Two Harvard Freshmen, Jess Bravin (now at the Wall Street Journal) and Peter Sagal (now at NPR), had convinced the actor who played Robin, Burt Ward, to speak on campus. The invitation was something of a lark, to see if the administration could be convinced to treat an icon of frivolous pop culture as a serious academic.
O'Brien was not involved with the invitation, but was president of the Lampoon, and devised a scheme to interfere.
Ward faced a lecture hall "jammed" with 250 students, the Boston Globe reported at the time, and he brought his costume, attached to a mannequin. O'Brien approached him before the speech. Here's how he described the conversation in 1998 to Playboy:
We went dressed as security guards. I said, "Mr. Ward, I've been sent by the dean to safeguard the costume."
As if it were the Shroud of Turin. But the guy is humorless. "Yes, very good. That costume is very valuable," he says.
Midway through the speech, O'Brien and the rest of the Lampoon crew cut the lights. Bravin described the theft:
They burst into the lecture Burt was giving and a huge fat guy dressed as the Penguin said in a heavy Boston accent, "Mistah Wahwd, when is a
secyoo-it-ee gahd not a secyoo-it-ee gahd?" Then the student security guards, who I had thought were somewhat suspicious, grabbed the mannequin with Burt's costume and ran out the hallway. Peter tackled them outside the lecture hall, but they outnumbered him and got away with it.
Bravin handled "hostage negotiations" with O'Brien the next day, which ultimately proved successful, but not before O'Brien had his fun with the aging star.
We proceeded to torment Burt Ward for hours on the phone, saying, "This is the Joker, hee-hee-hee. I've got your costume."
PLAYBOY: How did Burt react?
O'BRIEN: Robinlike. He said, "Return it or you will feel my wrath!"
PLAYBOY: Burt Ward used to tell reporters he had an IQ of 200.
O'BRIEN: He may be delusional.