At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday, December 8
Robin Williams is a spectacle to behold. There aren’t many people alive who are unfamiliar with his manic style of comedy. We’ve seen enough of his talk-show appearances and comedy specials over the years to know what to expect going into a live show. But still, the sheer volume-of words per minute, not decibels-is breathtaking.
Unfortunately, with Williams, that energy supersedes the material. You find yourself marvelling at how we ended up at women’s gymnastics, for example, so soon after Hurricane Ike. The pace of this jocular journey is so disorienting it’s like you’ve been blindfolded, then spun repeatedly.
My guess is that Williams’s triple-caffeinated delivery is a purposeful distraction to lead you off the scent of so many tired premises and borrowed jokes. The man is an entertainer more than an original comedic voice, and if you accept him on that level, you’ll get your money’s worth. But if you’re a frequent consumer of standup comedy, and comedy beyond the superstars, you’ll recognize much of the material; if not the specifics, then certainly the subject matter.
One of my favourite lines about the man was delivered by standup comic Steven Pearl, who said, “Robin Williams came into the club. He didn’t like any of my jokes so he stole my wallet.” But there are too many accusations of thievery in comedy today. Who said what when? Which came first, the chicken or the road it crossed? Chances are, Williams is just an unwitting sponge who soaks up ideas then squeezes out every last bit of humour. In his act, every trite street joke is mixed in with an original premise, and vice versa.
Case for the prosecution: Jean Chrétien not needing secret service when confronted by an intruder; snow-free Vancouver hosting the Winter Olympics; Barack Obama morphing into a gangsta at his inauguration; NASCAR being one left turn after another; Osama bin Laden still on the run even though he’s a six-foot-seven-inch Arab on dialysis; “sex with an alcoholic is like playing pool with a rope”; the wall that California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed being built by the very people it’s intended to keep out; hands-free-cellphone talkers looking like crazy homeless guys; and Lance Armstrong’s one ball being more aerodynamic. And I haven’t even mentioned the references to anal leakage; Viagra; pubic hair being curly so it won’t poke women in the eyes; Camilla Parker as a horse; and the Jack Nicholson and Christopher Walken impressions.
At the very least, a lot of these are some pretty overused bits; if you haven’t heard other comics sound off on these topics, then you probably don’t get out much. At the worst? I leave that up to the jury to decide.
On the other hand, Williams is a walking, fast-talking, crotch-grabbing homage to everyone, all for the price of a single ticket.