The 2018 Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Series came to an unexpected end Monday, April 9, with the appearance of Ali Wentworth as a replacement for Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani. Perhaps not too many in the audience at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Monday morning were disappointed. Girl coders? Interesting and important. Girl comedians? Probably more entertaining.
Of course, Wentworth, who’s appeared on TV in In Living Color and Seinfeld, and in films like Jerry Maguire, Office Space and It’s Complicated, is more than “just” a comedian. She’s also an author (Ali in Wonderland, Happily Ali After and her new, hot-off-the-presses Go Ask Ali), mother of two girls, and wife to ABC journalist and Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos. And, BTW, she’s also the daughter of Mabel “Muffie” Brandon Cabot, former social secretary to Nancy Reagan, who happens to live on Longboat Key.
“We come to visit here, and we love it,” said Wentworth at a pre-lecture media briefing. “If she lived in Siberia, we probably wouldn’t see her as much. When we’re here we go to the farmers market and the beach. We looked at buying a house on Longboat,” but with husband George’s current working schedule, it isn’t in the cards for now.
Once on the Van Wezel stage, Wentworth quickly warmed up her audience, joking that with previous Town Hall speakers like historian Jon Meacham and Gen. David Petraeus, “I’m a natural fit. You know, everyone thinks George is so smart, but he didn’t even know where the Middle East was until I met him.”
Wentworth went on to tell the story of that first meeting, which took place not long after she had broken off an engagement of eight years. A friend offered to set her up with Stephanopoulos, but she originally said, “No, thank you. Isn’t he gay? He’s 40 and not married.” She agreed to meet him for lunch at Barney’s in New York City, figuring it could make a good dinner party story. “I had no expectations,” she said, showing up for the date “without showering or shaving my legs.” But by the end of the lunch, “We were very smitten.” The couple was engaged in two months, married in six, and are now in their 17th year of marriage.
Wentworth entertained the audience with tales of the seemingly odd alliance between someone with her WASP-y background and Stephanopoulos’. “When you marry a Greek person, you basically marry the country,” she joked. She talked of wanting a small, casual wedding, but her mother-in-law presented her with a guest list of about 2,400. “I said, ‘Can’t you pare it down a little?’ And she said, ‘That is pared down.’”
Despite any cultural differences, however, it’s clear that the two have a solid marriage and family. Partly that may be due to Wentworth’s assertion, “I’m a wife and mother first. I’m not conflicted about that. Any other stuff that comes along” has to work around those two roles.
Wentworth’s humor is self-deprecating enough to make anecdotes about attending a Christmas party at Donald Rumsfeld’s house or walking down a New York street with friend Jerry Seinfeld relatable and not name dropping. And that humor, she says, is what she brings to her marriage. “I try to bring laughter and humor in whenever I can,” she says. “George has been covering politics for a long time, and without humor, life can be dark. My dirty little secret is that I’m happily married.”