Just as Colin Quinn and Pee-wee Herman launch their own new Broadway productions, word from the street brings even more casting news for spring 2011, with parts for both Robin Williams and Chris Rock to make their Broadway acting debuts.
Williams will star as the titular tiger in Rajiv Joseph's play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, starting March 10, 2011, with an official opening March 31 at a theater to be announced.
Rock, meanwhile, will join Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Annabella Sciorra and Yul Vazquez in Stephen Adly Guirgis' Motherf**ker with the Hat, playing the sobriety sponsor of Cannavale's character. That play is slated for previews March 22, 2011, with an opening on April for a limited run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
I was among the witnesses for Marc Maron's live taping of his WTF podcast over the weekend from the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, in which Hari Kondabolu, Ian Edwards and others gave Maron the business in front of a packed live audience. That should be a fun one to listen to.
Maron told me in Portland that this new episode of WTF is even more illuminating. And listening to Maron spend an hour with Robin Williams, I can agree it's quite a treat. Williams treats Maron with sincerity for the hour, only rarely jumping into bits and characters, and talks about his recent relapse into alcoholism, dealing with life as a stand-up both now and back in the day, and even addresses the longstanding rumors that have dogged him about joke theft. Williams says when he drops in at comedy clubs now, he won't even pay any attention to the show before and after he's on, saying he'll sit upstairs in the restaurant instead (which I can attest to personally when I've seen him recently at the Comedy Cellar, where he always has been more than gracious toward other comedians). That latter part comes in more than a half-hour into Maron's chat with Williams from his Marin County home in Northern California. But the whole thing is worth listening to. So do it.
After reading David Itzkoff's recent New York Times profile on Robin Williams, the comedian's latest HBO stand-up special, Weapons of Self-Destruction, came off as a bit of a letdown when it debuted last night. I wished Williams had left in more of the darker, personal material that Itzkoff saw on his tour.
Instead, after the first few minutes onstage at DAR Constitution Hall in D.C., in which Williams opened with topical material (Oprah "quitting" her talk-show) and crowd work with latecomers in the audience, he veered into well-worn joke territory. How well-worn? He told the joke about the difference between redneck divorce and tornados/hurricanes -- "someone's losing a trailer!" -- and then hacked on about the naming of hurricanes. About 15 minutes in, though, he did start talking about his personal life -- he had open heart surgery earlier in the year (which, non-fun-fact, my mom experienced on Election Day 2008, never forget!) -- and that seemed much more compelling. From an introductory joke about getting an angiogram -- "Who knew the way to a man's heart was through his groin?" -- into noting that he was taking the same medication that Michael Jackson had been taking for fun, you thought you were getting something more. Of course, then he told Clinton jokes (in a bit about someone just now waking up from a 10-year-long medication), and after some Sarah Palin jokes (I did like him saying, "How did they find her? Was it Project Running Mate?"), he went for Jack Nicholson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in that, he even does the now quite-old joke about wondering who will build his immigration wall. Then there's bits about methane cars, confusion over people talking on bluetooths, Twitter, video games and masturbation, Doc Ellis' LSD no-hitter (enhanced by HBO visual effects). About an hour into the 90-minute special, Williams becomes more uniquely interesting, but then he closes (as he is wont to do) with a routine about sexual organs. You've read my take on it. Now here's the buzz from Williams himself. Roll the clip!
Robin Williams began an extended run tonight in New York City, with seven nights at Town Hall (and the weekend in Atlantic City), finishing up his "Weapons of Self Destruction" tour before bringing it to HBO on Dec. 6.
Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times recently caught up with Williams during a swing through the Southeast. Here's a money quote from the piece, which ran yesterday:
Only now that the hyper-verbal Mr. Williams finds himself in a confessional mood, he isn’t sure he knows when to stop. “How much more can you give?” he asked rhetorically. “Other than, literally, open-heart surgery onstage? Not much. But the only cure you have right now is the honesty of going, this is who you are. I know who I am.”
