Having done the site for so many years now, and with no end in sight yet, it's been quite an adventure and an extraordinary journey. During that journey several milestones were reached and another one was reached this last May in Las Vegas.
It's May 25, 2008, just a few hours before the show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but it's also time to sit down with Robin Williams. After having met him several times, this is actually the first time we sat down to do a lengthy interview. And even though we were in a quiet and peaceful environment, I couldn't help being extremely nervous about it all. But in the end we did have a good conversation which is now available for everyone to read.
The following is an edited, but uncensored transcription of the interview.
I hope everyone will enjoy reading it and I hereby want to thank Robin for his time and for being so helpful and sweet about it.
About Vegas and tonight's show
RW: It's a combination of all those live shows I've been doing basically preparing for tonight at the MGM Grand. I've done Vegas 4 or 5 times on Memorial Day weekends. It's pretty crazy because like yesterday with the Ultimate Fighting Championships, they get a lot of people in Vegas this weekend. A weird, weird mix with Ultimate Fighting and then people coming here for Cher. And the weather is nice now so it isn't so hot it's devastating. But Vegas itself is just so surreal.
Why do you perform in Vegas and not somewhere else?
RW: I've done Atlantic City. I mean, first of all the pay is huge; that's kinda why you do it. But it's also the idea of a one time, one night show. That you can just come in and fill it. I haven't done that many big places; I mean as big as this. I get to stay here for 2 days. That doesn't suck. And the people in the audience are great. I think because it isn't a standard Vegas show, they're kinda like: "Wow, what's this?" And I've done it, and if I had to play for more than one day, I think it'd be rough because the old school casinos here used to be very kinda PG. But with me they know it doesn't have to be like that. The old school acts, you come in, do an hour and a half or an hour and it was to the minute, because they want people in and out to gamble again. But here I can do whatever I want, because it's gonna be kick ass and have fun. And the people come; the idea is they'll come have a good time at the show and then they go gamble. And even they want me to gamble here. A lot of people come here because of stories about performers who've literally become like indentured servants to the casinos.
This time you did 16 Working On Material shows to build
RW: Yeah, to build up the rhythm again. To get back in and to find enough stuff for me to make it interesting. I mean sometimes you notice with a lot of bands like the Police or Air Supply they can play their greatest hits. But for a comic that doesn't work very well. I may do that bit about golf, or something like that, I may even do that tonight. But here I want to have enough stuff and also to make it unique, to make it a show that is something they haven't seen.
For me, when I played here last year, it was pretty wild. You'll see tonight [laughs] this is like Silicon Valley; literally, there're so many fake tits, that it's like--one woman came in and I was almost like, was like a poster child. Those are incredible. They're so--
Can you see them in the audience when you're on stage?
RW: Oh, totally. You can look down and sometimes you can see them coming and going and drinking. And it's pretty wild, because the high rollers are the people who pay for the front row seats. And a lot of casinos there's a very special section for them and it's amazing. And yesterday with the Ultimate Fighting Championships I just saw, it was insane--heavily pierced... it was like steroids meets silicone. These puffed up guys and girls with tits that you'd go: "my god." And they're in the audience and you can see them, the tattoos and all that stuff. It's pretty wild.
So, after Vegas what do you have coming up?
RW: There's some reshoots for 'Old Dogs', which is the movie with Travolta. Which is good, it was fun. Working with him was a blast. He's such a sweet man, he's a good guy.
There's a movie called 'The Prince of Providence' which is a small movie written by David Mamet about a guy, Buddy Cianci, who was mayor of Providence, Rhode Island and was pretty corrupt, even to the point where he was running for office from jail. Then there's another one we're doing... wow, there's this movie called 'The Shrink' with Kevin Spacey, where I play like one of his patients. He's a psychiatrist in Hollywood.
So you have quite some stuff coming up.
Yeah, and there's this small movie with Bob Goldthwait, 'World's Greatest Dad', which is a real small independent movie. But a really strange piece, wonderful piece. Almost like... I can't compare it to anything, it's more like "A Million Little Pieces," about a guy who kinda fabricates this story and gets caught. And Bob is a good friend and he's a comic, a good guy.
