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Pierce: Robin Williams felt pressure to be funny

Published August 12, 2014 11:01 am

Comic sensibility • But it was great fun just to be in the same room with him.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

TV viewers first became acquainted with Robin Williams as Mork from Ork. First in a 1978 episode of "Happy Days," then in "Mork & Mindy" (1978-82).

He was crazy. Off the wall. Frantic. Manic. Hilarious.

"Literally they would put in the script, 'Mork does his thing here,' " Williams said, "which was just like 'Riff, riff little white boy! Here we go!' "

Which is exactly how I'd have to describe him when he spoke to TV critics about his last project, the sitcom "The Crazy Ones."

Publicly, at least, Williams was so animated, so full of life that news of his death came as a huge shock. This is a guy who answered questions with non-sequiturs. Spoke in a just-inhaled-helium voice. Cursed up a storm.

Affected a Russian accent or spoke fake Spanish. Produced his own sound effects.

He delivered one liners like this: "I was going to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open."

It was fun just being in the same room with him twice in the last year.

Williams' character on "The Crazy Ones" wasn't exactly autobiographical, but there were "things that have happened in my life in real life, like rehab, divorce, and all that stuff." Stuff that he could talk about and make sound funny.

But what comes with being a funny guy is the unending pressure to perform.

"It's like dance," Williams said. "You know, 'Dance funny, man!' I think sometimes there's that pressure. Other times it's like, with this room — good luck."

He need not have worried. A room full of cynical TV critics was clearly both amused and charmed by him.

And the critics weren't the only ones. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played Williams' daughter in "The Crazy Ones," positively gushed about working with him.

"It's amazing. It's a dream come true," she said. "To me, if you think of the top 10 comics of all time — legends — to me, Robin is on that list."

"And Carrot Top," Williams interjected.

When someone suggested Williams might be sort of a sad clown, he — of course — immediately riffed off that. When he came out of it, he did tell us what makes him happy.

"My family, work and, I think, being around and creating," Williams said. "Like, when I'm not doing this show, I get to do something called 'Set List' once in a while. It's like an improv show where you get seven suggestions and you put together an improvised set like a stand-up comedy set. That's a joy.

"I was going to say free-basing. Ix-nay."

spierce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ScottDPierce