Although this quote might be even more compelling: “I’ve always felt that Robin’s blinding speed and flash of wit was an effort at concealment, rather than revealing,” said Eric Idle, a longtime friend. “He would be talking about something personal or sexual, but it was always in general, not about him.”
The rest of the article takes stock of where Williams is, at 58, in both his personal life and his career, and where he goes from here. It's a bit like Idle's quote in that way, hinting at something deeper. Will we see a different, bolder Robin Williams onstage? Maybe someday soon. Until then, here's a clip previewing his HBO special. Roll it!
Jimmy Kimmel had both Robin Williams and Bobcat Goldthwait as guests on his TV show late Wednesday night, which made sense since they're both promoting the same project, World's Greatest Dad, in which Goldthwait directed Williams. But Goldthwait also directed the first years of Kimmel's show, which added a little something something to the chat dynamic. Kimmel's show has embraced YouTube, so you can see four segments from the episode. Williams came out first and discussed his open heart surgery. Then he talked about his surgery's impact on his current stand-up tour, which resumes in September, and how long he has been friends with Goldthwait.
Then Goldthwait came out, and talked about his relationship with Kimmel, as well as his friendship with Williams, going back to their first meeting in a Boston comedy club, and their Chinese tattoos.
And here's them talking about the movie a bit, and while Williams is quick to remind everyone that Goldthwait had made "the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies" in Shakes the Clown, Goldthwait returns the favor by complimenting Williams on the length of his full frontal nudity. Also, Goldthwait said he is not on Facebook or Twitter, so if you're following or friends with him, that's a fake Bobcat.
Robin Williams went on The Late Show with David Letterman last night, and showed he's almost fully recovered from his recent heart bypass surgery. Williams reveals he can still kick and get physical, but there's something a bit off vocally. He'll go back on tour at the end of September.
And here's a short message from Robin Williams, in which he thanks the fans and shows off his surgery scar:
The Comedy Store has started uploading some rare footage on its own YouTube channel, and today, they've included part of a set Richard Pryor performed in 1982-1983 (based on Pryor dating himself at 42). It's great for several reasons, among them: Pryor seeing Henny Youngman in the audience and talking to him, ended his set by welcoming a young Robin Williams to the stage, and of course, in between, reminding us what was so special about himself:
Related: Another clip of Pryor's set from The Comedy Store that lacks embed coding, in which he talked about getting sober and cleaning up his act.
Wishing Robin Williams only the best as he undergoes heart surgery. Williams announced today that he would postpone the rest of his nationwide stand-up comedy tour while he recuperates. This hits close to home personally, and I hope and trust Williams will be back and ready to perform in a few months -- although for such a high-energy guy, he'll have to find a way to take it easy when he does return. Here is his statement:
On a related note, it makes me wonder what happens to our favorite comedians when they get older and need to be cared for?
Following hot off of the successful Broadway run of Will Ferrell's Bush spoof, Robin Williams announced today that his current stand-up tour, "Weapons of Self-Destruction," will include a weeklong run in New York City at the Neil Simon Theatre. Tickets will go on sale March 1 for shows April 28-May 3. His nationwide tour stops in New Orleans tonight and ends May 24 in Las Vegas.
From the press release, Williams said: "I'm excited to be back on Broadway. It's been a blast working on new material for this tour. The current state of the country's political and economic climate, while so hard on so many people, has been like gold for a comedian. There's just so much that's ripe for the picking."
Any great documentary leaves you feeling a greater knowledge and fulfillment about the subject matter, and wanting to further share your newfound knowledge with even more people. Any good documentary gives you insight into a subject and leaves you wanting more. Judging from the first two hours of the six-hour PBS treatment from WNET, Make 'Em Laugh, which debuts tonight (and I just finished watching via screener), you'll get a good, almost-great examination of the past century of comedy performances.