Do you have any plans to go on tour again?
RW: I hope so, yeah. I mean with this, I'll probably be gone till after September. Go out and do theaters, kinda like slightly bigger than Bimbo's. I like about 1000 or 2000 seats; that's perfect. It doesn't make the promoter happy because they don't make as much money, but for me it's wonderful. Theaters are different; they're really fun. And then sometimes you play once in a while at a university, which is crazy; I love that. And for me, that's when I feel the best, other than riding a bike. They fit pretty nicely for me, because when I bike I can really... well, you know the thing. Did you make it to the top of Mt. Tamalpais?
Yes, I did.
RW: You did it! Well done. Isn't that beautiful?
When I ran cross country in high school, we'd start down in Mill Valley and run. And when you get to the top it'd be insane, cause when you look out the fog would be sitting down on the Pacific Ocean. It's the most beautiful thing in the world.
When I was riding in Mill Valley, I didn't think about the heat [RWF Note: there was a heat wave in San Francisco just a few days earlier.] I never knew it was that hot, then when the air moves it gets hotter. A truck came by and I was hit by a blast furnace. I had to stop. There's no reason unless you're in the Tour de France to hurt yourself like that. It was too painful.
One time when you come back to America we'll go for a bike ride; that'd be fun. I'd love that. My favorite ride is to past one place called Nicasio and you ride out and you go to Point Reyes. And the other one is where you can go up to this dam, the Alpine Dam. You're OK climbing, because you obviously get to the top and then you get to the 4 corners that will eventually connect you to Mt. Tamalpais. But for me, those are the kinda places I go, because they're so quiet. I need that.
Let's talk about the site for a bit. I know you don't
visit it very often, but--
RW: I do, I'm really happy you do it. I haven't visited it that often, but I visited it recently and I was happy. Thank you.
How and when did you find out about it?
RW: I think my assistant found it for me. And it was really great that you put the stuff out there with the information. The dangerous thing to do is sometimes you go online and do a search and go: "Oh my God." It can be the most frightening thing in the world. To know that your web site exists, I'm like: "Thank you!" And it's kind and gives information and you going to the shows, it's sweet, thank you. Without it I'd be like: "Oh no, what do I do?!" Because some of the other web sites are so scary now, and plus for me, the web: I'll go on it, looking for information. But I don't look, I don't even track myself on the web. In any form. I don't go out to see my movies I made. I've seen them; it's when I see them at a premiere and I can't watch them again. I love performing and love doing them, but oh no. I know other people who can look at it, but I can't be objective. Literally, physically I'm going, "Dude no, no." I find myself looking at things that, you know, that are so kinda specific that makes you crazy.
Just like looking at photographs; that's why you can do only so many photo kills. But as you go around, it's like weird. Walking around here, last night through the Casino. The number of pictures now that are taken every day, it's insane. I mean, in the old days only a few people who had a camera were the paparazzi. Now everybody is a paparazzi. Everybody has a camera. Even when I was signing. I was signing someone's picture and I spilled some coffee and I looked up and there was this guy with a video camera. Oh great, thank you.
You talk a lot about technology in your shows; is
that something you worry about?
RW: I worry, because... example: when I say: please turn off your cameras and stuff. And you can see someone sitting right there, and you go: "Idiot, it has a red light." Because that's how the camera recognizes the distance. But they also put in a feature so people do know they're being filmed. Like, the Japanese put that in cell phones, because apparently Japanese men were taking pictures of Japanese schoolgirls' underwear in the subway! So they made it make a noise, so the girls would know. The technology is there and you know it's everywhere and it's a question of at what point do you say: "Hey, no." And most of the time people are sweet, but it's also a weird thing. You can't slap a camera out of someone's hands, because they're everywhere. But most of the time, you just have to go 'OK'; unless it's in my house and you climb the wall, I can't do anything about it. And even then sometimes people will hack in and find your files, or when you lose your phone. They have access to your most private stuff. It's that weird line of privacy and the people's right to know everything, and I don't think they do. That's why it's good we talk, but there are other things like my life now, it's kinda quiet, which is great.
