'Every day he [President Bush] does something that is a comedy gift!'

Story by Jack Foley

SPEND any time in the company of Robin Williams and you might be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing more to the guy than funny expressions, zany antics and quickfire humour. He is, after all, better known for his comedy exploits in stand-up, or films such as Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire, or in the TV series Mork and Mindy.

Yet to dismiss him as purely just a funnyman who is overly prone to sentimentalism would be extremely remiss. Mr Williams is, quite possibly, one of the most talented all-rounders of his generation when he puts his mind to it. A former Oscar winner (for Good Will Hunting), he has also recently completed three films as part of his 'dark' period (Death To Smoochy, Insomnia and One Hour Photo), and he is able to talk candidly about America, its politicians and attitudes (particularly in the wake of September 11, 2001) while wrapping much of his criticisms in humour.

It is this ability to think quick - and articulate quicker (!) - that makes him such a great person to be around and while certain career choices require a certain amount of head-scratching, to attack him so mercilessly as some critics have (and continue to do so) is deeply unfair.

In London to promote his latest film, the superb One Hour Photo, Williams gave a press conference at the Dorchester Hotel on Thursday, October 3, during which he dazzled journalists with an insight into his persona; talking about everything from making movies to America and politics, while also reducing the room to fits of giggles at several moments throughout.

Williams is rightly proud of the work he has done on films such as One Hour Photo, describing it as a 'privilege' to play such roles. But he also revealed what a joy it has been to return to stand-up comedy, particularly in the wake of something as world-defining as the September 11 attacks on his homeland. He did it two weeks after the attacks.

"It was great to go back on stage," he said. "People were treating it like, we need something to talk about, something to deal with what had happened, because everyone was just in total shock. And then, as always, you come out of shock and there's rage and, in some cases, denial - but that's the White House. [In aside] And now we're not only going for Da Nile, but also Da Suez!

"It was the idea of going back out in public and dealing in a humorous way about something was so awful. You couldn't deal with the incident; the incident is still pretty much a no-fly zone, but you could talk about all the measures that have happened after, such as security. Airport security in America before this was insane.

"You know, it was sort of like [in wacky voice] 'get on the plane, call that a gun, ok, come on, get on the plane. And now we can't bring a nail clipper on the plane. They'll take away nail clippers. What do they think? Are you gonna go [shouting] 'give me the plane or the bitch loses her cuticle!' or 'Give me the plane, I've got an emery board, you bastard!' And now they've got really intense.

"And you're the only people hanging with them, God bless you! You've got your Prime Minister saying 'I stand by my fellow damaged friend, in these troubled times', and Bush is looking at Blair like, "I can't even spell some of the things he says.'"

It is Williams' ability to mix serious political and social commentary with such laugh-out-loud humour that makes him all the more endearing - for while the actor is clearly disgusted by American foreign policy at the moment, and openly appalled at the people running his country, his comments seldom feel like an ill-advised rant.

Indeed, it is President Bush and his top brass that draw constant fire, albeit in a funny way - as Williams truly believe that the US President does something every day which is 'a comedy gift'.

Turning on other members of the Bush cabinet, Williams reveals that 'people often forget in America that [Attorney General] Ashcroft is a man who lost to a dead man in Missouri'.

"The election was John Ashcroft, dead man, and people in Missouri went [another strange voice] 'I'm sorry, John, but the dead man cares even less than you do!' So they voted for a dead man rather than Ashcroft and these are the people running our country... Chaney and George.

"Come on, remember when he almost died from a pretzel? I mean, even his own dogs were licking him for the salt, they didn't give a shit. This is insane, so this is part of the stuff we're talking about; every day he does something that's like a comedy gift. Our economy, for instance, I mean, he spoke to the stock market and it dropped a point a word!

"So every day, there is something to talk about and going back out on stage and dealing with everything, all around the world, is great. I would deal with it; I would talk about all of this madness because, in a way, the only weapon we have is comedy."

From talking about world politics, Williams moves on to the subject of stalkers and whether he has had any during his career - the answer is, of course, yes; although he claims there are warning signs in the form of letters first.

And he concludes by answering a question about his most embarrassing moments ('me in a thong!' and a story about meeting the late Sir Laurence Olivier at the Oscars), before drifting off to his next engagement.

It was the fastest and most entertaining 30 minutes I have spent in a long time - something which tickled the funny bone while providing plenty of food for thought during the train journey home. If ever you get the chance to spend any time in his company (particularly if he announces any London stand-up dates in the future), I urge you to be there. He is one of a kind and a true comic marvel.

AND FINALLY! Two more comedy gems from Mr Williams...

On celebrating his 50th birthday last year: "We took a lot of friends to a private island and played Survivor. We actually had a great time, though, it was a wonderful island in the Caribbean. We were flying into this island and there was no midget going, ‘look a plane!’" I’m not a midget, I’m just standing in a hole, come on!"

On the new biography on Peter Sellers: "There’s a biography out about Peter Sellers right now, written by an unfunny man, which is rather like having Ray Charles as an art critic."

Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2002

RELATED STORIES: : Robin Williams talks about his 'dark' side - part one of the Dorchester press conference. Click here...
Click here for Indielondon's review of One Hour Photo...
Click here to find out what the US critics thought...
Click here to read Indielondon's review of Insomnia...