Release Date(s)Various (October 1, 2019)
Studio(s)Paul Brownstein Productions/Time Life
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
- Overall Grade: A-
It’s difficult to measure just how influential someone like Robin Williams was on the world of comedy. He was never amongst the top ten while he was still with us, but in retrospect, his free flowing of ideas, jumping from one topic to the next (whether we knew what he was talking about or not) was a marvel to see in action. Many audiences only associate him with films like Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, or even before that, Mork & Mindy, but many began to further appreciate him beyond his comedic abilities—specifically in films like The Fisher King, The Birdcage, and One Hour Photo.
Unfortunately, he was not exactly at the height of his career when he passed away rather tragically in August of 2014. He seemed to be relegated to ho-hum comedies like the Night of the Museum series and Old Dogs, which were a far cry from films like Good Morning, Vietnam, Moscow on the Hudson, and Dead Poets Society. Still, one can’t undervalue his work or his passion for his craft. He was like a family member to many, and his appeal as a performer and the quality of his work within the entertainment industry can hardly be measured.
Time Life has cobbled together a fantastic collection of his comedy specials and TV appearances in several DVD editions entitled Robin Williams: Comic Genius. Four different editions are available: a single disc release, a five disc release, a twelve disc release, and a twenty-two disc release. The latter is obviously the cream of the crop if you want to be totally stuffed on nearly every appearance Robin made on TV, as well as his appearances at many USO shows over the years, Today, we’ll be taking a look at the five disc edition, which is a nice compendium of all his HBO specials, additional TV appearances, interviews, and promos.
The visual and aural quality of everything presented in this set ranges from pretty good to great. Everything is clear and discernable without any major issues. Much of it is tape-sourced (aside from the Weapons of Self Destruction special), so the need for a high definition release is not all that necessary. The other HBO specials look better than the rest of the material presented on each disc, but only marginally so. Optional English subtitles are also included.
Disc One provides the following:
- HBO On Location: Robin Williams – Off the Wall (1978)
- Robin Williams – The Early Years
- The Second Annual HBO Young Comedians Show (1977)
- The Great American Laugh-Off (1977)
- Robin Meets Mr. Sinatra (1977)
- The Dick Cavett Show (1979)
- Interview with David Steinberg, Robin’s Manager
Off the Wall is incredibly entertaining, as one might expect, particularly when John Ritter is brought up on stage to take part in Robin’s flights of fancy. It’s a tour-de-force performance, to say the least. The Early Years is a fine featurette covering Robin’s stand-up material by many of his friends and colleagues, including Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Lewis Black, and Pam Dawber, among others. The Second Annual HBO Young Comedians Show and The Great American Laugh-Off feature Robin’s appearances only, covering some of the same material from his On Location show. Robin Meets Mr. Sinatra is a brief tidbit of Robin running out on stage and breaking up Frank Sinatra, which is fun. The Dick Cavett Show features an interview with Robin, though it’s fairly awkward as Dick Cavett is a bit too straight-laced for Robin’s antics. The interview with David Steinberg offers a glimpse of what it was like to represent Robin at that time.
Disc Two provides the following:
- An Evening With Robin Williams (1983)
- San Francisco – Where it All Began
- Director Howard Storm Demo Taping with Robin (1982)
- Comedy Celebration Day (1982, 1985, 1990)
- I Love Liberty (1982)
- Catch a Rising Star’s 10th Anniversary (1982)
- The Comedy Store 11th Anniversary (1982)
- The Comedy Store 15th Year Class Reunion (1988)
- Robin Remembers The Comedy Store (2001)
Robin’s second HBO special sees him taking charge in San Francisco, delivering his usual free flow (more like free fall) of topics. The Where it All Began featurette explores his connection to the city, which includes interviews with Eric Idle and Paula Poundstone. The Howard Storm video sees Robin being playfully difficult to work with, but to Howard Storm’s benefit as a director. The Comedy Celebration Day tidbits are brief, but show Robin with live audiences in the open air of the city. I Love Liberty is a variety TV special featuring a five-minute stint with Robin as the American flag. Catching a Rising Star’s 10th Anniversary sees Robin interacting with Billy Crystal and Richard Belzer. The Comedy Store 11th Anniversary sees Robin being introduced by Richard Pryor before a set, while the 15th Year Class Reunion sees him take the stage at one of his largest filmed venues yet. The last item sees Robin reminiscing about his time at The Comedy Store for E! Entertainment, but with his patented shtick thrown in.
