Review for Albany, NY

Performed on November 5, 2008 | Palace Theater

Robin Williams raucous, hilarious at the Palace

Originally published on November 5, 2008 | | written by Steve Barnes

ALBANY--Robin Williams took the stage at the Palace Theatre on Wednesday night repeating "The dream came true! The dream came true!," speaking the incantation like a gospel preacher. The soldout audience cheered and applauded, welcoming and clearly in agreement with the political sentiment but also, surely, happy to hear Williams engaged with topical material.

Williams stalked the Palace stage, sweating furiously and speaking in dozens of voices and accents, for almost 90 minutes, riffing on current events and hoary old subjects with equal verve. Those familiar only with his movie career might have been taken aback by Williams' frequent F-bombs and sexual talk, but the audience adored him whether he was being hackneyed--a bit about customer-service phone lines being staffed by Indians--or brilliantly skewed, as when he observed that if Osama Bin Ladin shaved his beard he'd look like Barbra Streisand.

In a hilarious moment near the beginning of the show, Williams quipped that Albany's perennially tan mayor, Jerry Jennings, is a "George Hamilton lookalike" with beef jerky for skin, and wondered if even one of Jennings' most private parts was tan. Jennings, in the audience down near the front, stood up and waved, seemingly as delighted as the audience--and Williams--by the exchange.

Williams has long been off drugs--and alcohol: "I went to rehab in wine country, to keep my options open," he said--but his mind and mouth still move like he's on amphetamines. Within two minutes he covered subjects as diverse as Jennings' tan, the Albany River Rats, Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson's blindness, Sarah Palin as a stripper, Michael Jackson seeming to have turned into Gollum from "Lord of the Rings" and the world financial crisis: "Saying the economy is sound is like saying fat people are healthy because they might exercise."

Comedians, like political cartoonists, will miss George W. Bush. He's both easy to parody and, these days and in blue-state New York, at least, unlikely to have sympathizers in the audience. Williams got big laughs with a variety of jabs at Bush: "He comes from a family where the smart brother is named Jeb," "Politics under Bush is like the Special Olympics: 'He finished a sentence! Good boy, W., good boy!'" and a shrewd bit that recast Bush trying to understand the $700 billion bailout plan as if he were the austistic-savant title character of "Rain Man."

Williams was exuberantly sexual with a sizable chunk of his material on Wednesday, all of it good-humored and barely any of it printable in a family newspaper, except for lines like this: "Decaf (coffee) is like masturbating with an oven mitt."

At least half of Williams' act wasn't notably fresh or insightful, especially when described or paraphrased, but his jokes and impressions come at such torrent's pace that you laugh almost in spite of yourself--whether he's pretending to be a Latin pontiff named Pope Enrique, or the devil talking to Dick Cheney, or actors from John Wayne to Gregory Peck to Elmer Fudd to Christopher Walken, all talking as if they were in porn movies. It is, after all, Robin Williams up there, his blazing mind throwing off funny sparks. It's a pleasure to see such an old pro at work.

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