Monday, February 16, 2009

A venerable comedian takes the stage...

The Jazz Band had played their songs, the pledge of allegiance had been pledged, and the prayer had been prayed.

"I present the American Studies Institute Distinguished Lecture Series speaker...," Dr. Jim Carr, the VP of my university, announced from the podium after reading a lengthy and rather impressive bio: presidential speechwriter, White House economist, actor, comedian, writer, producer...

The auditorium - entirely full and standing room only for the first time in a long while - already was getting to their feet as if it were a rock concert.

"...Ben Stein."

It was quite a cheer.

The hours leading up to the actual speech were the usual: grip-and-grin reception, lots of candids, dinner with the speaker.

While my boss took photos of the hand shake, I did the walk-around thing. Its the usual thing.

Mr. Yarnell was even there. ("Yarnell's" is a semi-mid-west-south ice cream company based nearby. Its pretty good icecream, really.)

Ben Stein was quite the personable man, too. More on that soon.

But he would talk and talk and talk to people. In fact, when the time came for dinner, the organizers started herding people away to take their seats. Mr. Stein waved them back in for more!

So, I didn't bother with the dinner. There's not THAT much to shoot. People eating.


I moved on to the auditorium an hour early to make sure I had a seat. It was starting to fill even an hour early. Let me just say, by speech time, it was completely filled...

...and dozens were out in the lobby watching the monitors.

Well, as I was saying, the university jazz band played their set off and on as the crowds entered.

I stood with Mr. Stein and his bodyguard in the wings as the band finished playing. He had some ferocious allergies. I was fighting a cold. We small-talked about our snot.

My sister later asked me why I didn't say something about, "Itchy, allergy eyes? Try clear eyes. Wow..."

(Click here if you need that explained.)

Other than our infirmities, I said that I was taking photos of the crowd because it was one of the largest crowds that had ever gathered for a speaker like this. At least, in the 3.5 years I'd been there...

"Well, I'm quite flattered," he peeked from behind the curtain for a second.

The crowd cheered a little and grew to a roar as he stepped out.

As soon as his bio started to be read by Dr. Carr, he took out his cell phone and began taking photos of the crowd.

One to the upper balcony... down front in the middle... to me.

He was a pretty cool guy.

He spoke of evolution and his movie "Expelled" and social dawinism and eugenics and the moral corruption of society leading to the downfall of empires.

There was quite a bit of Obama-bashing interjected in there (especially during the Q&A following) but he made his point clear and concise.

Most of the students there actually attended because they wanted to, not because they were forced to attend by their teachers.

The MC was one of them. Yep, she had to take notes as I took photos.

And the night finished off in the usual way with the speaker being presented an "Arkansas Traveler" award signed by Governor Beebe.

Considering Ben's wife's family is from Arkansas, the award is a little redundant, but... its just the usual thing.

The book signing followed. The MC sat strategically so she could hop up and get a signature or three before the line got a mile long and the books got sold-out.

But she got it. And she was quite excited.

So, that was Ben Stein...

Dry eyes, allergies, camera phone, tennis shoes and all...

Big shoot winding down this week. It really has been fun, but I can see now why photographers hire an assistant for big shoots!

Stay tuned for that.
-Noah D.

No comments: