Review for London, UK (2)

Performed on November 13, 2008 | Gielgud Theater

Robin Williams is still a master of comedy

Originally published on November 14, 2008 | Evening Standard | written by Bruce Dessau

That's the way to do it. Last month America's Sarah Silverman delivered a disappointing, ill-planned short set. Not Robin Williams. In the past week, as well as entertaining Prince Charles, he prepared for his two solo shows with surprise warm-ups to stunned punters in tiny London clubs, including a converted toilet in Shepherd's Bush.

As a result he was match fit, armed with local references to Louis Walsh and Tessa Jowell ("what a great name"). He even had a riff about Ken Livingstone fiddling with the traffic lights. Not exactly topical but it revealed some effort.

The audience goodwill was handy because the bulk of the Weapons of Self Destruction show dealt with dime-a-dozen subjects: Bush's word-mangling, Sarah Palin, satnav, voicemail hell and various Popes. There were, however, frequent stand-out lines. On Palin: "Did Ronald Reagan have a kid with Posh Spice?"

His hairy-armed physicality gave these routines an edge. At 57 Williams is not as manic as in his pre-rehab years but he whizzed through accents, flicked his water bottle and jutted out his chin as he built to a terrific closing routine in which he imagined genitalia being designed by committee. There are better storytellers but Williams oozed the kind of charisma umpteen lesser clowns would kill for. Even when jokes were ordinary the Mr Punch lookalike telling them was clearly extraordinary.

Robin Williams at the Gielgud Theatre: an exuberant modern clown

Originally published on November 14, 2008 | The Telegraph | written by Dominic Cavendish

Is comedy impervious to the credit crunch?

How else to explain the insanity of this year, which has seen an unprecedented number of comics hitting the road, booking themselves into huge venues, charging top-whack and packing them in? It's as if when times are good, stand-ups are in demand; yet when things get rough, they're still regarded as a bread-and-butter essential. If only we'd been able to buy shares in the top names, we'd all be laughing now.

In early October, when the world's stock markets were in freefall, tickets to see Robin Williams perform his first live dates in London for 25 years were in greater demand than gold bullion. The asking price? £125 a pop. You could buy the whole of Williams's Hollywood film collection on DVD for that. Granted, these two rare appearances were arranged on the back of his turn at Prince Charles's 60th birthday gala--with the proceeds going to the Prince's Trust. But even so, that's a heavy investment to make to prove you're in on the joke.

To his credit, this not-so-young American, now in his mid-fifties, works hard for his money. His persona is frisky and eager-to-please, the kid at the back of the class who craves our indulgent attention, and from the moment he acknowledges the audience's welcoming applause, cavorting about in a mock-balletic style, every fibre of his being is harnessed to generating a laugh a minute.

He's dressed in low-key black trousers and shirt but what he is, of course, is an exuberant modern clown--quick with the physical slapstick, quicker still with the verbal wit. At their best, his one-liners are bubbles of pure originality: "When the Iraqis were having trouble writing a constitution, we should have said: 'Take ours, we're not using it.'"

"The Chinese even make the Free Tibet stickers" gets the measure of the new world order in eight words, and false optimism about alternative fuel sources is punctured in a phrase: "They talk about hydrogen. I will just say one word and leave it with you: Hindenburg."

On balance, I'd have preferred more about politics and less about porn. There's a lot of elaborate bawdy riffing on the subject of male and female genitalia that just seems beneath him. And it wouldn't have hurt to mingle a few reflections on the Hollywood high-life with his down-with-the-people jibes about texting, hands-free kits and automated phone services.

These are minor quibbles, though. I'm glad I was there. I hope he comes again.

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