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“Do you think Bill Clinton will be mad at me?” Rob Lowe privately asks in the green room after a sold-out May 11 performance of his one-man show, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, at the Beltway-adjacent Strathmore performing arts center in Maryland.
No, Clinton will not be mad at him, he is immediately assured by the small group backstage, which includes former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn and his wife, Susanna, a longtime friend of Lowe’s. No, because Lowe’s onstage stories about the former president were charming and only slightly edgy, delivered with a dead-on Arkansas lilt that’s more respectful than buffoonish.
And also no, because everyone in the green room who knows Clinton knows that the former president’s ego isn’t that fragile — he would never take that kind of good-natured ribbing too seriously. “Good,” Lowe says, relieved. “Because you don’t want to fuck up in D.C.”
The show he’s just performed, which Lowe wrote himself, is a mash-up of his 2012 book of the same name with his more recent book, Love Life. The post-show green room is stocked with sodas and Fiji water (Lowe recently celebrated 28 years of sobriety) for the dozen or so people who’ve been invited backstage for an intimate chat with the star. The incongruous group includes Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr. and Mrs. Sean Spicer and a handful of journos from notably left-leaning publications. (The Obama press secretaries were also invited but were unable to attend.) Sanders and Sean Spicer cozy up to Lowe for a photo op. New York Times Magazine journalist Mark Leibovich expresses genuine admiration for the star’s writing skills. There’s partisan tension, but no one says anything about it — partly because Lowe doesn’t let it get awkward.
He responds to a question about his interactions with Donald Trump in the positive, noting that when he and Trump crossed paths on a 2011 airing of Fox & Friends (where he famously encouraged Trump to run for office, if only to liven up the debates) and he asked the mogul to donate to Habitat for Humanity, the future president did so generously. Lowe has also notably stumped for Democrats, including an appearance at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that went notoriously awry.
The four-decade Hollywood veteran — who says he developed an affection for D.C. during his four seasons as Sam Seaborn, the deputy White House communications director on The West Wing, and who fondly remembers meeting President Clinton in the Oval Office during a tour with his castmates — waxes nostalgic for the “more innocent” days of Washington politics, which he describes as “like that old Warner Bros. cartoon where the wolf and the sheepdog fight until the whistle blows, and then they punch out and head off to the bar for a drink together.”
Lowe clearly just wants everyone to get along — especially with him.
In his show, Lowe had taken a playful swipe at Trump after screening a clip of himself playing an unqualified Canadian hockey star turned mayor in the movie Super Troopers 2: “That’s so unrealistic, right? Where else but in a goofball movie would there be an elected official with a tenuous grasp on the facts who is self-aggrandizing?” After a universal guffaw from the audience, Lowe apologized, saying, “That’s it! That’s my one joke about the president. If I don’t make one joke about the president, they don’t let me back into Hollywood.”
During the end-of-show Q&A, Lowe pointed out his “friends Sarah and Sean” in the audience, saying, “I’m sure this is what it’s like for you — am I doing this right? ‘I’ve had no conversations on that matter’ — is that what I say?”
When an audience member asked Lowe if he’d consider running for office, he diplomatically responded, “This is why I love being in D.C. Because I love this country, and I love everybody who goes to work every day to make this country better, regardless of which party they work for. One of the things I learned making The West Wing is that…we may disagree, and we may have horrible ideas as to how to get stuff done, but everybody’s coming from the right place.” Here, a collective raising of eyebrows was almost audible. Everybody?
“We’ve so lost touch with that, and that’s the thing that bums me out…and makes me think I can’t do it,” Lowe continued. “Now, on the other hand, if people like me aren’t going to do it, who will? And then I think I better… so the answer is, who the hell knows? But you definitely have to have your — excuse me — ‘fuck you’ money, because you could never go back to Hollywood after.”
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