Isn't it great when someone's affliction turns out to be a boon for the rest of us? Alda was hilarious Tuesday night at Temple Judea at an event for Books & Books, where he talked about his book Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself, which combines biographical stories, speeches he's given in the past and his quest for discovering what constitutes a meaningful life.
Pay attention to the present moment, he suggested. Good advice, especially since most of the moments at the temple were full of laughter, and don't we all need more of that? Alda's a natural and gifted comedian, and his stage roots were apparent as he spoke to the capacity crowd about science, his brush with death, M*A*S*H* and the effects of celebrity. Turns out he's not immune to goofy fandom either: He told of meeting Liv Ullman in a parking lot outside a Chinese restaurant and being unable to hear what she was saying because he was so taken with her. "We're standing by the exhaust fans and it smells of rancid oil," but all he's smelling is the newly mown hay he'd seen her running through in movies (and his imagination).
His talk was entertaining and chatty and funny, but Alda was at his best in a short question and answer period, as he walked around the audience handing out his microphone (always a dangerous business - people simply can't stop themselves from being random and pointless). Here's what we learned: People still come up to him and say they loved the film Same Time Next Year and that "It's my life story." He's baffled. "It's a movie about two people having an adulterous affair for 25 years. Why would you tell a stranger that?"
One audience member asked him about playing Republican Arnold Vinick on NBC's The West Wing, an experience Alda enjoyed, he said, because the writers made the character real, not just a straw man for the Democratic characters to knock down. But one thing still puzzles him. "People always say, 'It must have been so hard to play a Republican,' " he says. "But nobody ever asked me that when I played an axe murderer."