Inside Actors Studio
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
How funny is Robin Williams? During his five hour off-the-cuff Inside the Actor's interview one audience member laughed so hard he literally busted a gut and had to be hauled off in an ambulance.
Shot January 29, 2001, Robin Williams' interview with James Lipton on his "Inside the Actor's Studio" show has since become the program's most requested episode. Shout Factory has gathered together 100 minutes of the original interview with an additional 40 minutes of bonus footage and commentary from the appreciative Lipton.
After "Mork and Mindy," neutron box office bombs like "Popeye," winning an Oscar for "Good Will Hunting" and delivering mind-twisting performances like "The Fisher King," Williams still processed the comic delivery of a Gatling gun with a perpetual load of adlibbing ammunition. By the time host James Lipton gets his second question in, nearly ten minutes have passed, and you'll have nearly passed out from Williams' non-stop hysterics. One of the most memorable moments is when Williams borrows a shawl from a member of the audience (coincidently one of Lipton's relatives). Williams creates half a dozen characters in a matter of a few dizzying minutes, including a veiled Iranian woman: "I would like to welcome you to Iran...Help me!"
Your aching sides will get a well deserved break when Williams momentarily drops his comedic shield. He apparently took his responsibilities as a parent seriously enough to give up drugs, and gets misty and mystical talking about his children. Williams' comments about his creative process are a bit obtuse, but the more he opens up, the less he seems like a mad scientist in need of Prozac cooking up shtick in his basement. He's a tall tale tossing version of Houdini, never fully revealing his secrets, although we do learn that like his mentor, pitchman/director John Houseman, Williams' talent didn't spring fully formed from his head - he earned it. Aha, he started improvising because he was alone a lot as a child, so he created characters to amuse himself. He also wanted to impress his mother and make her laugh. (I think Freud would have kept Williams strapped to his couch for years.) Fortunately, you can reap the benefits of his controlled madness on your own comfortable Castro convertible.
All good clowns have a dark side. Groucho Marx was reportedly very grouchy off stage; Buster Keaton battled the bottle, and Lenny Bruce nosedived on the needle. Two Richards, Pryor and Jeni, tried to commit suicide, with Jeni succeeding, and Andy Dick is well, let's just say his part of his name describes his private personality. Williams' demon was cocaine, and he gives the audience a sobering sniff or two of the troubles it caused him. Did good friend John Belushi's death have anything to do with Williams giving up drugs? "Yeah, and a grand jury will do it too."
The Extras...Robin's Riotous Ramblings...
Lipton opened up the vaults for amusing moments that didn't make the final cut, including Williams talking about the many personalities he created for the genie in "Aladdin," the English court system ("My client has been accused of having sex with a sheep, to which the defendant has replied "BAAA!"), his years on "Mork and Mindy, making "The Bird Cage," and performing "Waiting For Godot," which he describes as "Laurel and Hardy in hell." While revisiting "Mrs. Doubtfire," Williams goes off on a potent tangent about an open coffin for a man who died while on Viagra. Sexual innuendo sounds funnier when you hear it in a prim Scottish accent. In another memorable riff, Williams relates how he lightened Steven Spielberg's mood when the director was struggling with "Schindler's List's" grim plot. Williams called him regularly, imitating an old Jewish man: "Steven, I'm here on E-bay, and I'm changing it from E-bay to oy-vey... Hello, Steven? I'm sending you some kosher e-mail..."
Lipton admits one of his biggest regrets was cutting out Williams sobering comments about his visit with good friend Christopher Reeve shortly after the actor was paralyzed in a horse back riding accident. Williams went to see him as a Russian proctologist and Reeve whispered it was the first time he'd laughed since the accident.
During Williams' one-sided interview, an audience member's guffaws clearly punctuate nearly every one of the comic's outrageous riffs. It's impossible not to hear her, and when the camera focuses on her, laughing uncontrollably, dabbing the tears from the corner of her eyes, Williams says happily, "That's what I live for...That laugh." And you'll laugh too. Again and again.