Disc Three provides the following:
- Robin Williams: An Evening at the Met (1986)
(with an optional introduction by Lewis Black)
- HBO Press Interview
- Promo Taping
- Beverly Hills Blues with Bobby McFerrin (1986)
- The Young Comedians All-Star Reunion (1986)
- Superstars and Their Moms (1987)
- Interview with David Steinberg, Robin’s Manager
- Interview with Lewis Black
An Evening at the Met is probably Robin’s most well-known performance, and this is the complete, unedited version of it. In addition to the Press Interview and Promo Taping, Beverly Hills Blues shows Robin on stage with Bobby McFerrin for a bit of musical riffing. The Young Comedians All-Star Reunion features complete performances by Robin, Steven Wright, Howie Mandel, Richard Belzer, Harry Anderson, and Jake Johannsen. The TV program Superstars and Their Moms features a delightful interview with Robin and his mom Laurie McLaurin. In the interview with David Steinberg, he speaks about Robin’s performance at An Evening at the Met. Lewis Black then speaks about meeting Robin, his admiration for him, and their careers.
Disc Four provides the following:
- Robin Williams: Live on Broadway (2002)
(with an optional introduction by David Steinberg)
- Interview with Robin and Director Marty Callner
- Explicit Language
- HBO Promos
- HBO Promos Rough Cuts
- Robin’s Promo Riff
- E! Press Room After Robin’s Live 2002 Grammy Win (2003)
Live on Broadway was Robin’s long-awaited return to HBO, giving a powerhouse performance, and this DVD presents his original show fully uncut, including the infamous Enron joke that was cut from the previous DVD release. Before the special, moments with Robin backstage as the show begins are shown. The Interview with Robin and Director Marty Callner offers a nice retrospective glimpse into what it was like to put a show like that together and to execute it. Noises and Explicit Language are montages of moments from Robin’s performances. The HBO Promos and Rough Cuts gather together the on-air promotion for the show, while Robin’s Promo Riff offers raw takes of Robin performing for the camera for those promos. The E! Press Room material shows Robin talking to the media about his recent Grammy win.
Disc Five provides the following:
- Robin Williams: Weapons of Self Destruction (2009)
(with optional introduction by Lewis Black)
- A Backstage Pass
- A View from the Director’s Chair
- Local Highlights
- Mrs. Doubtfire Toasts Richard Pryor (1993)
- People’s Choice Award for Favorite Actor in a Comedy Motion Picture (1994)
- People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Motion Picture (1994)
- E! Press Room after Robin’s People’s Choice Wins (1994)
- Shakespeare: The Animated Tales – HBO Promos (1995)
Weapons of Self Destruction was, sadly, Robin’s final HBO special. A Backstage Pass features brief interviews with Robin and director Marty Callner while A View from the Director’s Chair shares what it was like to try and control Robin’s performance. Local Highlights shows brief snippets of Robin’s performances from various shows across the country and Canada. The Mrs. Doubtfire video consists of different takes of Robin in costume toasting Richard Pryor. The People’s Choice Award footage features Whoopi Goldberg and Walter Matthau introducing Robin’s awards while the E! Press Room footage shows Robin speaking with the media about his awards. The HBO Promos show Robin in costume as various characters from Shakespeare introducing each of the episodes.
All of these discs come housed in a black plastic case within in a slipcase, complete with a paper insert detailing the contents of each disc.
In an industry that produced storytellers (Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby), wordsmiths and philosophers (Lenny Bruce, George Carlin), and impressionists (Eddie Murphy), Robin Williams stood apart. He was in a class all his own, delighting us with his unusual take on stand-up comedy, but also giving us more to think about when it came to the human experience. One need look no further than his impression of an old man in Off the Wall to see evidence of this. Not to oversell it, but his magnetism as a comedian was something special, and this set from Time Life only illustrates that quite well.
– Tim Salmons