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Q&A: Robin Williams Discusses His Return To Stand-up Comedy And More

December 4th, 2009 10:00am EST | Fred Topel By: Fred Topel favorite Add to My News
Robin Williams Discusses His Return To Stand-up Comedy

Robin Williams makes his return to stand-up comedy in an HBO special airing this weekend. We'll get to see his full set Sunday night, but we spoke with him over the summer while he was just prepping.

In a year filled with celebrity deaths, scandals about our president's birth certificate and health care debates, Williams is sure to have plenty of material. He began trying out zingers in front of the Television Critics Association in August. He conceded it was a tough room and he had a lot more work ahead of him.

Then there's Williams' own history, with recent health problems threatening his performance schedule. Williams persevered, and the stand-up special Weapons of Self Destruction, airing Sunday, Dec. 6 on HBO, is the proof.

What have you made of the recent scandals like the birthers?

Robin Williams: The birth certificate thing to me is so wild because she gets so angry and you're going, "Not only does he have a birth certificate. He has a birth announcement." Wooly Brown, you know Wooly Brown? He used to be mayor of San Francisco. He said, "I don't have a birth certificate. I was born in a cabin in Alabama. But I know I was born there and the people in the neighborhood remember me. So it's like how many distractions can you see and go, "What are the real issues?" The real issues are health care.

What were your thoughts on the passing of Michael Jackson?

For me, it was sad. It was just a sad, kind of lonely event. For years of making fun of him, I felt really bad because it used to be making fun of Michael Jackson's like bitch slapping a paraplegic. Then when he died, you went, "Aw, sh*t, man. That's lonely." For me it just strikes me as just being so lonely. When you're taking a drug that would anaesthetize an elephant, how scared are you?

And we lost Farrah Fawcett the same day.

Yeah, it was weird there and then they started comparing that. I was going, "What?" And I lost Walter Cronkite who was a great friend. Then if you talk about news, you talk about a man who was the most trusted man in America because he was so articulate and was really honest. He put his ass on the line. Cronkite used to be on the air and Lyndon Johnson would call saying, "Get that son of a bitch on the phone." I don't know if anybody listens to anybody online or on television right now that people go, "Yes," and believe them totally. Now it's more spin. It's all spin to the point where even Walter talked about it four years ago going, "I want to know where…" just his voice alone made you go, "I believe you."

You did a Disneyworld bit with him. I saw it when I was standing in line.

With him, yeah. That's where I got to know him. Walter was a wonderful, crusty, funny man. He used to tell me these wonderful dirty jokes but him telling them is a bit like, "And. Then. The. Hooker. Said."

Robin Williams

Image © Erik Kabik / PR Photos

Is there anyone today we trust almost as much as Cronkite?

I don't know.

They say Jon Stewart's the most trusted man in America.

Big time and that gives you an idea of what people think about news. The other great show, Colbert, you want to know the bravest moment in comedy recently was him performing at the White House press dinner. Watching that was the greatest thing because all of a sudden you realize, they must have hired him thinking he's a real conservative. No one went, [whispering], "He's joking. Shh. It's a satire." He had the greatest line. He said, "A lot of the people compare this administration to the Titanic. I say no, it's the Hindenburg. It soars." They cut to bush and you can see W going, "Oh, f*ck." You can see him realizing, "I've been had, I've been screwed." I asked him, I said, "How was it?" He said half the room is going nuts and the other half is angry. That was the bravest, and that's a really Buddhist moment to be able to do that in front of somebody. In front of those people, to make fun of them in front of them and not like, "Oh, you're kind of crazy and you misspell things." No, he actually went after the stuff of, he talked about Iraq, he talked about the idea of what are we doing. I used to do this joke about the Iraqis are writing a constitution. "Take ours, we're not using it." Now it's interesting to see. Even in France, two things happened. When Lance took third in the Tour de France, all of a sudden the French are going, "Okay, you're one of us now. Way to go. You took third, now you f*cked up, we're glad to have you with us here." They looked at him as going, "It's okay now." It was also them looking at Obama and looking going, "All right, you're willing to talk."

What makes you want to stay current?

Because it just keeps you alive. I love comedy. Like when you see Patton Oswalt live, he's crazy. And Zach [Galifianakis], to see Zach when he does Two Ferns. It's great that he kicked ass in this movie but I love someone said he's still doing standup because his standup's really great. Really wild and very kind of not your normal standup. There's a lot of great people out there. What makes me want to do it is the same reason I realized today. It's like I gotta get back out. It's economic but it's also the idea of getting out because there's so much to talk about and so much that I didn't know. Listen, it's a work in progress. Not everything's working. I like the idea that if this doesn't work, try this. I don't find the same kind of dogma. I don't find it, and it's got to come from both sides. There are some people out there, when like I was talking about the idea of the automobile companies. Wouldn't it have been great if maybe the oil companies threw some money towards the automobile companies. It's a bit like your dealer paying for rehab. But it's the idea of coming back and there's so much shit to go, "Can we do it?" Maybe. Now the car companies are starting to come up. Ford's starting to look good again. It's that weird thing of contraction/expansion.

What were your thoughts on Sarah Palin's resignation?

I just think there's a thing, and I have to see it, it's online right now where William Shatner reads her [resignation] and it reads like beat poetry. They said that her press conference when she came out was so out there, but she was out there. I love the fact she said, "I understand Russia because I can see it from my backyard." How good are your f*cking eyes? She had X-Ray vision.

The health care debates must be great material.

I mean these townhall meetings are pretty amazing. I love the guy who yelled out, "I want government to keep their stinking hands off my medicare!" Too late, Clem. It's a government program. "Aghhhhh! Obama scares me!" I'm going to guess why. "Obama, it's an old Kenyon word for Kennedy." It's going to be the ultimate affirmative action family, yeah, every white family has to have one older relative report to me, mmmm, going to be a maid in the black family, hmmm, good luck now. We're never going to do this routine again, yeahhh, sweet power love! So there's a lot to talk about.

How do you get ready to do a new standup tour?

I've got to go and go out and do it again. That's why the idea of literally like today was a test audience but a tough one. It's almost like going, "Okay, try this, see what works." I'm not armed with the stuff that normally like after about two months on the road I can be. But in a good way…

It builds as you're traveling?

It builds huge. It builds every city you go to, you find something new and also, if you take your time and you start to really look at stuff, and stuff will build. Like I just came back from France, I'm going, "You gotta check in brother." It's like okay, and start, you read, you look around and go, "Okay, what's this? What's this?" You try and see, what are the real things? What is all this technology doing to people?



What do you do to reduce your carbon footprint?

My green thing is basically riding bikes. I bought an electric car a while ago. It's not ready yet.

You ordered it?

Yeah, it's an Aptera. It's this weird one that looks like something out of Logan's Run. And an electric motorcycle but that's years away.

Is there room in there?

Yeah, there's room for me and a bag. I think it's like a latte.

Would you like to work with your daughter, Zelda?

I worked with her once and she astonished me. She was great. She's such a good actress.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I would love to.

Would you do horror movies with her?

She did one that she plays the bride of Satan and I went, "That's my girl."

Fred TopelStory/Interview by Fred Topel

Starpulse contributing writer

(Starpulse in Hollywood): Every week, Hollywood's biggest stars are meeting in the hot spots and Starpulse is there.



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