Robin Williams Saves the Day at TED When Tech Fails
You know your conference has hit the big time when Robin Williams steps up from the audience to fill the dead air during an embarrassing, show-stopping technical glitch. The actor-comedian was in the audience at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Monterey, Calif., last night when a technical glitch halted a panel discussion […]
You know your conference has hit the big time when Robin Williams steps up from the audience to fill the dead air during an embarrassing, show-stopping technical glitch.
The actor-comedian was in the audience at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Monterey, Calif., last night when a technical glitch halted a panel discussion that was being recorded by the BBC. (Apologies for the blurry image at right; it was snapped quickly by my seatmate, Paul Holland, who graciously e-mailed me the pic).
Williams was sitting in the row behind me at the panel discussion on new media. Before the host, BBC World presenter Matt Frei, could finish his introduction of panelist Sergey Brin from Google, he announced the BBC was having a technical issue. Frei didn’t quite know what to do with the empty air while waiting for a fix and joked that the voice in his earphone (the producer) was telling him a long, elaborate political joke about Poland.
That’s when a voice behind me spoke up, presumably a heckler, and began speaking loudly as if he were conducting a live news feed, joking that he was reporting live from TED but “couldn’t understand a fucking word” and was “wondering why at a technology conference everything is running so shittily” (at least that’s the word I think he used; it was hard to hear the last word through the audience’s laughter).
The crowd by then had realized it was Williams. Encouraged by their reaction, he continued reporting to some unseen BBC anchorman from his seat: “Well, they said they found the wire, but it’s not plugged in.”
Williams was then invited to take the stage and the crowd roared. He spent the next ten minutes or so riffing on Stephen Hawking (who spoke at TED earlier in the day from Cambridge, England) and the end of the universe — which will take place “exactly in one hour,” he said, looking at his watch.
He joked again about the technical glitch, indicating that although the BBC wasn’t working, audience members “with their phones are going, ‘I’m getting all of this!'” And it was true. Dozens of people were capturing the stand-up act on their phones.
He riffed about a new Apple product called the “iWhy?” and a few seconds later said, “I have just one question about the British royal family: All that money and no dental plan,” which got a lot of laughs and a few sympathetic nods toward the BBC presenter sitting behind him (who appeared to have perfectly fine dental hygiene).
He didn’t spare panelist Brin and Google, noting that if you walk into Google you see everyone in front of their computer sitting on exercise balls, “which I think is how they’re hatching new employees.”
And Israel got a mention as well, since it was launching a new internet service called “Net-‘n-Yahoo” (riffing on Bibi Netanyahu’s name).
The glitch was finally fixed but not before TED curator Chris Anderson asked Williams to come back the next day and lend the proceedings some more of his good cheer.
The panel discussion that ensued was interesting and included, in addition to Brin, Queen Noor of Jordan, Watergate-buster Carl Bernstein, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert and Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda. The BBC will broadcast the panel discussion sometime in March.