To Honor and Humor: USO's Surprise Guest

Quite a stand-up guy: Robin Williams at the USO gala.
Quite a stand-up guy: Robin Williams at the USO gala. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler - )
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, October 3, 2008

The challenge of hosting an annual gala: how to step it up from last year. The USO pulled it off Wednesday, scoring a cameo by the president and stunning the crowd with a surprise performance by Robin Williams-- so, uh-oh, what do they do next year?

"We're here to raise $750 billion in a telethon for America," the ever-wired comic riffed when he walked onstage at the Marriott Wardman Park. And from there he was off and running, comparing the government to a junkie: "I just need $900 billion, man. . . . I just ran into some bad subprime."

Sarah Palin? "The difference between her and Dick Cheney: She shoots you, you stay down." Obama vs. McCain? "It's like the Fresh Prince versus Fred Mertz." Those California liberals threatening to boycott Chinese products? Impossible! "The Chinese even make the 'Free Tibet' stickers!"

Which led to a leering bit about gymnasts. "It's like horizontal pole dancing. Who invented this? It's like 'Daddy needs to watch this alone now.' "

He did four-letter words. He did Larry Craig jokes. He was unrepeatably vulgar and un-PC. And the well-bred red-white-and-blue crowd loved it. But seriously, folks: Williams also spoke about how honored he was to perform with the USO for troops overseas -- where he said he can be much more blue. ("Makes my material here look Amish.")

Also in twinkling good cheer: President Bush, who mistily told the brass and enlisted folks present, "I am some kind of proud to be your commander in chief." He kind of hilariously paid tribute to the USO for aiding and entertaining the troops. "Morale is the greatest single factor in a successful war," he said. "The moment things began to turn around in Iraq is when the USO deployed Jessica Simpson."

Kermit Washington, Camping Out for a Cause

Big man. Small tent. Empty stomach. That's Kermit Washington this week. The former NBA star started a hunger strike on Wednesday at his alma mater, American University, to raise funds and awareness for hunger in Africa -- his cause for more than a decade. With two doctors who've accompanied him on relief trips to Nairobi, he's fasting and camping on the quad for five days.

"We have a trailer, too, with a couch so we can sit and read or be on the Internet," Washington, 57, told our colleague Marissa Newhall, "so we keep ourselves busy."

Washington sounded pretty Zen about the whole not-eating thing: "We have to show solidarity with the people we're trying to help," via pledges to his nonprofit's Web site at Washington hopes the funds will feed 1,800 people when he returns to Kenya in a few weeks. So, big feast on Sunday? "No . . . I'm just gonna get home and start getting ready for the week." Totally Zen.

The Market Takes Its Toll on Celebrity Bell Ringers

It's often such a jolly moment, the ringing of the bell on the New York Stock Exchange. Financial-news junkies know the scene: visiting celebs or corporate execs smiling and clapping on the marble balcony to celebrate the opening and closing of the market.

And when there's nothing to celebrate? Monday's historic 778-point plunge delivered a striking image: the solo woman glumly pressing the button to sound the ending bells. The New York Times reports that actress Missi Pyle was scheduled to do the honors but begged off when the day went sour; we're told that the woman whose photo might make the history books was floor operations manager Cecelia Knight-Henry. No VIPs to be found the next morning either, apparently: Knight-Henry rang the opening bell as well.

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