I can find no local angle on Robin Williams — which is odd, because he lived nearby in the North Bay and frequently appeared in San Francisco comedy clubs.
But back in the ’80s, when this paper sent critics to review Bay Area shows, a woman named Noma Faingold caught Williams at the Warfield Theatre. Williams was 33 and at the top of his game. Here is her review.
It’s already been said hundreds of times: Robin Williams is a comedic genius.
No one is more quick. He can take any inanimate object, any word being heckled at him or any mannerism and instantly make it funny. He’s so fast audiences can’t possible catch, digest and remember all the clever references, the one liners, the mini-characterizations or the physical side of his act.
If you put Richard Pryor (in his prime), Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Jay Leno and Rodney Dangerfield — any big or small name in comedy — in a (padded) room with Williams to go head-to-head in a comedy marathon, Williams would be the winner every time.
When Williams, 33, was on stage at the Warfield, you got the feeling that eve though he exited after an 85-minute set, he could have continued for as long as he wanted.
Most of the capacity crowd wuold have stayed to watch, too.
It’s not that what Williams talks about is so earthshaking, although his topical bits are gently reflective of a destructive society. The gift of Williams with an audience is that he makes them feel as if he needs them.
“He never once had to say, “i love you. You’re the greatest audience in the world.” People could just sense that performing is a need for him.”
The loyal hometown Bay Area crowd — Williams lives on a ranch in the Napa Valley — loves him because:
–Williams has been loyal to the area. He often pops up at small comedy clubs and does guest sets.
–Williams is likable on stage. He is a hopeful cynic. His humor may often be biting, but it is never mean-spirited.
–He’s intelligent. Though nearly half of his act relates to sex and drugs, perhaps the least challenging subject for an educated and cultured man like Williams to pursue, he is never condescending to his audience. Because he is so quick, he makes the audience feel smart when they’re able to keep up with him. People laugh even if they don’t get it.
–Williams is a master of improvisation and spontaneity. Even if Williams is doing material, he still looks as if he’s making it up on the spot.
Williams doesn’t just tell a joke. He becomes the guy the joke is about.
One minute he was an umpire who was given acid. “I’m a turtle …Don’t steal home. Share it.”
Then he segued into a black outfielder on cocaine. “I don’t know whether to slide (into third base) or do a line.”
The outfielder told us knowingly that Babe Ruth and other players way back then must have done cocaine too. Williams imitated the speeded up movements of Ruth as seen on any reel of old baseball action footage.
Williams touched on his own abuses of alcohol and cocaine of a few years ago. “The purpose of alcohol is to bring out the a—— in you.”
He described Ronald Reagan as a creation of Walt Disney and acted out that idea. The impression was painfully accurate.
Williams said one day Reagan will reveal his true self as Richard Nixon. Peeling of an imaginary mask, Williams says in a Nixon voice: “I’m back. Jason’s (the killer in the “Friday the 13th” movies) in the White House.”
Then he talked about Nixon. “I saw Nixon on the cover of Newsweek. That’s like putting John Hinkley on the cver of Guns & Ammo.”
A lot of Williams’ socially relevant material makes you laugh and think. He should do more of it.
Undoubtedly one of the most glowing reviews in this paper’s history.