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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Robin Williams concert

I saw Robin Williams' Weapons of Self Destruction tour at the Queen E. on Monday night (see my review in the Georgia Straight here). I had seen Williams a couple other times at the late lamented Urban Well in Kitsilano over the years. Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big laugher so I don't know that it's a huge knock on the guy to say I never laughed once any time I've seen him. I sit in awe at his energy but I don't laugh. Don't get me wrong, I don't sit there hating him, either. It's more of a neutral-bordering-on-negative opinion I have, as opposed to an active dislike.

There's only so much one can write in a 400-word review, so let me expand a bit. I've long been on the record that there is no such thing as a hack premise; only hack jokes. If you can offer a new twist on an already tired subject, I'm all for it. I came to this conclusion after years of watching Irwin Barker, who does hilarious bits on Costco and airline travel. The bottom line is funny.

The problems I have with Williams' bits are that the premises are, for the most part, the jokes. We're supposed to laugh at his take, but we've heard the take countless times before. (I should point out here that the sold-out crowd absolutely loved the guy, so what do I know?) Sometimes I could place who said the same thing before him, other times I couldn't. Maybe some of you will be able to tell me.

* Canada is like a loft apartment over a biker bar. This may very well be original, but the format isn't. Canada is like a [something benign or good] over a [something crazy] I've heard lots of times. I think the joke is in the form rather than the specifics. Is it legit to just replace the words? It doesn't seem so to me but maybe some of you have differing opinions you'd like to share with the class.

* Snow would be nice. This refers to Vancouver getting the Winter Olympics. Irwin Barker did this joke (only much better) back when we first got the bid. Others have done it since. Irwin actually had jokes (and lots of 'em) to go with this premise. Williams made the premise the joke: "Snow would be nice."

* "Muthafucka, yeah!" This is how he would love to see president-elect Barack Obama at his inauguration. Again, the idea of the "real" Obama coming out of the closet once elected in the form of a ghetto rapper has been done to death.

* "...left turn and then another left turn..." Here he recontextualized an old joke about the simplicity of Nascar, but the point is it's not his joke. And I guess that's fine, to a point. But the joke hits like it's supposed to be something we hadn't thought of before. Now, maybe lots of people there hadn't heard it before, but there's something not right about the whole thing.

* "We still haven't found Osama... a 6-foot-7 Arab on dialysis." Again, who hasn't heard this dozens of times already? One defence of joke theft is parallel thought. It's a legitimate defence, too. But when something is out there all over the place, that defence gets thrown out. Yes, bin Laden is a distinctive looking fellow and the U.S. hasn't found him. He might very well have put those two facts together on his own, but once the joke becomes so prevalent, you gotta just let it go.

* Who will build the wall? This joke (about Schwarzeneggar wanting to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans) has been the subject of other theft charges. Joe Rogan went after Carlos Mencia, claiming his buddy Ari Shaffir did the original line. But the joke was out there even before that and just about everyone's done it. I saw Alonzo Bodden do the joke at Yuk Yuk's not too long ago. So I guess if everyone else is doing it, Williams should be allowed. And maybe he should. But he should know better. That's the thing.

* Starbucks next to a Starbucks. Funny thing about this one, we've heard it hundreds of times about Vancouver. But Williams, despite knowing the city well, was talking about Seattle. Again, it's premise as joke. We've all observed, here and in Seattle, the unique phenomenon of two Starbucks franchises close to each other. So what else do you got for us? Is that it?

* Sped-up Babe Ruth. This was an odd one because his old buddy Billy Crystal did this bit for years. Granted, the ideas were different. Crystal used it to show how funny it looked watching the old baseball players on newsreels. Williams used it to show that Ruth was actually buzzed on Coke (big and little c). But still, it's the pantomime that gets the laugh and Crystal is the guy who picked up on that. Williams shouldn't get a free ride.

* "Sex with an alcoholic is like playing pool with a rope." Nuff said.

* Nazi pope with a gay wardrobe who opposes gay marriage. It's so easy and not the least bit original. But if he had some killer jokes in that now-old premise, I'd say go for it. He didn't.

* On their first design, pubes were straight but females kept going, "My eyes!" Again, nuff said.

* Why aren't there more funny Germans? Because they killed them all. Now, this one just sounds familiar. For all I know, I heard him say it. Can anyone help me out here? I want to be fair.

* Chinese script on a tattoo that turns out to mean nothing more than 'ass monkey'. Everyone's doing this joke now and I can see how everyone came to it. Whitey gets a foreign language tattoo. Easy-peasy. But you gotta be aware of what's out there. We've heard it. Stop it.

* The human male has a penis and a brain and only enough blood to run one at a time. This one was even emblazoned on a shirt at the merch table. Surely Williams didn't write this, did he? It seems unlikely.

And then there were the mouldy-oldie topics: Chretien, Olympic Stadium falling apart, Margaret Trudeau, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky, Camilla Parker as a horse, cats/dogs, anal leakage, Viagra, porn acting...

I know I'm repeating myself, but I just want to drive the point home. While I have no idea if he steals jokes, it's lazy comedy. Surprising coming from a guy who works so hard. The thing is, he famously talks fast. He does have some good lines and maybe if he just slowed down and eliminated the borrowed jokes, he could accentuate the good, original material.

And while, like I said, I didn't laugh once, there were still a few lines and bits I thought were okay:

On Harper: "How did you find a guy to make Bush look good? He is so bland!" On reflection, not a joke at all. Maybe I just liked it because I agreed with it and it showed he's on top of Canadian politics, at least on the surface.

On Bush: "The reign of error has ended." Is that his? See, when you do so many jokes that aren't original, I can't totally get behind you when you say something halfway decent.

On Bush: "He comes from a family where the smart brother is named Jeb."

On Bush at summit meetings when no other world leader but Blair would stand by him: "It was like the U.N. version of Rainman." Then he launched into Bush as played by Dustin Hoffman. Not an original impression but seemed fitting.

On Palin: "Did Ronald Reagan and Vanna White have a kid?" He followed it up by talking about how they handed "the baby around like a joint". Nice image.

On his bad film choices: When his GPS tells him to take a right on the Golden Gate Bridge, he tells it, "I'm not that depressed." It responds, "Really, Robin? I saw Bicentennial Man."

On his alcoholism: "A functioning alcoholic is like a paraplegic lap dancer. You can do it, just not as well as the others."

He also did an inspired long bit about designing humans by committee. I thought for sure it would be his closer, but it wasn't. And maybe my favourite bit was in the encore when he trotted out some ancient impressions but had them doing porn: John Wayne, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart. Of course he had to ruin it by finishing with Christopher Walken, but whatcha gonna do?

1 comment:

The Laugh Gallery said...

I like that you now have a blog. I will be reading it regularly.
Yours truly,