UPDATED with CBS statement: Robert De Niro, who appeared at the Tony Awards to introduce Bruce Springsteen’s performance of a contemplative, piano-accompanied version of “My Hometown,” burst out with two bluntly profane blasts aimed at President Donald Trump.
“I’m just going to say one thing,” De Niro said, wearing a scowl worthy of Jimmy Conway in GoodFellas: “F-ck Trump!” When the astonished audience broke out into a mix of laughter and gasps, he paused for a few seconds and then followed with, “It’s no longer ‘down with Trump.’ It’s ‘f-ck Trump!'” He then pumped both fists, Jake LaMotta-style. Many people in the crowd at Radio City Music Hall, having been thrown a piece of red meat toward the end of the three-hour show, jumped to their feet.
A CBS spokesperson issued a brief statement tonight: “Mr. De Niro’s comments were unscripted and unexpected. The offensive language was deleted from the broadcast.”
The network leaned on the bleep button heavily, so none of its viewers heard the unexpurgated version of his remarks (the show aired on tape delay in the West). But the live feed of the broadcasts being played in the press room was uncensored, leading to several Tony winners being asked about the head-snapping moment during their backstage press conferences.
“He’s Robert De Niro,” joked Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner. “Who’s going to argue with him?” Later, he offered more serious thoughts, agreeing with De Niro and saying, “This person should not be anywhere near the seat of power.”
The shocker lobbed a verbal Molotov cocktail into a show that had otherwise been light on Trump and politics. De Niro now has Broadway bona fides as the co-director of the recent adaptation of his film A Bronx Tale, so it made sense that he would provide some star power as a lead-in to Springsteen. But he was in some ways one of the least likely Tony speakers to break out his megaphone and deliver an R-rated political message. Even in the movie awards show settings where he has appeared most, De Niro usually sticks closely to the script and gives viewers little hint of his acting mastery during his stilted moments onstage. (Though at the non-televised National Board of Review gala last January, he did not hold back, calling the president the “jerkoff-in-chief,” among other names.)
Springsteen’s meditative performance unfolded with De Niro’s words practically still echoing off the back wall of Radio City. As he was speak-singing his memories of 20th century Freehold, NJ, audience members and viewers alike still were trying to make sense of what they had just seen.
De Niro, who has traded for decades on his tight-lipped, once-press-shy image, has come out of his shell during the Trump era. The Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded, became a platform this spring for several of his anti-Trump broadsides. De Niro kicked off the festival by labeling Trump the “lowlife-in-chief.”
The Tony moment quickly made the social-media rounds, of course. (What time is it in North Korea? Hmmm.) Here are a few of the immediate reactions, including reports of an uncensored airing in Australia: