The actor-comedian's "Weapons" tour returns him to his roots on the stand-up stage
You interview Robin Williams and try keeping your composure.
Never mind that he's the top-grossing stand-up act in the world and an Oscar-winning actor who has starred in an eclectic mix of critical and commercial hits. Between the rapid-fire wit and the funny voices, you can't stop yourself from giggling and guffawing during a phone conversation with the comedian, who will perform here for the first time at Blaisdell Arena on Nov. 22.
And was that a snort? Please.
Bigger laughs are assured for those who attend his "Weapons of Self Destruction" one-man show, as he riffs on health care, politics, porn, religion, marriage, hybrid cars and the other topics.
Williams will be flying in for his first formal concert in the isles after touring New Zealand and Australia. Honolulu is the last stop on the tour, which has taken him to 65 cities for more than 100 shows.
"I think I played comedy clubs (in Hawaii) when I was vacationing, but I don't think I've ever done a live, total stand-up gig there. So we'll see, it will be great," he said in the interview from Melbourne. "It will also be good on the way back home to end the tour in Hawaii. Like, aaah, back in America. Mahalo."
Local fans have had to be content following Williams' career on the big screen or via his HBO specials. His most recent movies include the low-budget, dark comedy "World's Greatest Dad," written and directed by fellow comedian and friend Bobcat Goldthwait, which was released last year to solid reviews but scant box office. Williams, 59, won a supporting actor Oscar for his role as a therapist in 1997's "Good Will Hunting" and received best-actor nominations for "The Fisher King" (1991), "Dead Poets Society" (1989) and "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987).
With his film career flourishing, the comic took a 16-year break from the stand-up scene before hitting the road in 2002. That tour culminated in the Emmy-nominated HBO special "Robin Williams: Live on Broadway."
The comedian, who has battled alcohol and drug problems, underwent open-heart surgery in March 2009 to replace an aortic valve - an experience that provided material for his latest stand-up act and a new perspective on life.
"It really gives you a great appreciation of little things, like breathing," he said.
Williams explains he didn't need much encouragement to go back on tour after major surgery. Just a few months afterward, he recorded another HBO stand-up special last December at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington.
"I took three months off, and after the three months I was like, 'I think I can do this.' One night I went on stage a little early, about a month or two into the recovery time, and I was out of breath and I went, 'Not ready, not ready. Warning,'" he said.
"Then after the three months, I went, 'No, I can do it.' It's slightly slower than I was before but not by much. Only a few people would notice, but you do take it a little bit slower."
WHAT HASN'T SLOWED is Williams' perceptive take on social issues and current events or his high-energy delivery. Those who remember him from early in his stand-up career when he pinballed from joke to joke and at times appeared possessed by demons will find Williams' new act less manic but no less hilarious. The comic still uses foreign accents and those funny voices to elicit laughs, but with purpose, and his routines seem more linear and on point - very barbed point.
"I've broadened it a little more. ... Some of it's political, some of it's personal, some of it's just general. It's that mix of all of that that kind of makes it interesting.
"In stand-up you can talk about things that if you just talk about them on the street, people might go, 'Hey, get away from me.' In a weird way you have this license to talk about things, and if it works, great; if it doesn't then it's a painful moment but that even sometimes is comedy, too."
Fans are forewarned that "Weapons" is R-rated. Williams freely drops F-bombs, and his concert album carries a "Parental Advisory" label.
"Don't come thinking it's going to be Mork. Leave that at the door. It's adult content. If language is a problem, don't come," he said, that last bit sounding like your prim Aunt Gladys.
Also new is a neatly trimmed graying goatee Williams has been sporting on recent tour stops, although whether the Honolulu audience will see it appears in doubt.
"I think I might lose it soon. I'm starting to look like a Civil War re-enactor. ... People think, 'What are you doing, 'Freud, the Musical'?"
WHILE DOWN UNDER, Williams worked jokes about well-known Aussies, including koalas, kangaroos and Mel Gibson, into his routine. He said he sometimes attempts to localize his humor before lobbing grenades at American culture and politics.
