Robin Williams brought a punchline to the political fight


This film image released by the Weinstein Co. shows Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, left, and Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in a scene from "Lee Daniels' The Butler." (Anne Marie Fox/The Weinstein Cos. via AP)

Robin Williams was a master of distilling political complexities into punchlines.

Whether it was the sub-prime mortgage crisis:

“I talk to [bankers] about being like a group of junkies who've just relapsed, going, 'Listen, my man. I just needed some liquidity, you know what I'm saying? I just ran into some bad sub-prime.'"

Or former congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal:

“Even his phone right now should have something like a caucus blocker. Something that puts him in a witless protection program. The minute he starts to take a picture, his junk turns into a Rubik's cube.”

Like so many in Hollywood, Williams was a contributor to Democratic candidates and causes — donating at least $116,000 over the years, according to OpenSecrets.org.

But almost always, Williams would approach politics with the finely-crafted humor of the comedic technician he was.

In "Night at the Museum" and its sequel, he played a sword-wielding, horse-riding Teddy Roosevelt, a role he will reprise when the third installment of the film is released this year. (Williams's parts for the movie had already been filmed.)

In the 2006 comedy "Man of the Year," Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a comedian who runs for president — and wins.

The story line was fiction, but the jokes rang true to life: “Politicians are like diapers, they should be changed frequently,” Dobbs quips in one scene.

Williams's ties to the political world date to his blue-blooded Southern ancestors. He is the great-great-grandson of former Mississippi governor and senator Anselm J. McLaurin, from whom he gets his middle name McLaurin.

On one occasion, Williams dropped the jokes to play Dwight Eisenhower in "Lee Daniels' The Butler," a film that uses the story of an African American butler to recount the U.S.' decades-long struggle to deal with the violent history of slavery and segregation. "It's an interesting character for me, it's not necessarily someone that you'd think right off the bat I'd be playing," Williams said of the role. "It was a tough job for me."

With the family history that he had, Williams might have ended up in politics for real. But inevitably, his talent took him elsewhere.

Before attending Juilliard, New York’s premier school for the performing arts, he was a political science major at Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College).

Still, comedy gave him the platform to make his political statements.

“To make fun of an administration, to make fun of anything, Mark Twain said, is the last defense of democracy,” Williams said in an interview with Hollywood.com.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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