It had become too easy to overlook Robin Williams, the actor. He won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting, which was way back in 1997. The last film I saw in which he made a strong impression was One Hour Photo from 2002, a thriller suited to Williams’ ability to convey isolation and obsession as the flipside of manic, comic anxiety. But I can’t think of a single movie in which he displayed the same high-wire, one-of-a-kind intensity of his stand-up routines or his many appearances on late night talk shows.
To troll through the YouTube archives of Robin Williams greatest bits is to be reminded of his utter, brilliant originality; his unique mastery of improvisation; his ability to freely riff from Shakespeare to poetry to current events to drugs, sex, rock & roll and rap; and his spot-on impersonations, including the best-ever of Jack Nicholson.
It is, frankly, a bit startling to revisit his old bits. To wonder at what point his galloping brain will jump the corral fence. To stare in awe at his hyperactive command of an audience. To be astonished at his skill in landing a series of pre-conceived punch lines within the whirlwind of his comic storm. The details are still out on his suspected suicide, but there can be no doubt that Robin Williams was one of the greatest comics to ever live.
Here are just a few moments from the online trove of Robin William’s comedy gigs:
His first appearance on The Tonight Show, in the early ‘80s, in which he still needed to prove himself to Johnny Carson, and then a decade later, when Carson saluted him as one of the funniest men alive.
There's a lot more on YouTube:
- A concert excerpt in which he explains the origins of golf.
- An 8-minute chunk of his 1983 Live at the Met performance, in which he speaks candidly, and hilariously, about alcohol and drugs.
- A Bush-Obama bit from a London performance, which includes a ghetto shoutout to Prince Charles in the audience.
- And one of his most recent full concerts, an HBO special in the late 2000s, ominously titled, Weapons of Self Destruction.
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