't do videos about because they are graham. i was astonished when i did the research on one of the most corrupt figures in the administration and there is a long problem i call it a pandemic is a terrible thing to waste about how trump managed to fire five inspectors general and i do a little stanza on each one of them.
i can't remember their names now, which is the whole point. it is appalling how they've gone about defining the entire inspector general process and it's to make sure they are not implicated in anything. that's the kind of thing that speaks under the radar and the whole idea when there is a terrible crisis like that, things have been late on friday night. you have to pay attention to what the administration does because they count on people not quite noticing it. >> the thing we chose to do quite early on, they are the
problems and outrageous because the people and the things are outrageous but they are accompanied by factual little reminders of what the actual facts of the matter are because they are all based on the truth. >> you as well as i'm sure the viewers know one of your recent films was to play roger ailes in balm -- bombshell. what was it like to play someone that bigger than life? >> it was a wonderful experience, very complex man. every time i play a villain and i've played just as many
villains as i have heroes and fools. i always say my stock in trade his scoundrelis scoundrels and . when you play a villain it's fascinating to really work on finding out what is redemptive about that person or remorseful about that person. that's how i approached roger ailes, a man who sort of had his compulsions but certainly he wishes he didn't and got no satisfaction from them. i took the move and tracked down a friend of mine who had been roger ailes producing partner in the 1970s when he was trying his hand at theater producing and he produced the first and my
friend who was his producing partner said he was upset and appalled by his behavior late in life that nobody was telling the story of how he could make you laugh for 40 seconds straight. very interesting. i found it interesting playing the part once i heard all of those stories. a. >> you certainly brought him to life. we had a question coming from the audience when you get to do a movie -- have we frozen up?
when they do a movie which there will be a dozen of them or more, which character would you want to be? >> this guy that just emerged is the part for me. i even look like him. these people are so insane, but there are several that are already looking for me to play those parts. it's just too soon for me.
we did a live stream and it was fascinating like the way that i assembled the cast for the book. the second half of the report is written in dialogue. >> can you describe a little bit more the videos that go along with the book. people will -- >> people were in their homes and i had the opportunity of creating the grid. i picked 21 that i thought would be playable. there is a big section and they
for that little stanza. >> look forward to going to the channel. now james can say that he's acted with meryl streep. we are getting close to the end and i need to ask some of the questions that came in. can you talk about what you have upcoming? >> i started an interesting project. i'm doing a play commissioned or written by james patterson. that is one of the problems of the pandemic you can record
something so low in a way you cannot perform it for other people. the series that i'm resuming is a kind of international spy series with jeff bridges. well-intentioned, but we broke a lot of rules and that has come back to haunt us in the present day. we were supposed to go to morocco. now we are in southern
california. >> it is an fx series. i want to ask you to read a final poem. if you would expect in the audience we have a group of people who are both big fans of you and excited to read the book and also you have any closing advice for people that have the chance of going forward. what would you encourage?
i remember when hillary clinton lost and feeling such despair. it's been bad and that these last couple of months have been the worst of all, but we have survived and we need to stay creative. >> that's wonderful advice. appreciate you staying creative and using the media to share with us. i want to give you the chance to read another poem and close it
out. we were reading joel mccarthy's lullaby. >> i'm not going to read it. i'm going to sing it. i think i described this, but i get to show it to you now. there's joe mccarthy. this is a poem that i imagined, i thought of it taking a shower at about 8:30 in the morning and by 11 a.m. i'd already written a poem and had done the illustration. this is the only one that came easy. maybe it was because it was a lullaby. nighttime and wrapping this up.
hush little dumpty don't you cry, you will be in dreamland by and by. harken back many years of gold to the time of your uncle joe. if you're feeling all alone, gave a thought to roy and cohen. if you're cranky, be like me, copy my demagoguery. nations tribalism. legal jurists by rescinding flynn's conviction. if you hike the chinese connection you will squeak by in the next election. if your poles are dead and low, implicate joe scarborough.
if you win every crucial state, by invoking obama gate, if you are badly trailing biden claiming if they call you deeply flawed in voter fraud. if coronavirus spreads, put it all on the governor's heads. if they claim you reacted slow, could place the blame on the who. if resistance grows too large, vote the bogus deep state of charge. if the public feels chagrin, take hydroxychloroquine. if at last you are voted down, this deal will be the sweetest