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“The Will and Willie Show” tapes in Upper Rockridge

on September 26, 2009

A chocolate-brown pinstriped suit with a brown silk handkerchief folded seamlessly in the left breast pocket. Brown suede dress shoes and a gold pinkie ring that glinted in the spotlight as he strode on stage.

Willie Brown was here.

In a scene that felt more like a theatrical reenactment of a postprandial gathering of the politically savvy in a mansion parlor than a political talk show being taped on a high school stage, former San Francisco mayor Brown sat comfortably in a black chair atop an Oriental rug, and sipped from a plastic water bottle that dripped with condensation. Will Durst, the political satirist and comedian, joined Brown, along with producer Paul Wells to record an episode of “The Will and Willie Show,” a free-form political discussion that can be retrieved in podcast and video form at

Wednesday night’s taping took place at the College Preparatory School in Oakland’s Claremont area as part of the school’s LiveTalk series, a string of sponsored lectures geared toward parents, students and the community. Buttner Auditorium, the school’s main performance venue, glistened as though every surface had been carefully polished just moments before. A shallow mezzanine level wrapped around the main hall, where before the show people had gathered, mingling as they held plates loaded with cheese and fresh fruit and small plastic cups filled generously with red wine, before they descended to the lower level to take their seats. High school students chatted in hushed tones with their parents about their days.

As showtime approached the audience filed in, filling half the available seats in the relatively intimate auditorium. A sandy-haired teenager stood atop a tall ladder to the right of the stage, positioning a large spotlight to his liking, and a small team at the back of the auditorium waited patiently for their cue to start filming the show.

Four clip-on wireless microphones lay on a black coffee table onstage for the evening’s guests, and the show’s three stars joked as they took their seats and fiddled with their clip-on microphones, attaching each one to their lapels and carefully placing the wireless equipment at their sides.

Wells originally conceived of “The Will and Willie” show in 2004, hoping to produce a show that touched on serious political issues in a fun and irreverent way. Wells said he wanted to create a show that “balanced out” politics on the air by creating something that was neither “shrill nor pedantic” but showed the public a perspective that wasn’t as “far left” as some talk radio shows are.

And indeed, the show’s conversational tone was heavy on joking and yarn-spinning. The only thing missing from this scene of three men in suits, chuckling heartily about otherwise serious topics, was that each of them should have had a glass of whiskey in hand and thick pipe smoke circulating around them for ambience.

Tonight’s topics ranged from San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s new baby to health care reform, with several conversational detours in between. After Brown mentioned President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton’s upcoming trips to San Francisco next month for the Presidents Cup golf tournament, Wells joked that former President George W. Bush had “not once in his life set foot in the city of San Francisco.” (During his last visit to the Bay Area in 2008 he had landed at the airport — technically in South San Francisco — and headed straight south for fund-raising events.)

Through a roar of laughter and applause Brown interjected. “Now, his father came to San Francisco with some regularity,” Brown said. “I did a helicopter tour with him in ’89 after the quake to show him the damage and we landed on Crissy Field when my telephone rang.”

Pausing briefly, Brown continued. The ringing phone, according to Brown, was an urgent call from his office. Brown said he apologized and told his secretary he had to go because he was with the president, but his secretary wasn’t convinced.

After listening to this conversation for a while, Bush spoke up. “Do they not believe you’re with the president? Give me the phone,” Brown recalled Bush saying, then taking the phone and announcing into the receiver, “Young lady, this is the president.”

“You’re shitting me,” Brown recalls his secretary responding. The woman went on to suggest that Bush didn’t “sound like the president in the least” and that Brown, her boss, would never spend an intimate afternoon with the president. Brown said the president and his secretary went on to have a two-minute debate during which the president was unsuccessful in establishing his identity.

Wells, highly amused, asked Brown if he fired the woman for her outrageous behavior. Through roars of laughter from the audience, Brown said, “No, she got a raise!”

The rest of the night’s discussion hovered closely around San Francisco and California politics. Brown spoke about Newsom’s plan to run for governor and how Brown had recently replaced him at an engagement because he had to tend to his wife and new baby. But what really got the crowd’s attention was when Brown offered his thoughts on the name Newsom and his wife chose for the child: Montana Tessa Siebel Newsom.

“I think it’s a great name,” Brown said, “She’s named after the state of Montana… And now, well, he’s got 49 to go.”

The show maintained a light, irreverent quality, but took a more serious tone, albeit briefly, when Allen Michaan, owner of the Grand Lake Theater, made a guest appearance on stage during the last half of the show to talk about the parking debate addressed at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. The meeting went into the early morning hours of Wednesday and droves of Oakland residents and business owners spoke in hopes of rescinding a new parking measure that went to effect on July 1, extending meter hours, raising ticket fines and tightening up on enforcement for parking violations. Michaan was one of the many business owners present who took umbrage with some council members’ decision to abstain from voting on the issue.

Michaan, casually dressed in faded black jeans and a black blazer looked at Brown, Durst and Wells with a smile. “There’s a new joke going around in Oakland,” he said. “Want to know what it is?”

The three men gestured for him to proceed.

“How do you get a ticket in Oakland these days?” Michaan asked. “Stop your car.”

Wednesday night’s “Will and Willie Show” can be viewed at

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

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