Review for Ann Arbor, MI

Performed on October 30, 2009 | Hill Auditorium

Robin Williams goes blue in Ann Arbor

Originally published on October 31, 2009 | | written by Jenn McKee

On Friday night at Hill Auditorium, Robin Williams' stand-up comedy show, "Weapons of Self-Destruction," was sold out to such a degree that a scalper on State St. was practically pleading for extra tickets.

But local Williams fans had already had to wait since March, when the comedian/actor was originally scheduled to appear--heart surgery had temporarily derailed his tour--so most patrons held tight to their tickets.

Dressed in black, and backed by two video screens (thankfully, since his physicality is such a crucial part of his act), Williams kicked the night off by riffing on local themes, noting that "Coach Rodriguez is having extra practice sessions--not that they're really helping right now."

He also suggested painting a goal line around Detroit if we wanted to keep the Lions around, since they'd never cross it; and finally, he mentioned that former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick "makes Marion Barry look like Nelson Mandela."

While talking about marijuana, Williams offered one of his funniest observations of the night: "(Michael Phelps) got busted for smoking weed, and then they took him off a box of Frosted Flakes. This is a failure in marketing, my friends. If you're eating Frosted Flakes, and you're older than 10 years old, and it's after 10 in the morning, I'm going to take a wild guess and say weed may be involved."

Generally, Williams' 90-minute, decidedly adult set had several clever one-liners, and the comic's trademark manic energy carries a crowd a long way. But some of the show's topics felt familiar and predictable.

For example, jokes about earthquakes in California, television meteorologists, cats messing with dogs' heads, and constantly shrinking tech devices--and Bluetooth users specifically--seemed like stand-up retreads. And an extended segment on an imagined meeting to determine the layout of the human genitalia, while funny at times, hearkened back to Williams' own old bit about a stoned God putting together a platypus from disparate parts (from his brilliant, 1986 "Live at the Met" show).

Regarding politics, Williams had a few things to say about Bush, Cheney and Palin, but his fresher material focused on the current administration: "Joe (Biden) says things that makes people with Tourette's say, 'No!'" and "'Obama' is an old Kenyan word for Kennedy."

When addressing his personal struggles with addiction and recent health issues, Williams hit his mark pretty consistently. He reported that one powerful, painkilling drug he took after his surgery was the same drug that Michael Jackson used to help him sleep. "My doctor said that's like doing chemo because you're tired of shaving your head," Williams quipped.

And after an amusing discussion about how Viagra and heart surgery don't necessarily complement one another, Williams brought up his struggle with alcoholism, noting, "I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open."

"Weapons," like Williams' stand-up acts of old, relies heavily on scatological and sexually graphic humor, and Williams gleefully crosses the line into potentially offensive territory, occasionally assuming stereotypically Asian and Austrian (regarding Governor Schwarzenegger) accents and quoting the pick-up line, "Are your parents retarded? Because you are really special."

Yet occasionally, this bravado has its payoffs. Regarding a German talk-show appearance, wherein Williams was asked why he thought there wasn't much comedy in Germany, he responded, "Did you ever think it's because you killed all the funny people?"

Some visual effects came into play, via the video screens, for a cute bit about a professional baseball player who threw a no-hitter while on LSD; Williams offers his take on what that must have been like from the pitcher's perspective. And a wonderful moment of self-deprecation arrived when Williams described how, while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, his GPS system told him to turn right, and he replied, "No can do, Hal. I'm not that depressed, really"--which then prompted a smarmy GPS taunt about Williams' 1999 box-office dud "Bicentennial Man."

Given Williams' frenetic persona, the broad range of topics addressed in "Weapons"' set isn't surprising. Plus, some traditional stand-up elements--like a depiction of an infuriating, labyrinthine phone answering system, which allows Williams to wind up to a satisfying explosion--really work, as do many of Williams' best impressions.

Williams ended his encore by telling a joke in the voice of Walter Cronkite, in honor of the news anchor, whom he'd gotten to know through a Disney project; but that's not what had me cracking up. No, that honor went to Williams' depiction of Christopher Walken, as well as classic film stars John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck, speaking lines from an imagined porn film.

Such hysterical, imaginative moments remind you why Williams had been such a landmark, buzz-worthy comic early in his career. And clearly, he's still got a good many "Weapons" in his comedy arsenal.

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