Remember when Jimmy Stewart showed up on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show to read out one of his mawkishly sincere poems? (Or at least Dana Carvey’s impression of him doing so on Saturday Night Live?) Well, for those of you whippersnappers asking who any of those people are, your generation has its own beloved actor of a certain age who delights in presenting his own poetic side-hustle for indulgent late-night hosts, and it’s John Lithgow.
Appearing remotely on Wednesday’s Late Show, the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor (and guy who’s apparently often mistaken for John Cleese on the street by people unable to differentiate between tall, slightly hammy legends) did his own Stewart-esque poetry reading, to the delight of host Stephen Colbert. Or, rather, Colbert was delighted at the person Lithgow has corralled into reading from his newest book of rhyming anti-Trump verse, Trumpty Dumpty Wanted A Crown: Verses For A Despotic Age. You know, since Lithgow threw to a clip of Meryl-freaking-Streep reading Lithgow’s “The Toreys” (also known as “The Tiger King”). And while anyone looking for the former TV serial killer and occasional Churchill to set his pen to the task of satirizing Joe Exotic, this poem was all-allegorical and all-Trump, with Streep happily shown reading Lithgow’s parable of a political party enabling a tiger only to suffer a predictable fate once the tiger becomes king. (Sort of a “Leopards Eating People Faces Party” riff, but it’s John Lithgow, so it’s fine.)
Telling Colbert that, in lieu of the traditional, pre-pandemic book tour for this, his second tome of Trump-jabbing doggerel (Lithgow’s word), he enlisted a whole lot of famous friends (along with politicians, journalists, and, for one timely poem, an epidemiologist) to read out his stuff for the camera. And, being John Lithgow, that means not just Streep, but the likes of Samuel L. Jackson (himself no stranger to cheekily instructional audio book poesy), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Glenn Close, and Whoopi Goldberg, all filmed with the technical help on none other than esteemed TV director (and former MST3k favorite), Timothy Van Patten. It’s good to have friends. Showing off the doodling skills that adorn his volumes of verse, Lithgow them also did a speed-sketch of Colbert himself, a tossed-off but passable caricature that yet netted Lithgow a Colbert couples’ dinner invitation, once this national nightmare (COVID, and hopefully Trump) is all over.
(To the latter end, check out Colbert’s public service Better Know A Ballot for voting information tailored specifically to your state.)