"Hillary Clinton's down here, and Julia Gillard is the prime minister of Australia, so it's like dueling pantsuits. It's pretty interesting," he said.
Williams, who's "totally" a hard-core video gamer, said he is looking forward to trying out Kinect, Microsoft's new hands-free, motion-sensor gaming system, when he returns stateside. His favorite game? "Always 'Call of Duty,' and I am getting owned by an 11-year-old. 'You're mine, bitch!'" said Williams, slipping into a high-pitched voice.
"It's weird, when I've been over doing shows in Afghanistan, I see guys off duty playing 'Call of Duty' and I'm going, 'You're playing the real game, man.'"
Technology, from GPS devices in cars to social media, is a favorite target in "Weapons," and Williams said it's hard sometimes not to feel like that cranky, old guy complaining about kids today. "Your mother and I weren't online, we DID lines," he said in character, referring to the white powdery stuff.
"It's pretty strange with the Wii. I had a joystick growing up, except mine was attached," he said. "All this technology, it's so interactive. You're walking into a room and it's, 'Good morning. It's time to play the game.'"
After his Honolulu concert, Williams will return to his home in San Francisco. He's considering a movie role he's not yet free to discuss, and in another career stretch, Williams will make his Broadway debut in the spring, starring in "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," a play written by Rajiv Joseph, set during the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"The allure is it's a really interesting play. ... I was near Broadway in 'Waiting for Godot' with Steve Martin, and that was really fun. And it's a weird thing - this play is kind of like that play," he said.
Question: You've had so much success in so many areas, why go on tour? What does it do for you?
Answer: You earn money the old-fashioned way, in person. It's great as a comic that I have that access. It was always if there's no television or movie work you just go back, and, OK, I'll go back and go door to door, literally. It's how I started. It was one of the first things I did that I made money at. It's like, OK, I'll go back to it.
Q. But it must be pretty grueling.
A. Oh, totally. When I did the tour before (the HBO special), I did 80 cities in America, England and Canada. Yeah, it takes it out of you. As Chris Rock said, "It's the long program. You gotta train like a boxer."
Q. The title of your tour is "Weapons of Self Destruction." What does that refer to?
A. It's a little bit to do with everything that's gone on in the country and with myself. Between rehab and heart surgery and all that other stuff, it's pretty much pushing the envelope, as they say.
Q. You do a very funny bit on twittering. Do you use social media?
A. None at all. I twittered once, and it was like, that was it. I said, "I'm on the road," and someone said, "I know. I'm sitting at a table nearby," and I went, "Oh, god." And it was just like, "Buh-bye." ... I just don't have any desire to share every detail of my life. It's my life. I don't want to be going, "Having breakfast. Going well."
Q. You mentioned comedy and politics. Why do think comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are having such an impact on the political scene?
A. They're paying attention to them because it's the only antidote to Fox News. I think it's kind of like the idea that a lot of young people get their news from "The Daily Show" or even Colbert because they're going, "There's so much spin out there." There's the idea that someone is using comedy to look at how crazy this is. It just gives it a tiny bit more perspective. That's why they're paying attention to it, because they're going, "This is pretty wild stuff going on." A woman's running for office and she's going, "I am not a witch." Oh, cool. If you're a wizard that would be better, yes? On the Harry Potter platform.
Q. What are your favorite films from your own movie career?
A. "Dead Poets Society," "Awakenings," "The Fisher King," "The Birdcage," "World's Greatest Dad," "One Hour Photo." It's an interesting mix.
Q. Is it hard to find movie roles that interest you?
A. Now at 59, I'm getting a lot of character roles. That's OK, baby. That's fine. ... The last movie I did, "World's Greatest Dad," was with a friend, and that was one of the best experiences I've ever had. ... You just find them everywhere: independent, mainstream, and I still love doing voices for animation, so that's another part of me that's fulfilled on that level.