Robin Williams and David Steinberg make comedy look easy

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      At the River Rock Show Theatre on Friday, June 8. No remaining performances

      In this age of comedy nerdism, it’s not surprising that sit-down chats with famous comedians can sell out two shows in a 950-seat theatre. There has always been an audience, however small, for interviews with funny people, from Larry Wilde’s 1968 book Great Comedians Talk About Comedy, to TV’s Alan King: Inside the Comedy Mind, from 1990. Cut to 2012 and there are hundreds of comedy-related podcasts available that give us a peek behind the clown mask.

      Canadian comedian David Steinberg, who trails only Bob Hope for number of appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, has had two such television series: Sit Down Comedy With David Steinberg and his current project, Inside Comedy.

      On Friday and Saturday, he continued his question-asking ways on-stage at the River Rock Show Theatre with Robin Williams. Steinberg had either the easiest job in the world these nights, or the most difficult. The two comics are stylistically polar opposites: Williams is a notorious motor mouth, while the comparatively laconic Steinberg embraces the silence. In the 90-minute presentation, he was probably outworded by a factor of 100-to-one.

      So his job was seemingly no sweat: touch on a subject and watch Williams run with it. As he said himself, “You gotta hand it to me: I’m a good listener.” So it was a perfect host-subject symbiosis. But the challenge came in trying to be the Imodium to Williams’ verbal diarrhea. Once Mork gets going, it’s hard to stop him, leaving little time to touch on the many movies Steinberg wanted to get to.

      But we did learn lots about the actor’s early days, first as an only child in Detroit going to an all-boys private school, then blossoming when his family moved to San Francisco. Williams is the perfect guest to turn a sit-down conversation into organic comedy, because the guy is always on. He got serious at times but always kept it funny and engaging. When Steinberg clumsily commented, “Drugs were everywhere, so you can’t not be doing drugs,” Williams responded, “I can’t not and I did not,” before going into the problems he eventually developed with them and alcohol.

      While some were surely there to hear about his work in dozens of celebrated films, comedy junkies also got their fix when he lionized Jonathan Winters and discussed working on Richard Pryor’s short-lived 1977 prime-time variety show. There was even time for Mork & Mindy, the sitcom that shot the standup comic to stardom. As creator Garry Marshall told him, “It’s not Shakespeare, but you’ll be able to buy shit.”

      There wasn’t the back-and-forth repartee you might expect with two comedians, but Steinberg was able to get in one zinger on the Friday show. On the topic of Awakenings, the film about the famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, Williams said, “If you’ve ever worked with Tourettian people…”, to which Steinberg shot in: “I’m working with one tonight!”

      The pair hope to continue touring with this heightened dialogue. With any other subject, the idea would make no sense at all. But it’s doubtful Williams, the human Energizer Bunny, will ever run out of words.




      Jun 11, 2012 at 4:02pm

      Talking about comedy is incredibly dull. Writing about two comics talking about comedy is off the scale of dull.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 11, 2012 at 5:56pm

      Steinberg also had a brief, horrible run with a show in Canada in the 1970s called The David Steinberg Show. Its reruns are on view presently on, I believe, the Comedy Network's Comedy Gold.
      It is also the worst sitcom, Canadian or otherwise, ever made. Watch how he squanders the talents of John Candy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty, and Dave Thomas, the core of the brilliant, and future, SCTV.
      And note how Stenberg himself will never cause you to even crack a grimace, much less a smile.
      Never in your life will a laugh track sound so intrusive and out of place. It really is phenomenally awful.
      I've read that Steinberg takes credit for helping launch the careers of some of those SCTVers. That actually produced my first laugh ever from the man. Those great improvisers/comic actors earned everything on their own. They succeeded in <em>spite</em> of Steinberg.
      The only reason I can think that Johnny Carson had Steinberg on his show so many times is because, like Bob Hope, he would never offend an American's sensibilities in a million years, and everyone knew it.
      Safe as houses, you bet.

      Ian Boothby

      Jun 11, 2012 at 7:05pm

      The Steinberg show was the worst sit-com ever made? Someone hasn't seen The Trouble With Tracy or Check it Out. And as for talking about comedy being dull, you should let the world of podcasting know right away.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 11, 2012 at 7:30pm

      Hi, Ian:

      Ya, I've seen Don Adams's blooper reel of a show (but not the Tracy show). Actually, any blooper reel would be better than what he crapped out every week.
      However, do yourself a favour (so to speak) and watch a couple of Steinbergs. I think you might change your mind.
      And may the good lord have mercy on your soul.....

      Harry Doupe

      Jun 11, 2012 at 9:34pm

      To be clear and factually fair, Steinberg did actually say things that were not safe and did offend American sensibilities, and it took way less than a million years. It was one of his sermons that got the Smothers Brothers thrown off TV.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 11, 2012 at 11:00pm

      I don't usually comment this many times, but I will make an exception for you. Although you may be technically correct in saying that some people were offended by some things Steinberg once said about religion on the Smothers Brothers (actually, incredibly inoffensive and unfunny stuff about Moses, playing up the differences between Jewish faith and Christian Old Testament beliefs; look it up), he had no part in the show getting cancelled.
      It was Tommy and Dick's refusal to adhere to the network censor's schedule that ended up sinking them, that and their unpopular (to the government, Middle America, and CBS) stance on the Vietnam War, draft dodgers, the president, drugs, and, especially, their musical guests. You name it.
      But not David Steinberg, except in a very minor way. I read an interview where he said the Smothers Brothers got "thrown off the air" because of his sermon.
      He would never have dared say that in front of them.

      Harry Doupe

      Jun 11, 2012 at 11:54pm

      Just to follow up, nobody is saying that the Smothers Brothers didn't have problems with the censors and the networks previous to that, of course they did - Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, President Johnson, Vietnam - but Steinberg was the straw. You can't call it "a minor way" when his first sermonette prompted the most negative mail from viewers in the history of broadcast television to that point. Following that, the Brothers were told they could never have Steinberg on the show again, and then they booked him again. That show, with its new sermonette, was deemed unacceptable to the network who refused to air it, took the brothers off the air, and replaced it with Hee Haw. So the content of their show throughout its run, was what had them in trouble with the censors and the network, but Steinberg, and the Brothers refusal to compromise in regards to his booking, is what ended it for them. I'm sure the Brothers would have no problem having Steinberg say it in front of them, as he, they, and others have said it ever since.
      If you get a chance, David Bianculli's book on the show is an awfully good read. Cheers.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 12, 2012 at 3:09am


      No, not even close. I watched all those shows myself. You just came from Wikipedia.


      Jun 12, 2012 at 3:41pm

      Harry is correct, Martin is not. Oh, and Martin, chill out.


      Sep 1, 2012 at 10:55pm

      I suggest you get your facts straight.
      You seem way to bitter about Steinberg as well.
      So sad.