Billy Crystal opens the series with a NSFW Civil War joke, letting audiences know that this is not going to be that kind of PBS documentary project. Crystal nominally hosts each hour with a comedy segment introducing that hour's topic, while Amy Sedaris provides voiceover narration. Another common thematic device for the narrative -- arrange comedians by an archetype, open with the most contemporary and popular example, then flashback a century and work your way chronologically back to the future, so to speak. "Hopefully, it's not hamfisted," Michael Kantor said at a preview panel at the 92Y last month. Kantor, the series producer, director and writer, said there's some rare footage of Woody Allen, and some early Paul Lynde that we'll get to see. "By and large, we tried to air footage that you couldn't find at the rental store," Kantor said. Rental store? Who goes to those anymore? Anyhow. This doc is must viewing for comedy fans to know that their generation wasn't the first or the funniest to get a joke. "I think Americans need to be reminded of our own history sometimes," Kantor said. That's as true about comedy, it turns out, as it is about politics.
The first hour, "Nerds, Jerks and Oddballs," examines the role of outsiders in comedy. So we start with the man who everyone in Hollywood was bowing to in the past year, Judd Apatow, who tells us: "I'm just trying to reflect the attitudes of me and my friends." To those who criticize Apatow for bringing immaturity to the forefront, he reminds us: "Really, there's no comedy that isn't about immaturity."
The Sundance Film Festival has announced its slate of films for the 2009 celebration of cinema in Park City, Utah, and more than a few feature and/or star stand-up comedians during the Jan. 15-25 run in the ski hills.
There's one bonafide film about comedy screening next month: Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy / USA (Director: Robert Townsend)—Using rare archival clips along with provocative interviews with many of today's leading comedians and social critics, Why We Laugh celebrates the incredible cultural influence and social impact black comedy has wielded over the past 400 years. Cast: Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Steve Harvey, Dick Gregory. World Premiere
And I'm pleased as punch to pass along the news that NYC comedy troupe Derrick got their film into the festival: Mystery Team / USA (Director: Dan Eckman; Screenwriters: Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover, and DC Pierson)—A group of kid detectives called The Mystery Team struggle to solve a double murder to prove they can be real detectives before they graduate from high school. Cast: Dominic Dierkes, D.C. Pierson, Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, Glenn Kalison. World Premiere
Among the 16 films selected for the Documentary Competition:
Good Hair (Director: Jeff Stilson) - Comedian Jeff Stilson directs Chris Rock while he sets out to examine the culture of African-American hair and hairstyles. World Premiere
Among the 16 films selected for the Drama Competition:
Big Fan (Director and Screenwriter: Robert Siegel) - The world of a parking garage attendant who happens to be the New York Giants' biggest fan is turned upside down after an altercation with his favorite player. Cast: Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Matt Servitto. World Premiere
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (Director and Screenwriter: John Krasinski) - This effort from The Office star is described thusly: When her boyfriend leaves with little explanation, a doctoral candidate in anthropology tries to remedy her heartache by interviewing men about their behavior. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, John Krasinski, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Christopher Meloni, Bobby Cannavale. World Premiere
Paper Heart (Director: Nicholas Jasenovec; Screenwriters: Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi) - This is the is it a documentary, is it fiction movie you've heard buzz about in the past week: Even though performer Charlyne Yi doesn't believe in love, she bravely embarks on a quest to discover its true nature - a journey that takes on surprising urgency when she meets unlikely fellow traveler, actor Michael Cera. Cast: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson. World Premiere
Push (Director and Screenwriter: Lee Daniels) - Based on the acclaimed, best-selling novel by Sapphire, Push is the redemptive story of Precious Jones, a young girl in Harlem struggling to overcome tremendous obstacles and discover her own voice. Cast: Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique Imes, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey. World Premiere
And in films debuting at Sundance 2009 outside of competition...
