With a line wrapping around the Chapel Quad and a jam-packed Page Auditorium awaiting his wisdom and humor, jack-of-all-trades Ben Stein met high expectations in an hour-and-a-half long speech Saturday afternoon.
The Stein resume is a lengthy one--valdectorian of Yale Law School; speechwriter for presidents Richard Nixon, Law '37, and Gerald Ford; former host of "Win Ben Stein's Money;" economist; author of seven novels and nine nonfiction books; and the teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"--but he has recently managed to tack on one more line: rap music lover.
"I am representing for all the gangsters all over the world," Stein said, borrowing a page from the book of recent speaker John Stossel with the tennis-shoe/power-suit combo. "I could barely drag myself away from Dr. D-R-E."
Lavishing praise on Rick's Diner and the Duke University Improv troupe, Stein spent the first half hour telling eight jokes, soundly thrashing the likes of Rev. Jerry Falwell, President Bill Clinton, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland, trial lawyers, Jewish wives and Catholic schoolgirls. Judging by the ubiquitous laughter, however, no one seemed to mind.
Inspired by his son Tommy, who he described colorfully as a hopeless former addict to the role-playing video game Everquest, Stein wrote "How to Ruin Your Life," and he related its wisdom to the audience.
"Don't learn any useful skills," Stein admonished. "Just watch re-runs of 'The Simpsons,' or 'King of the Hill,' or 'Married With Children.'"
Other sound advice included convincing oneself that one is the center of the universe, always criticizing, having a romantic relationship with someone with many personal problems, saving no money, hanging out with "losers," using alcohol and drugs freely and ignoring one's family.
But it was a simple two-word phrase, Stein recalls, that saved his son: boarding school. Stein and his wife sent Tommy to the Cardigan Mountain High School in Canaan, N.H., where he soon blossomed into a star wrestler and football player.
Stein then reversed his facetious path to failure with a list of advice he said he wished he knew as a college student.
His thoughts included approaching life with an attitude of gratitude, stopping to smell the roses, falling in love, doing less work--a comment specially tailored for Duke students, avoiding unlucky people, taking pride in good manners, not stealing and valuing life. Stein also spoke at length about the importance of his family.
"I have an awful lot of material goods, but none of them would mean a thing if I didn't have my wife with me," he said. "She has got to know that in this lonely, atomized world, somebody cares for her: the person who should care for her--her husband."
The most important document Stein has, he said, isn't the degree from Yale--it's a 1998 fax from his father saying how great a son he was.
In the speech's most touching moments, Stein recalled sitting in the hospital with his ill father, who could not speak, reading him details about the Washington Redskins and golf tournaments.
"It is a very rare thing in this world for a child to be truly devoted," Stein said.
For 45 minutes after the speech, Stein lightened things up again by reciting his lines from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," answering questions about former "Win Ben Stein's Money" co-host Jimmy Kimmel and advising students to use connections to get ahead. Stein also speculated on his chances for replacing Nan Keohane as president of the University. (He said he is not interested in the position.)
Sophomore Rahul Satija said he enjoyed the event.
"It was powerful, a good mix between humor and the important things," Satija said. "I didn't like the political mix-ins... but it's his choice."