Saturday, October 11, 2014
Reality...What a Concept - Robin Williams
Casablanca NBLP 7162
A post for the late Robin Williams. I think the three greatest comedians of my youth were Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Robin Williams. They hit their prime while I was in high school and college and entertained me countless times. What I especially liked about them was that they were not only funny, but they made me think as well. Although I liked some of Williams' movies as well as his television series "Mork and Mindy" I think that scripted entertainment was not Williams' strength even though he was a fine actor. I liked him best in situations where his manic imagination and improvisation skills could run free, namely stand-up comedy and appearances on talk shows. This was Williams' first record album, taken from stand-up performances at the Copacabana in New York City and the Boarding House in San Francisco. Of course records can't capture the visual side of Williams' humor, but his routines still come across pretty well. The record opens with some bantering with the audience before launching into "Nicky Lenin" featuring Williams' Russian impersonation which is one of the funniest routines on the record. It concludes with some rapid fire random jokes including a reference to Fritz Lang's film "M" (which nobody in the audience gets) followed by his fabulous Martian haiku "red sand between my toes, summer vacation in outer space" as well as some other weird poems which provoke the comment that provides the album's title "wow reality what a concept." Fabulous stuff, Williams at his best. "Pop Goes The Weasel" is an extended routine parodying "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" with Mr. Rogers as a maniac and "Firing Line" with William F. Buckley analyzing "Goldilocks." I don't find it very funny but it is engaging just experiencing the weird tangents Williams' mind goes to as well as hearing his excellent impersonation of Buckley. "Kindergarten of the Stars" pokes fun at privileged rich kids. It is a funnier bit and has more great voices. "A Touch of Fairfax" finds Williams impersonating a crabby, old Jewish man selling girlie magazines and snorting cocaine. It is really funny and over way too soon. Side one ends with "Reverend Earnest Angry" in which Williams portrays a southern preacher. It is mostly lame and goes on way too long, maybe you had to be there to appreciate it. It is funny though when a guy in the audience wants to kiss Williams and he starts riffing on homosexuality. Side two opens with the highlight of the record, the amazing "Shakespeare (A Meltdowner's Nightmare)." Williams asks the audience for some topical subjects to improvise around. Someone suggests Mork which makes Williams react in comical horror. Eventually he gets the topics of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and Studio 54. Williams proceeds to make up a Shakespearean style play constructed around the topics with lots of funny detours on the way. It is classic Williams, such a brilliant comic mind. "Tank You, Boyce" is a short bit with Lawrence Welk talking jive talk. "Roots People" is an absurdly condensed version of the mini-series "Roots." "Hollywood Casting Session" features a bug auditioning for Kafka's "The Metamorphosis." "Come Inside My Mind" is a crazy trip inside of Williams' mind as he argues with himself about how well his routine is going. Williams' manic bravura performance is another album highlight for me. The album ends with "Grandpa Funk" in which Williams portrays an old man in some post-apocalyptic future reminiscing about the past. It is a rambling routine but consistently entertaining, occasionally even hilarious and concludes with a touching homage to Lord Buckley where he quotes his statement "people they're kind of like flowers, it's been a privilege walking in your garden." For me it is a poignant moment. The privilege was mine as well. I think we were all blessed that Williams chose to walk in our garden and nurture us with his wit and imagination. He was a unique talent and I'm grateful for the time he shared with us. Recommended to surrealists with a sense of humor.