Famous actors and comedians drop in at the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters in New York City and Los Angeles all of the time. Particularly for ASSSSCAT. What makes the Robin Williams appearance last night at the UCBT in NYC so surprising is that he merely wanted to play along with an improv troupe. Any improv troupe. The lucky team? Bangs. So how'd it go? Read brief interviews with improvisers from last night's Harold Night in NYMag's Vulture blog or The Apiary, or Tumblr along with Bangs member Craig Rowin.
So, yes, Robin Williams is heading back out on the road for an official stand-up comedy tour this fall, starting Sept. 25 in Minneapolis and ending two months later in Boston. He has quietly been working on new material between breaks from movie making, including surprise drop-ins in New York City and Chicago and a week at Acme in Minneapolis, and all reports (including my own firsthand encounter) reveal that Williams, again sober and newly divorced, has been more than generous with his time and support to other comedians. Anyhow. Tickets for the first dates go on sale this weekend. Click here to buy.
Robin Williams certainly still has the comedy bug bites after his long weekend in Chicago, flying into Minneapolis for three nights at the intimate 275-seat Acme Comedy Company. All three shows, Tuesday-Thursday, sold out in minutes, according to the club and the Star Tribune (which reminded me to update my weekly comedy club calendar!). Williams reportedly is gearing up for a big casino gig.
My friends at Chicago comedy chronicler, The Bastion, reported that Robin Williams made the scene at both the Lakeshore Theater and the smaller Town Hall Pub over the weekend, apparently prepping for an apperance on Ellen (he's listed as the guest on Tuesday, but the show tapes a day in advance). The local stand-ups all had positive things to say about their encounters with Williams, and Hannibal Buress even wrote in to say that he got to perform on Saturday's show specifically because of Williams: "He found out that my name is Hannibal and he couldn't believe that there was a comic named Hannibal and he had to see it. That's how I got to perform on the show." Audiences also seemed more than receptive to the big guy at the little shows, even if his set (much like the recent drop-in I saw of his in NYC) was especially raunchy.
UPDATED: If you're wondering why Robin Williams was wondering about Hannibal Buress, this Chicago Tribune article about Buress that ran May 2 may help connect the dots.
SNL may have had Chevy Chase back at the “Weekend Update” news desk last weekend, but audience members at the Comedy Cellar got even rarer treats late Saturday night as both Robin Williams and Dave Chappelle dropped in for unannounced performances at the city’s top comedy club.
That's Chappelle at about 1:53 a.m. Sunday, doing his thing. Note to self: Get a new phone. And to think, I'd just told Estee earlier that night that I always forget to bring my digital camera when things like this happen. (Bonus comedy nerd points if you know whose head that is in the lower left-hand corner of my photo)
Williams, shooting the film “Old Dogs” with John Travolta in Connecticut, performed a raunchy 20-minute routine just before midnight Saturday, complete with his trademark riffing and voices. But after joking about Lindsay Lohan, he got candid about his own recovery from alcoholism, telling the audience that “you realize that life is a precious thing” and telling comedians afterward that stand-up comedy and AA meetings are the two things helping him maintain his sobriety. He seemed very cool and collected and interested in how the other comics were doing. I'd talked to Williams offstage once about five years ago, and it reminded me that this is an even more interesting guy to talk to when he's not trying to be "on."
At the late late show, Chappelle took audience requests and laughed early and often at his own jokes for about 55 minutes. He said a woman suggested he read “The Secret” to help get over the $50 million deal he walked away from with Comedy Central. “Positive imagery? That’s the secret? Go to Africa and tell some starving kids that (expletive)!” He also can sing quite a bit of John Mellencamp’s 1982 hit, “Jack and Diane.” He told the audience: “Put that under song lyrics I didn’t know how the (expletive) I knew them for $1,000.”
Chappelle was turning heads on MacDougal Street all weekend, hanging outside the Cellar and Olive Tree Cafe with other comedians Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He declined most but not all photo requests from passersby, saying he didn't want to set a precedent that'd have him taking photos all night long. Fair enough. Very easygoing guy, considering all of the hassles he puts up with -- then again, he does spend a lot of time on his farm in Ohio. Which probably also explains why he comes back to NYC every once in a while to feed his need for laughs at the Cellar. He said he also likes to work out at the Punchline. At one point Sunday night, he turned to me and said, “My life is weird, man.” Didn’t need to tell us that, Dave!