Yeah, I'm surprised that the press is...
RW: Living in San Francisco, it's a different city. It's so sweet in terms of how they don't give a shit, in a weird way. They are not about that.
And how was it in Minneapolis, because it seemed the
people went crazy over there.
RW: Oh, they were sweet! But Minneapolis is a weird, wonderful city. They literally [Minneapolis accent] that voice, that accent is real. I didn't think so. I thought it was bullshit. "Oh no, it's not, hi!" They're sweet; they made Canadians look rough. And they're very much like: [Minneapolis accent] "Oh, no, hi! Gosh, gosh to see you." And the city itself, because it's so cold in the winters, connected by these skyways looks like a giant hamster habitat. And you go literally down the streets: "Where is everybody?" You go up two floors and walk these habitats and it's full of people. And I just walked out and you can go from building to building without going outside, which is like surreal. I just walked around and most people were like: "Oh, hi, how are you?" 99% of the people are so sweet.
The only time I run into people who violate that boundary are drunks. And having been one, I get it, but I don't need to tolerate it. Like, I was walking... he wasn't even drunk. There was a guy who all of a sudden started grabbing me to make a picture with his cell phone and I said: "Let go." He kept grabbing me and I went: "No, no, I know your English isn't great, but don't grab me." I'll take a picture with you. Treat me like a person and not like a prop. And most people do that. Most people ask: "May I take your photo?" Please. Once in a while you get people who ask: "May I take your photo?" and you say: "No, not right now," and they still take their picture. Then why did you ask?
And there's nothing you can do about it.
RW: No, I mean the only thing you can is when they're in your house, or if they violate the idea of--like one time there was a news crew showing pictures of the house, and I was going: No, you're giving people information about... I mean where I live is OK, but showing them, like, windows and security cameras they were pointing out. You're giving people an idea to take out those things, and at that point you have to go: "No, that's a violation of privacy and potentially safety." And my kids are so fucking good about it. Cody was great. It was an amazing thing. We were in Paris and we were being pursued by the paparazzi. And I stopped to get out and use an ATM. He [Cody] said, "Let me out here." He got out and kinda snuck around and went behind this one paparazzi and tapped him on the shoulder and said: "Hi, I'm Cody. Listen, my father, he knows you do this. My sister is OK with it, she's in the business. My mother not so much and myself not at all." And the guy said: "I understand," and stopped taking pictures of Cody. But it was very sweet. The way he did it, I think they appreciated his honesty because they stopped taking pictures of him.
I still have that feeling that when you approach them and you talk to people and you treat them--you know you realize, when someone comes up to ask for an autograph, it took a lot to say that. And you try 99% of the time, unless of course when it's in a place where it creates too much of a commotion. Like sometimes in the casino, if you start to take a picture, then they all of a sudden it becomes a little claustrophobic. Then I have to make a call and say, "I can do a few of 'em, but not a lot right now" and shake hands. And sometimes you're gonna have to make a call, because you can't do everything. But most people, I think, are very sweet. And it's nice how they deal with it.
You've received a couple of Lifetime Achievement
RW: Those are so weird. So weird, because...
I mean, you're still working...
RW: Oh, very much so. When I was a boy... I mean when I was starting out, I should say when I was a young man, I'd see guys get them, people like Fellini. He was there with John Huston. And there was one with Chaplin, and he was in his 80s. And I was barely 50, getting one. It's like the old joke: OK, so I have to die now.
When I saw Bette Davis get hers, she was like: "I'm not done!" She was angry, tough. And she was in her 70s or 80s, but tough and really did have a lifetime of work. And when I went to see De Niro's, I think his was extraordinary. To see him and Pacino, and they had pictures of all their work, I was like, shit yeah, it was great. He's not dead yet, he has more work to come, but it was like they were saying: "Look what he's done so far." It was like Scorsese finally winning an Oscar...
That was about time.
RW: Oh, yeah. He's a sweet, very kinda hyper guy, but when he won he was like: "Now, thank you."
Where does the passion come from to keep working,
to keep reinventing yourself?
