LOS ANGELES–What better way to promote your religious-themed comedy than to get up the frock of America's Catholic League president?
In his new movie, License to Wed, Robin Williams plays Reverend Frank, an outrageously unorthodox man of the cloth who insists that a newly engaged couple (songbird Mandy Moore and The Office's John Krasinski) participate in his two-week premarital-counselling program before he'll bless their union. (The movie opens Friday, July 3.)
It sounds morally upright. However, at a recent news conference in Los Angeles, the comedian's response to the Georgia Straight's question–had he ever had feedback from religious groups about his religious jokes?–enraged those who shalt not giggle.
"Oh, yeah. I always do. You can't poke fun at certain religions. Hence, right now if I was to dress you in a full burqa, someone would go, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?'" Williams said with a Middle Eastern accent. "I mean, it's difficult, because you have to realize that we just made major fun of the Catholic Church, but, hey, they don't blow you up. The Pope will just excommunicate me, and you know I haven't gotten a lot of communications originally from him, so”¦"
In response to that answer and Williams's public remarks about priests being pedophiles, the Catholic League's Bill Donohue denounced Williams in a LifeSiteNews.com article. "So not only is Williams a bigot and a liar, he's a coward. No wonder he's so well-received in Tinseltown." In the past, Donohue has said that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."
Williams, who is not Jewish, likely doesn't care. The comedian's public behaviour speaks louder than any words. Whether it's his fundraising effort on behalf of Seattle's food bank, a commitment to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, plans to return to Iraq to entertain the troops, or simply a gracious acknowledgment to his friends in Vancouver ("Hey, I'm sorry to hear the comedy clubs are closing, like the [Urban] Well"), Williams is closer to halo than horns.
For the movie, Williams said he found his inner reverend by reflecting on the "old days", when he was growing up in the Episcopal church ("there is no purgatory, just spiritual escrow"), and remembering the religious men of that faith who could really advise. Williams, who entered a treatment program for alcoholism last summer after 20 years on the wagon, noted that the rehabilitation process offers religious insight.
"The primary salvation is that when you go through rehab, that you come out of there knowing you're not alone. And it gives you a very personal view of God and, many people would say–the 'code' for those of you who know–a higher power. Once you come through that process, you come out of it very much aware that there but for the grace of [God go I]."
Much like Williams himself, License to Wed's manic man of the cloth is, beneath his mortifyingly unorthodox demeanour, genuinely motivated to do the right thing. (A scene where he dishes on sexual practices with Moore's newly affianced character may be more offensive to young women than old priests.) Reverend Frank asks the lustful couple temporarily to abstain from sex and learn to communicate verbally.
Williams has been married 18 years to second wife Marsha Garces Williams. If he were to put together a test for married couples, he said, it would be like Survivor. "But without a lot of food. I think the simplest test would be like, 'What do you know about him and what do you know about her other than Position 4?'"
Williams is quick to point out that his character, who does explore the couple's compatibility between the sheets, is a Protestant. He questions the appropriateness of Catholic priests doing a similar job, given the celibacy requirements of their calling.
"It's a difficult thing when you realize that, first of all, you have to give up sex. And then they say, 'Okay. We're going to put you in a small box and every week people are going to come and go, 'Bless me father for I have sinned.' 'What have you done, my son?' 'Last night I was with two Philippine twins and it was slip and slide.' 'Oh, really? Keep going.' And then they're going to take you from that and then put you next to pubescent children. It's like getting out of Jenny Craig and saying 'Where you gonna work?' 'Hí¤agen-Dazs.'" That's something Catholic League president Donohue might need a tub of to chill out.