Five years after he returned to stand-up comedy, Robin Williams appears to be attempting another return to the stage. At least, that's what it looked like last night when Williams launched into his first of two sold-out last-minute performances at the Comedy Connection in Boston.
The reasoning? Williams is the star attraction Friday at the Yankee Dental convention at Hynes Convention Center. The dentists are paying $100-$175 to see him there. On Saturday, people will pay $225-$275 to see Williams perform at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. No wonder, then, that the comic might want to brush up on his stand-up skills before having fans pay a pretty price just to hear him. They should get their money's worth. Right?
So what did Boston fans (who'll see him again at 10 p.m. tonight) get for their $25 in the intimate Comedy Connection setting?
For one thing, 98 minutes of pure Robin Williams (for better or worse, depending upon your viewpoint within the comedy community). The theme of his wildly scattered riffing? Everything old is new again. And everything new is up for ranting.
Dressed simply in a black short-sleeve T-shirt (with monster skull face) and black jeans, he opened with about a half-hour of material that couldn't have been more topical if he were a late-night TV talk-show host. "I'm here as part of 'The Departed' tour!" he quipped, before launching into typical Robin-style rapid-fire ad-libs on audience members in the front row. After a few words on a fur coat, he acknowledged: "That's old joke number one!" He managed to get in thoughts on John Kerry's announcement yesterday that he would not run for president, weaved into the Kennedys and the British royal family, the Big Dig and its failure -- "Even the Egyptians are saying: 'You should've gotten Jews!'" -- a reference to his recent trip to rehab, the State of the Union address, Britney Spears, the Miss USA scandals and Donald Trump and his "feud" with Rosie, iPods, Tony Blair, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Condi, Kissinger and Ahnold, Mel Gibson -- which led to Williams' thoughts on portraying Jesus on film. Peter Lorre as Judas? Funny. Christopher Walken as Jesus? Hack. Brando as Pilate with Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro as disciples? Also sorta hack. Then more on Gov. Ahnold, immigration and gay marriage.
Williams didn't seem to grasp that San Francisco isn't the only place that gay marriage is a big issue. Perhaps his team -- in addition to his two-man sound crew, he had multiple people in the corner recording his show and taking notes -- would fill him in in time for tonight's show.
Yes, Williams pulled out his old impersonations of John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, but updated them as gay cowboys. He also had plenty to say about the Catholic Church and the Popes, showing off his interpretations of the half-dead Pope, the Nazi Pope, an African Pope, an African-American Pope (Pope Diddy?), and a Brazilian Pope.
Then he got personal for a while, talking about his lifelong battle with alcohol. He introduced warning signs you may be an alcoholic (with apologies -- mine, not his -- to Foxworthy), then expanded his talk to include tobacco, Coca-Cola (the old version, with cocaine!), opium and heroin, constructing a flashback sequence to act-out the discoveries of various drugs that ended with a play on "playing with my Wii!" Williams had some words to say about technology, too, with a bit I remember from his 2002-2003 tour, along with bits on the problems of directory assistance, cars with talking GPS systems and hybrid cars, which led to NASCAR.
Williams ended his first act (1 hour, 23 minutes) with a routine about intelligent design that can best be described as one elongated dick joke with a Bush punchline.
A standing ovation brought Williams back onstage almost immediately for 15 more minutes of seemingly random riffing. "This is wild," he said. "I haven't been back in a long time. Not since Good Will Hunting." He even took requests. And in his crowd work, he couldn't have known that local comics Micah Sherman and Joe List were among his front-row targets. Fortunately for everyone, they didn't take his bait. That would've been awkward. So would've taking pictures or using my camera-phone for ill gains. So this is what you get. For now.