Kerry Washington took time out of her busy schedule playing the best-dressed, Châteauneuf-du-Pape-sipping, popcorn-munching D.C. fixer on television—Olivia Pope in Scandal, of course—to play with some Harvard undergrads in the midst of a frigid New England winter.
The Hasty Pudding Theatricals (HPT) comedy troupe chose Washington as their 2016 Woman of the Year. The oldest theater company in the nation, HPT is operated by Harvard students and associated with notable alumni including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jack Lemmon, and Rashida Jones (not to mention several U.S. presidents).
The 66th woman honored with the prestigious Pudding Pot award, Washington now shares the privilege with an illustrious group of women including Katherine Hepburn (1958), Meryl Streep (1980), Whoopi Goldberg (1993), and Helen Mirren (2014).
With that in mind, earning the unconventional award is no small feat, as Washington proved on stage January 28.
(Mike Lawrie photo)
Following the annual parade––sequined, wigged, fabulous cross-dressing HPT cast members escorting the Woman of the Year down Massachusetts Avenue in a Bentley––was the traditional, sometimes humorous roast of Washington on stage at Farkas Hall.
It started with an innocuous introduction, peppered with a few playful jabs from the roast hosts, HPT President Bobby Fitzpatrick (’16) and HPT168 Producer Kennedy Edmonds (’17):
- Washington made the Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential people of 2014 list…along with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un. (Well played, HPT.)
- She turned down admission to Yale, which her roasters claimed was her only redeeming quality. (I beg to differ.)
- Instead, she attended George Washington University, prompting the punchline, “Sounds like nepotism.” (HAH!)
The Pudding Pot dedication was interrupted by an audience “heckler”–a cast member dressed as Monica Lewinsky, in what else but a blue dress and black beret. (HPT relies heavily on stereotypes and caricatures, and this proved no exception.)
Lewinsky claimed that Washington was “playing seductive all wrong” (referring to the latter’s onscreen illicit romance with fictional U.S. President Fitzgerald Grant), and challenged the guest of honor to earn her award.
Lewinsky’s parting words: “As I always say, ‘Watch out for Hillary!'”
Thus commenced Washington’s Herculean tasks:
Since her character Olivia Pope plays a D.C. political fixer, the HPT cast claimed that she first must “break shit” as she participated in a game show called “Smash That Thing!”.
Her first target was a piñata, which she teased represented “the jokes that hurt me deeply.”
The second was a bouquet of balloons with her face, which the cast instructed her to pop. Without missing a beat, Washington joked, “That’s, like, against my Neutrogena contract.”
Then, the “Smash That Thing” host told her she must destroy a 12-inch Lenovo laptop. Washington balked. “Only at Harvard…” she said, followed by, “This is crazy! Somebody needs this!”
She agreed to take a hammer to the laptop if HPT donated a functioning one to someone in need. They acquiesced, at least in the moment. (I’ve yet to follow up on that agreement.)
Before obliterating the screen, Washington yelled, “Take that, Monica!”
When the host informed her that there was yet one more smash task, Washington replied, “Is there a Bentley?”
(Keith Bedford photo)
The remaining endeavors included egg cracking (on the host’s bouffant hairdo), a pseudo-Neutrogena ad involving a Harvard “pimple boy,” a popcorn-eating contest with “Fat Elephant,” an altercation with Donald Trump‘s Harvard doppelgänger, and serenading a personified “bitch baby” (another Scandal reference) to sleep.
(Elise Amendola photo)
In the star-studded performance rife with nods to pop culture and current events, the highlights were Washington’s impromptu musical numbers. She and an HPT Ray Charles sang a lullaby duet (Washington played Charles’ wife in the 2004 film Ray), and she belted out a captivating rendition of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do With It.”
Needless to say, Washington handily earned her 2016 Woman of the Year Pudding Pot. She claimed, “This is the best worst day ever,” and said the HPT cast got her to do things that she had been avoiding for years.
Washington graciously accepted the honor with some parting words:
“I’m joining the ranks of esteemed women who have made asses of themselves.”
Toying with her roasters, she called out HPT for their exclusion of women, saying that they “make really ugly drag queens.” Washington’s dig prompted the fake Lewinsky to flash a blue-pantied crotch in an unscripted response.
In response, Washington praised the real Lewinsky for her anti-bullying activism. Then, she asked the cast and the audience to stand and make pledge:
“Repeat after me: I, state your name, followed by the appropriate Roman numeral,” she started, underscoring the WASPy privilege associated with Harvard.
After implying that the members might try acting for a few years, then give up to run their dad’s hedge fund, Washington struck a more serious note and reminded everyone that equal pay, diversity, and making room for others at the table are essential responsibilities, particularly among the Ivy League elite.
“Please don’t stop stepping into other people’s shoes,” she said. “They don’t have to be pumps.”
Almost as an afterthought, Washington casually reminded everyone to tune into the February 11 midseason premiere of Scandal.
You can watch HPT’s 168th performance, That 1770s Show, at Farkas Hall through March 6. The cast takes the show on the road to NYC’s Kaye Playhouse Theater March 11-12, and then to Bermuda’s Hamilton City Hall March 16-18.