Save for some solid dramatic roles, Robin Williams' screen career has largely gone from Mork to mawkish.
But anyone expecting Mrs Doubtfire: Live from the comedy superstar's madly entertaining stand-up show at Vector (only the second comedian to fill the place, after Bill Connolly) was going to be in for a shock.
A rude crude shock. He quite possibly out-swore Connolly, which is no mean feat. And his routine--equal parts political, pharmaceutical, sexual and scatological--seemed calibrated for maximum coarseness.
Perhaps it was to remind us that he was once a free-thinking, edgy, live comedy wonderboy before his Disney-fication. And an influential figure to any comedian since who thought there can be more to stand-up than just getting to the punchline.
But it worked a treat, right from the start when Aussie duo the Umbilical Brothers proved the perfect curtain-raiser, their combo of sound effects, mimic and mime neatly projecting to the distant back rows (quite literally, you had to be there) and making fine use of the Schwarzenegger impersonation which they've dragged across the Tasman a few times before.
And Williams dragged them back for an Ah-nuld revival during his encore.
Ninety minutes earlier, Williams bounced on stage to start a routine that quickly found its high gear and barely let up throughout.
True, some jokes had gone long past their best-before--that one about Bono at the end? Didn't Connolly do that? And now it's an elephant dying every time he claps his hands, not an African child?
There were some fluffed lines too. Like a mix-up between Jeb Bush of Florida and George W. of Texas, as well as Sarah Palin being able to see Alaska from her backyard. Uh, she can. Oh, and in a rapidfire routine about what if movie stars yesteryear had done porn, his Gregory Peck sounded a lot like Sean Connery.
But his John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, as well as the encore of venerated American newsreader Walter Cronkite telling a blue joke from another era, were terrific.
It was all in the delivery, and the more characters Williams juggled, the funnier it was--whether it was your cat psyching out your dog about being man's best friend, an impression of a coven of tweens texting and tweeting each other, or possibly best of all, a team from God's Intelligent Design consultancy working on human genitalia.
One or two of his own movies came in for some amusing attention along the way, too.
But while his lesser flicks have made many tire of Williams' schtick, live in Auckland, this long-time King of Comedy reclaimed his crown.
To begin with, the Aussies take centre stage at Auckland's Vector Arena, with The Umbilical Brothers opening this sell-out event. The pair of Australian physical comics performs an absolutely unique routine of sound effects and mime, with their impeccable timing and practised physicality only being matched by wild imagination and originality. A microphone has never been done such justice.
The Umbilical Brothers are a complementary coupling with Robin Williams, as their strength lies so much in their visual performance with its genius sound effects rather than with their witticisms; whereas, Robin Williams is all rapid-fire words and one-liners.
His Weapons of Self Destruction has no through-line. It's just Robin Williams' stream-of-consciousness--on porn, cats, weed, weather, Arnold Schwarzenegger... which is somehow like a group of power-walkers in thongs, letting off as they see fit. And it's bloody funny.
After recent open-heart surgery and a battle with alcoholism, you might expect the 59 year old comedian to have mellowed some. But his relentless energy is simply incredible, and it's a mission just to keep up with him. His humour in this show is bold and ballsy (literally), with some highlights including a parody of intelligent design, where we witness the justification of the reproductive system; and a sketch about Darwin's opinion of Australia, which amounts to: "I'm wrong. I don't know what I was thinking."
Incidentally, this little sketch about Australia, along with Williams' ecent comment on the David Letterman show that "Aussies are basically English rednecks" had Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd up in arms. Rudd responded that Williams "should spend a bit of time in Alabama before he frames comments about anyone being particularly redneck," which--hilariously--prompted the governor of Alabama, Bob Riley, to formally defend the Alabamian people. Ahh...
Williams really shouldn't be taken so seriously, particularly when he's the kind of comedian to compare being a functioning alcoholic to being a paraplegic lap-dancer. [This sold-out tour of Australia and NZ being over, license is allowed for once in revealing some punchlines - ED]
Evolution becomes home base during the evening, when Williams' penchant for determining how certain species were created is indulged. Kangaroos are the result of a Llama loving up a Velociraptor. Obama = Martin Luther King and Spock. Sarah Palin = Ronald Reagan and Paris Hilton. And he loves juggling the leftover parts--the parts evolution didn't anticipate; the two remaining 40-year-old sperm that escape during Viagra-induced sex, screaming: "I thought the war was over"; the bit of turkey neck the Intelligent Design people managed to recycle; the deleted scenes where Mrs. Doubtfire takes off the rubber gloves; the missile launcher Margaret Thatcher has for a vibrator.
Williams is a stand-up great. Only a few of us have evolved to be able to stand in front of twelve thousand people and to make them laugh non-stop for an hour and a half; and that is some leap in species development.
Sometimes a support act can feel like a last minute addition bolted onto a show, some acts just don't belong together, but having The Umbilical Brothers opening for Robin Williams at Vector Arena was genius.
The Aussie duo warmed the crowd up with their special blend of physical mime, slapstick comedy and vocal sound effects.
They weren't afraid to make fun of the people in the back, telling them they should have bought their tickets sooner, and took the mickey out of Vector's history of sound problems by repeating everything they said (although on the night none were present, if anything the volume was a little too loud).
After an energetic opening from the pair, Williams arrived on stage, dressed in a black short-sleeved shirt and pants and accompanied by four massive video screens.
From the moment he opened with a joke about flying over from the United States on Qantas, Vector was awash with laughter.
The set ups came thick and fast as Williams paced back and forth across the stage like a wind up toy, brimming with energy.
The audience rocked with laughter as Williams hurled around expletive laden punchlines.
The veteran comedian covered a dizzying array of topics; sex, drugs, US politics, Lindsay Lohan, natural disasters and religion were all given the Williams treatment.
There were plenty of digs at Australia, with Williams noting, "The platypus is proof that God did inhale."
Williams also included new material about New Zealand, heaping praise on sheep dogs and their ability to do anything including online banking.
As the name of the tour suggests, Weapons of Self Destruction is something of a personal exorcism for the 59-year-old comedian.
His alcoholism and recent heart problems did not escape his humour and there were digs at his film career (Bicentennial Man).
At times it was like being on a runaway train, trying to keep up with his pace and delivery.
Sometimes it seemed even Williams was taken by surprise by some of his tangents, saying during a skit about raccoons and recycling, 'I don't know why the raccoons became Irish, but it works'.
His full arsenal of accents came out, and Mrs Doubtfire paid a visit as a porn star.
At the end of a whirlwind hour and a half Williams seemed truly pleased by the reaction from his audience, but those leaving early to beat the Vector rush paid the price.
"No really, it's ok, you can go," Williams noted, before bringing the Umbilical Brothers back on stage to perform together in a skit dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Williams proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with.