During a Thursday segment about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Today invited former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle onto the program to talk about the upcoming nomination process. Among other things, the former right-hand man of President George H.W. Bush said he would “support the nominee” because he’s “been a Republican all [his] life.” Today co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer prodded Quayle for further details, and even tried to trip him up over Trump’s recent (and not so recent) comments about not changing his ways ahead of the general election. It all makes for an interesting political discussion, but for most viewers under the age of 30, one question remains.
Who the hell is Dan Quayle?
There are two ways to answer this question. The more obvious route is to consult Quayle’s Wikipedia page, which will tell you all about how the 69-year-old politician served as a representative for Indiana from 1977 to 1981, then as one of the state’s two senators from 1981 to 1989. He vacated his senate seat when the then-Republican presidential nominee, George H.W. Bush selected him as his running mate. Quayle served as vice president from 1989 to 1993, when he and Bush were defeated by Bill Clinton and Al Gore on the Democratic ticket.
“I’m going to support the nominee.”
Watch former VP Dan Quayle speak out in exclusive interview about 2016 race: https://t.co/8g4sYbdy06
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 12, 2016
Political scientists, professional campaigners and news junkies will appreciate such information, but if you don’t fall into any of those camps, then you’re probably more interested in the second route. This involves some of the juicier details of Quayle’s vice presidency, which Lauer alluded to when reminded Quayle that “[his] qualifications were questioned when [he] became vice president.” And what better way to learn about these hiccups than through the lens of the late comedian Robin Williams? Whether it was the “potatoe” incident, the “Murphy Brown” speech or the White House’s penchant for sending Quayle as far away as possible, Williams was never far behind with his biting, off-the-cuff comedy about the bumbling figure.
Whenever Williams did the late night talk show circuit to promote his latest film, most of the interviews would transform into a rapid fire demonstration of his quick wit — especially when politics was the subject. Consider his January 1991 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. A letter from President Bush to Saddam Hussein had just gone public, inviting ridicule from all corners of the media spectrum. Williams and Carson began with that, but the conversation quickly turned to Quayle.
“I know that they’ve got Quayle locked up in some back room going, ‘Okay let’s go over it again,'” he joked.
Because of Quayle’s many famous intellectual transgressions, the vice president had become an easy punchline for comedians. Even the mainstream press regularly partook in the action. Yet there was something about Williams’ regular punches that elevated them above the rest.
Like when the White House sent Quayle to Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots in 1992. For his last appearance on Carson’s Tonight Show, Williams performed a hypothetical meeting between the goofball politico and the rioters.
“Thank god for Quayle,” said Carson. “He kept us alive for two more nights.”
“They sent him down to the hood. That was great,” Williams laughed. “He thinks he’s now a ‘homie.'”
It’s a shame the world lost Williams almost two years ago. If he were still alive today, his reenactment of a supposed meeting between Quayle and Trump would have been comedy gold.