Apparently, Robin Williams tried to quit caffeine in, of all places, Seattle. "That's like trying to quit cocaine in Colombia," quipped Williams during his first-ever stand-up gig in Montreal, Thursday (Nov. 20) at Place des Arts.
Clearly, Williams was unsuccessful in kicking the coffee habit. But as anyone in the sold-out crowd at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier will surely attest, Williams probably has enough caffeine coursing through his system to keep him conscious for decades. He doesn't need any more. And he certainly doesn't need any of Colombia's fabled yet illicit marching powder, either.
Is this man wired or what? (They must have to strap him to some hidden cables to keep him from floating off the stage.) From the moment he hit the stage, the motormouth was in high gear and didn't stop the machine-gun-like verbiage barrage until nearly two hours later. Come to think: he didn't even come up for air until he left the stage. But I don't know who was more exhausted at the end of the evening: the audience or him?
You probably wouldn't want to live with Williams--he appears to be on all the time. But sharing a couple of hours with him is equivalent to a high of the poison of your choice. And between his impressions and insights, he is pretty much a non-stop howl.
Williams is in the midst of his first stand-up tour in six years. And his 2002 tour had been his first since 1982. Inquiring minds would probably want to know why Williams doesn't quit doing the mawkish movies he does--where do I begin: Death to Smoochy, Jakob the Liar, Artificial Intelligence, Fathers' Day, Flubber, Robots, RV, et al--and focus entirely on his stand-up. Here's a clue: He doesn't call his current tour Weapons of Self Destruction for nothing. Full-time stand-up would likely kill him. He doesn't go through the motions. He gives it his all, always.
Williams is not to be confused with the understated, surrealist, cutting-edge cerebral wits much in vogue today--like Zach Galifianakis, Demetri Martin and Mike Birbiglia. Tommy Tiernan has a similar tempo to Williams's, but the Irish wit is way more barking-made. Nor is Williams to be confused for the other great comedy icon of our times, Jerry Seinfeld. Unlike the latter, Williams doesn't ruminate much about nothing--he tackles the issues of the day.
And unlike Seinfeld, Williams will alter his act while on the road. He will adjust to each crowd and city. Williams definitely did his homework before coming to Montreal. The beginning of his act was peppered with local and national references:
"Montreal--a little Paris, a little Brooklyn. Way to go. The city will be great--when you finish building it... I love your Olympic Stadium--it's the only place where the fans in the stands are the ones who have to wear the helmets... Alouettes vs. Stampeders? Sounds like a Discovery Channel show... Poutine--why don't you just deep-fry it and serve it with a defibrillator? Cold enough for you here? My nipples are hard enough to cut glass..."
How's that for a Montreal mouthful? Williams even dove into dangerous political waters. On Quebec separatists: "It's like a kid who says: 'F--- you, dad! But can I borrow the car?'" On Stephen Harper: "Do not listen to my speeches and operate heavy machinery."
Williams was, however, ebullient over "the dream come true" in his country--a brand new day with Barack ("meaning blessing") Hussein ("don't ask") Obama: "America is out of rehab now. We're back. The Reign of Error is over." That, of course, is a reference to Dubya, for whom "a speaking tour is out of the question" next year. "Dubya comes from a family where the smart brother is called Jeb."
Nor can Williams resist Sarah Palin: "Did Ronald Reagan have a kid with Paris Hilton?"
Williams doesn't shy away from discoursing on the environment and the current economic crunch, either: "The Chinese are making everything these days--even the 'Free Tibet' stickers."
He brought the house down with his views on booze: "Nothing more fun than sex with an alcoholic... it's like playing pool with a rope." Then he absolutely killed with his closer, Creationist sex, which will go down in the annals as a comedy classic--and none of which can be repeated in a family newspaper. Get the DVD when it comes out.
TORONTO--And the 2008 award for best pandering to the locals by a visiting A-list comic goes to--Robin Williams!
On the first of two sold-out nights at Toronto's Massey Hall, the formidable standup comic and sometime Oscar-winner managed to mock our recent non-election ("Congratulations on the no-f---change vote. $300 million to say "Let's leave things just the way they are."), our bland PM, our politeness, the Grey Cup at Montreal's decrepit Olympic Stadium ("one of the only stadiums in the world where the fans have to wear helmets"), the traffic ("Toronto--an ancient Indian word for--construction"), the separatists ("F--- you, we want to leave--but... can we keep the cash?") and, of course, the fact that we used to have two teams named Roughriders (or Rough Riders).
Seems they decided Rough Riders was 'too gay,' so the team from Ottawa is now known as 'the Brokeback Mountaineers.'
And oh yeah, he finished an encore set leading the crowd in a rousing chorus of 'O Canada.'
That all of this took up less than 10 minutes of a 100-minute set is not surprising, considering the way Williams sprays punchlines like an Uzi sprays bullets. Any comic can have a good set with great material. But Williams runs the gamut from transcendently brilliant bits (his 'Intelligent Design' riff, in which a committee designs the penis and the vagina) to outright hackery (a 'viral' Internet anecdote about Bono that three different people have e-mailed me this year), and shapes them all into some form of 'hilarious' in his comedy Cuisinart.
His teacher back at Juilliard, the late John Houseman, once told me he suspected Williams' comedy was meticulous organization masquerading as anarchy. But whichever side of his brain it comes from, on points of craftsmanship Williams deserves to be in included in the pantheon of still-living standup greats. When I see him onstage, I'm willing to forgive any of his movies, even RV.
Though nothing in his current Weapons of Self Destruction tour (his first in six years) matches, say, his classic How The Scottish Invented Golf bit, his out-of-the-blue rumination on how-the-hell Dock Ellis tossed a no-hitter (back in 1970) while on LSD, comes close--a rapturously funny evocation of baseball hallucinations that would have scared Hunter Thompson to an earlier death.
Given recent events, there were subjects it would be impossible to stay away from--Obama, Sarah Palin ("the difference between her and Cheney is when she shoots you, you stay f---ing dead"), George Bush's future ("Obviously a speaking tour is out of the question--maybe NASCAR"), the economy (apparently they'll be putting Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on the 20 dollar bill and replacing 'in God We Trust' with 'Trust Me'), and the Beijing Olympics, which inspired an almost feverishly gynecological analysis of women's gymnastics.
Add to that hurricanes, the snotty English voice of his GPS, Seattle, cats and dogs (see hackery, above), Bluetooth, Viagra, Satan, The Pope, gay marriage and an entire encore set about porn, and you have--pound for pound--the most bountiful set of comedy in the business. We're talking a veritable all-you-can-swallow buffet of premises.
Like they say in the infomercials, Williams show is all about 'Volume, volume, volume!' making him a veritable force of nature live, a quality that just doesn't replicate onscreen (as with Chris Rock, you don't know Robin Williams if you've only seen his movies). Sadly, he doesn't indulge himself live as much as Rock. If you don't get to see him on this tour, your choices are to hope for a cable special, or maybe wait another six years.