RW: Well, you get it back from, obviously, like tonight. You get it back from the live interaction and the idea that there's so much to talk about. With the acting stuff it's the chance to work on another character, with new directors and people. It's like getting a chance to play with a different team. As an athlete I don't know if they like to be traded, but the idea--you do a movie and it's just a group of people thrown together and you get to work with different people. And you always come away learning stuff. I always do. Whether it's the director, whether it's the actors or sometimes even the cinematographers and people teaching me about the nature of the light and of all these things, I go: "Wow, I learn."
Do I wanna direct? Not at all. I know why people do, why actors do and can be very good at it. But it's not anything that appeals to me. Part laziness, I think, but also part that I love doing this part. Acting, and for me it kinda frees me to just explore and--I think I have to be honest, it's usually a bit of laziness, because I've seen my friends who are actor/directors and the amount of work is insane. Like when Billy [Crystal] acts and directs, he has to go in at like 4:00 in the morning to do makeup and then stay there till 8 at night. That's a long day. A crazy day.
Have you ever considered doing shows or doing stand-up
RW: I have played England. England is wild. In London I kicked ass. Then I played one night at a club outside of London, and died.
It was about 18 years ago, because I was getting ready for the Prince's Trust and it was before Zelda was born. It was 19 years ago, maybe even 20. And it was so incredibly... so gruelling, but at the same time--every comic has a great story of bombing. Opening for a rock and roll band, like Bobcat [Goldthwait] opened up for Nirvana. He was at one show where he was literally under a barrage of bottles and he was ducking and still doing the act. He looked over and saw Kurt Cobain laughing his ass off behind the speaker. This was my story of dying in an English comedy--it wasn't even a comedy, it was a working man's comedy club. And just dying. Just eating shit. To the point where all you could hear was [glass to glass] And that was just "Oh, my god."
I think Europe would be good, like Eddie Izzard did an amazing thing. He started off--he played England, obviously, but then went to France. And he started doing shows 90% English and 10% French. By the end of his run, a month, he flipped it, he was doing 90% French and 10% English.
Would you be able to do that in French?
RW: I've done it occasionally, like on a French talk show, but the moment they pick up the pace I'm like: "What?" It's the same thing when you go to Paris and be speaking French, they'd literally go like: "Speak English, don't try." It's only in Paris. In Florence, it's like: "Ah, ma valise! ...tu essayer m'aider? Bravo, bravo Robin." But the moment you're in Paris they go: "Nice try, but I'll talk English with you."
To play in another country would be fun. I mean I love playing London and when I've done English clubs, I've always had a great time. Australia is fun. I'd like to play in Australia; they as an audience really go nuts.
You did some unannounced shows there...
RW: Yeah, at a club, it was a very... [laughs] it was so surreal. It was a club near a race track. I forgot the name of it, I think it's gone now. But the acts they were opening up were just insane. There was just a guy--he was almost naked, I forget what he did. But it was crazy. And they drink. Oh god. And I wasn't drinking, but...
Like that person who was removed in Seattle?
RW: Yeah, turned out she was the liquor representative for the club. They came in and got her, I went: "Who was that?" "She actually works here." [laughs] She got so drunk, so quickly. Literally, I couldn't understand; it's like that thing I talk about on stage.
For me, doing those places is pretty fun. Same thing as with Bimbo's; it's nice to try to work on all those things.
OK, this is something I'd really wanted to ask before
the end of the interview. What would your slogan be for the site?
RW: Enjoy! Check it out. Log on, enjoy. Read on. Proost. Or leave ideas. Things to try. Try that, 'cause I was thinking of doing this at Bimbo's or Throckmorton, to say what characters you'd like to see, or--because sometimes I'll ask people in the audience and they go "I don't know." An idea for a character you'd like or a concept, other than Mrs. Doubtfire 2. For a comedy it's the idea of, I don't know, it's a weird concept before it's fully fleshed out. Just ideas.
Oh, Mrs. Doubtfire is now completely gone?
RW: Oh, it's gone. They couldn't pull it off; it was just too hard to pull it off, to make it work in a way that--because at the end of the first one when everyone knew who she was. They couldn't figure out a way to bring her back without getting people a lobotomy. It's something you can't ignore. But with the fan site you see, check it out. Leave ideas. Probably the best part about the web is when ideas build.
