Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg Went to Bat for the Unhoused at the U.S. Senate

‘Robin and Whoopi Go to Washington’
Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg Went to Bat for the Unhoused at the U.S. Senate

“Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg head to the U.S. Senate” sounds like the premise of a wacky comedy, but it’s a thing that actually happened back in 1990. 

Williams and Goldberg testified before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee (chaired by Ted Kennedy) in an effort to voice their support for the “Homelessness Prevention and Community Revitalization Act” of 1990, which “called for more affordable housing, among other measures.”

At the time, the comedy superstars were some of the best-known advocates for the unhoused community, thanks mostly to Comic Relief, the series of televised charity shows, which originated in the U.K., and was adapted by comedy writer (and former Andy Kaufman co-conspirator) Bob Zmuda for American audiences. The trip to Capitol Hill occurred just days before Comic Relief ‘90, which also featured comedians like Bob Saget, Bobcat Goldthwait and Steven Wright.

Unfortunately, the third comic staple of Comic Relief, Billy Crystal, was unable to appear before the committee. So instead, Williams read his pre-prepared statement and had Goldberg hold up a glossy 8x10 photo of the comedian. “We have Billy’s picture here, so it’d be somewhat like the real thing,” Williams told the politicians before instructing Goldberg to “move it around once and a while and make the lips go.”

Then Goldberg read a passionate statement underscoring the gravity of the legislation, and even threatening those who would oppose it: “You have no right to keep this money from this bill. Without us you have no jobs. And then you may find yourself homeless.” She also asserted that the stars of Comic Relief “will go on until we’re dead. It would be nice if we didn’t have to.”

“The problem cannot be denied anymore,” Williams told those senators who bothered to show up. “We cannot be a kinder, blinder nation.” Some of Williams’ most memorable moments came, not in his written statement, but in his off-the-cuff musings. “You can’t keep picking people up, you have to stop them from falling. That’s what I hope,” he declared, while also blasting the failure of the “trickle down theory” that came from “Uncle Ron.” He likened the America of 1990 to The Grapes of Wrath. “A family of five living in a Chevette? Nay. I say not. That is not good.”

The future Mrs. Doubtfire star couldn’t help but throw in a few jokes, though. “I know it’s a little scary when you have a comic in front of you. It’s a little like having a porcupine in a hemophiliac ward,” he quipped. At another point, he conceded that the U.S. was in rough financial shape: “We’re a trillion dollars in debt, and we don’t owe this money to someone named ‘Vinny.’ No one’s gonna come and go, ‘I want the money by tomorrow, or I’m gonna break your nuclear arms.’”

Williams also noted that if the problem wasn’t addressed it “will basically become much much much worse. It’ll increase more than diminish.” Unfortunately, it seems as though he was right. 

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