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.