John Lithgow had kept his political beliefs private for most of his career.
But when the Emmy and Tony-winning actor realized that Donald Trump could be elected president in 2016, he had a change of heart.
In the months leading up to the election, Lithgow joined former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.
Then two years later, still reeling from Trump’s win, he began work on a satirical collection of poetry and illustrations about the 45th president’s first years in office titled “Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse.” Released earlier this month, the book has already become an Amazon best seller.
“Until now, it seemed unfair to use my celebrity to give any special heft to my political opinions, but the entire country is in a state of distress, politically, and it’s manifested itself in this incredibly divisive administration, so I just couldn’t keep quiet anymore,” says Lithgow, who appears at the Sydney Goldstein Theater Wednesday as part of the City Arts & Lectures series.
The 74-year-old actor (who most recently starred in the films “Late Night” and “Pet Sematary” and on the Netflix series “The Crown”) and nine-time children’s book author says the idea for the project came about after he performed a crowd-pleasing parody of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” in the guise of former national security advisor, Michael T. Flynn, at a 2017 gala for New York’s Public Theater.
After Lithgow reenacted the performance for his literary agent Dave Kuhn a year later, the rep insisted that he write a book of musical parodies. But since comedian Randy Rainbow already had cornered the market on parody songs, Kuhn eventually advised him to switch to poetic verse.
Using the poems of Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne and Edward Lear as guides, the actor set to work lampooning Trump and the key players in his presidency — Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and many more — using wit, rhyme and meter.
“I found it enormously liberating, like a child doing finger painting,” says Lithgow. “It was pure experimentation on my part and, of course, I had incredible material to work with.”
The actor, who recently impersonated Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in a hilarious appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” believes that comedians, as well as humorists like himself, are in a unique position to challenge the current administration — if they would only speak out.
“Comedians illuminate and examine what’s going on, explode our anxieties and fears and give us some relief,” says Lithgow. “Also, dictators and autocrats don’t respond well to ridicule. It’s like a picador with a bull; it heightens and makes more visible their bad behavior.”
Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse
Written and illustrated by: John Lithgow
Published by: Chronicle Prism
LITHGOW’S LOCAL APPEARANCES
Oct. 30: Sydney Goldstein Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F., 7:30 p.m., $59; cityarts.net/event/john-lithgow
Oct. 31: Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael, 7:30 p.m., $45-$50; marinjcc.org/events