You can always count on Robert De Niro for a hilariously depressing commencement speech. Two years ago, he told graduates of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts that “You’re f—ed.” They hadn’t, he coarsely reminded them, chosen to study fields with guaranteed jobs or economic stability. He spun it into a positive, reminding all of us that we need artists. It’s just that, you know, almost all of them were going to be financially “f—ed.”
Now he’s done something similar but different at Brown University. Speaking this weekend at the Providence, Rhode Island institution’s commencement ceremony, he reminded graduating academics, with a big smile on his face, of a grim reality facing us all, not just those who pursued artsy-fartsy careers.
He described the country in “movie terms,” saying America was once “an inspiring, uplifting drama.” But over the last two years, it’s turned, quickly and freakily, into “a tragic dumbass comedy.” (Seriously, we’re like “Dirty Grandpa,” only worse.)
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De Niro has not been one to keep quiet during the Trump age. Shortly before the election, he participated in a video where he called him “blatantly stupid,” a “punk,” a “dog,” a “pig,” a “bulls— artist,” a “mutt,” an “idiot,” a “bozo” and a few other names, all before climaxing by saying he’d like to “punch him in the face.” On the eve of the inauguration in January, he spoke at a protest in New York where he read out joke-tweets that imagined our thin-skinned POTUS attacking the two-time Oscar-winner over social media.
By all accounts (and we’ve spoken to him twice, and we concur), De Niro is a pretty quiet, reserved, shy person. But his public speaking has strongly suggested he needs a sideline as a stand-up comic. He’s certainly funnier railing against Trump than he was in this year’s “The Comedian,” and definitely moreso than Rupert Pupkin, the terrible failed comic he played cringily in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, “The King of Comedy.” Which college wants to hire him next year when things are either much better or much, much worse?