Bill Clinton already has a talk show – wherever he shows up.
Headlining a private fund-raiser for environmental causes featuring Hollywood stars entertaining other TV and movie stars in their own backyard, Mr. Clinton proved he could do their jobs quite well.
Even box-office champ Tom Hanks had to concede Mr. Clinton's performance skills during an improvisational skit before celebrity contributors to the National Resources Defense Council.
"You know, I don't know much about the environment," Mr. Clinton said in an exaggerated Southern drawl after Hanks introduced him Friday night in cozy Wadsworth Theater near the Beverly Hills neighborhoods where many in the audience live.
"I came up here to meet Forrest Gump."
Mr. Clinton flawlessly echoed the deliberate cadence and plaintive tone of the famously dense character Hanks played in the movie. He smoothly timed each line to the crest of laughter from an audience of entertainment pros including comedy stalwarts Rob Reiner, Martin Short, Ron Howard, Steve Martin, Ted Danson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Stiller and "Seinfeld" producer Larry David.
"I’m from Arkansas and I like Forrest Gump. Then he left me alone up here on this stage and I'm lonesome and scared."
Hanks, who earlier introduced the former president as "the man I still like to call the Boss," returned to the stage behind Mr. Clinton's back and surprised him with an unplanned exchange.
"Did you call me, Bubba?" Hanks said in the authentic Gump voice, turning the bit into a replay of Gump's scenes with best friend Bubba Blue.
Unfazed, Mr. Clinton stayed in character: "What are we supposed to do now?"
"Supposed to talk to them people."
"I like them. They don't let my rivers get polluted and I can fish in them."
"I know how to fish."
"Can you bait a hook?"
Hanks lost it, breaking out of character: "I can't even improv a line right now."
Mr. Clinton covered for Hanks, grabbing the actor by the shoulders and warming anew to the crowd, this time as the real Bubba Clinton: "Is this guy good or what?"
The audience cheered Mr. Clinton's compliment for Hanks even though they had just witnessed one of their most successful colleagues bested in a comedy smack-down with a politician.
Notice how he managed to pander to his crowd while staying in character, praising the group's work saving rivers. But that was just the beginning.
Although never seen as a passionate defender of the environment, Mr. Clinton delivered a speech on everything his listeners wanted to hear. His appearance was arranged by former White House chief of staff John Podesta, a consultant to the group raising $1.6 million this night. Yet Mr. Clinton had to acknowledge in his speech that the NRDC sued his administration several times.
In his newfound zeal for the environment, Mr. Clinton even found a causal connection between global warming and terrorism. He opened the serious part of his talk wondering, "what in the world could environmental fights have to do with what happened on Sept. 11?"
His answer came later in a stem-winder on the effects of global warming.
"Here’s what's going to happen if the world warms the next 50 years at the rate of the last ten ... We'll create millions of food refugees and young angry terrorists and mercenaries. All because we're in the grip of a stupid idea and can't understand why we ought to drive cars that get 80 to 100 miles a gallon."
The crowd roared its approval, some even wiping tears away.
In a span of time no longer than a nightly talk show, Mr. Clinton made his audience laugh, cry and think; Letterman and Leno meet Nightline in a single performance.
As with the rest of Mr. Clinton's larger-than-life experience, the night recalled Forrest Gump’s most famous line: "My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."