Ed Asner: On politics and performing

The actor, who will perform in Newport next month, talks about the political environment, favorite roles and what it's like to be working at 89 years old

In about 10 days, Ed Asner will take the stage at the Newport Performing Arts Center in the play God Help Us!  The 90-minute show is described as “a political comedy for our times, and centers on two opposite-leaning pundits who are transported to purgatory by the Supreme Being himself for the purpose of debating today’s political and social issues.”

Asner, as God, will be joined on stage by four local actors for the two-night run, Aug. 10-11. Performances will benefit the performing arts center’s capital campaign. Tickets are available here.

Ed Asner, who says a real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist, characterizes the current political environment as “like the monkeys escaped the zoo.” Photo by: Tim Leyes
Ed Asner, who says a real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist, characterizes the current political environment as “like the monkeys escaped the zoo.” Photo by: Tim Leyes

I spoke with the seven-time Emmy-award winner by phone from his California home.  We talked about the play, politics, favorite roles and what it’s like to be working at 89 years old.

I’ve heard you described as the last real Democrat. How did you earn that title and can you talk about how God Help Us! relates to the current political scene?

Asner: I was born in 1929, so it was good year to be christened a Democrat. I come from Kansas City, Kansas, so we were vastly outnumbered. You had to learn to fight dirty and fight hard. I felt like the last living Democrat. A real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist. I like it. I think Americans were shucked into equating socialism with communism. People have been placed badly by that equation. They’ve screwed themselves. Until they get over that prejudice, our social progress will be slow.

How do you feel about the current political environment?

It’s like the monkeys escaped the zoo.

Can you share your thoughts on art/theater as a medium for resistance?

I’m delighted that artists have played a prominent role in creating resistance and continue to do so.

Asner stars as God in the political comedy “God Help Us!” Performances are Aug. 10 and 11 in Newport.

Does God Help Us! take one side or the other?

I did it because the authors are modern-day playwrights. They will lean toward a liberal think, but they do a good job of presenting the conservative cause.

I just started watching Dead to Me and I’m loving it. (Asner played the role of Abe, a resident in an assisted-living facility.)

I thought it was beautifully written. I’m just pissed they killed me off.

Did you know they were going to do that?

When I read the script I did, yeah.

But you didn’t know when you signed on with the show?

No!

A friend told me she cried when they killed off Abe.

I love her. Tell her to meet me backstage.

Other than God Help Us! what are your current roles?

I’m doing Briarpatch, that’s a series starring Rosario Dawson.

Your role?

Pain in the ass. Dinosaur of a publisher.

You seem to be traveling a lot. How do you manage that?

It’s not easy. I’m leaving Saturday to go to Williamstown, Mass., and do a reading of a wonderful play called The Soap Myth. Then on a plane to Dublin. I’m going to do about five performances of A Man and his Prostate. It’s a one-man show.

It’s not all Supreme Being for Asner.  He is also traveling the country with a one-man show, “A Man and his Prostate.”
It’s not all Supreme Being for Asner. He is also traveling internationally with a one-man show, “A Man and his Prostate.”

Forgive me if this sounds rude, but why are you still working?

What at 69? It enlivens me. The travel is bullshit. But getting to do the play, it bolsters me.

Was Mary Tyler Moore as much fun as it looked?

Yeah. Truly. It was a family. I hated to leave it. I would have gone on and done another year at least.

Why did it work so well?

They were people you’d like to live with.

What have been your favorite roles?

Rich Man, Poor Man was a favorite. The Girl Most Likely to… with Stockard Channing was a lot of fun.

Lou Grant?

Oh, of course, that’s a given.

Anything you’re still hoping to accomplish?

Have they picked the Nobel Peace Prize this year?

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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