It's that thing like there're people with way too much free time, but that's the nature of the web, I guess; you get the good and the bad. You get people logging on. But I think the hope of the web and the fan sites and all that is sharing information. Seeing an idea, building off an idea. When it works its best, like a neurological system of people sharing information and then going, "OK, I got this idea." For me that's kinda like: maybe a part of the web site would be "things to try" or "ideas" or "characters" or...
You do have an official web site, hosted by Sony...
but it's like 6 years old.
RW: Oh, it's old. All those are usually promotional sites for movies. Oh no, it's left over from the stand-up.
Yes. Is there ever going to be a new web site?
RW: I don't know. I mean, I'm looking into that right now. I think I will, because I have enough knowledge of the technology. I mean obviously, between YouTube and the movies that people do for YouTube, there's so much you can fuck with. So much in terms of the blogs and I mean, there's so many mock-u-blogs that people have. The idea of people posting stuff that isn't real, but yet people think it's real. Like there's a great Obama video right now, people cutting the speeches so it looks like a stand-up act. It was hysterical. I think I might try something, especially now when I'm going on the web or maybe do something that might be part live, part documentary. 'Cause Bobcat [Goldthwait] and I were thinking about doing that. To do kind of a feed where we'd go out to talk to people and go to different parts of the world. I think it could build into something kinda cool. That'd be fun. Yeah, I mean that'd be the next step if you'd do that, because I think in kind of a weird way I didn't embrace it. Now, as I look at it, I get it and starting to go, "Wait a minute." I do feel a bit like: "You young people!" But that thing I talk about online, I mean the idea of now going: "Wait a minute, there is, wait a minute, there's a lot to do here." I know the guys at Google and one day I was in one of their offices and they had a huge thing with all the non-obscene Google queries, and I started riffing on those and they were just like: "Dude!" Like "17th century," and you can play off of that and do 2 minutes on that, 2 minutes on that, and it was interesting because all of a sudden it was like the ultimate improv. 'Cause it's stimulus from everywhere. And the requests were so surreal; if you sat down and really think of the most bizarre request of all, you couldn't top it. Because it's basically human minds all over the world going: "I wanna know this!" And it was pretty amazing. And I was: "That comes in every minute?" "Oh yeah." And the numbers... what a wild idea. But that's been interesting the last month. Getting back online and literally getting out and performing again. It's got me realizing: shit, there's so much to do, so much to talk about, every day, literally with the elections and the remarks recently about the Kennedy assassination going: "Psst, Ted's not Jewish."
You know, and it's also that weird thing of anything you think of will be topped by the news pretty quickly.
Oh, you mentioned it in an interview recently about
Jon Stewart, all he has to do is play a clip of Bush and...
RW: He does, "it makes my job so easy." He hasn't realized they'll say things that you'd go... John McCain saying: "Torture works."
Right on, you know, it's like the idea of this stuff happening every day and the sense of, in the old days it took a while to find the irony--it's ironic the moment it happened. It's beyond that now. It's now!
But for me, I'm kinda waking up to it, literally, because I was working so hard the last 5 years. It was just movie after movie after movie, and now take a break and go: picking movies that I want to do really makes it easier. And also to sit back and say: "Look at what's going on." And it's important to talk about, 'cause these are crucial times; I mean, really pivotal. It can be--it's a turning point globally: huge, environmentally: gigantic, politically: yes, spiritually: big time. I mean the feel of operation, it's pretty intense. It's really exciting times; maybe it's a Chinese curse, when we're living in exciting times then these are it. I mean, it's going down.
Ok, now that we're winding up... do you have anything
to say to the fans out there?
RW: Thank you for the support, thank you for people who--'cause I meet a lot of them. It's really sweet. And I thank the people from throughout the years who've sent letters and it's good to know you're out there; thank you. I know people say, "Keep trying stuff." And I went "Thank you;" that's the most important thing. That people kinda appreciate you. And it's good to know you're there. It's good to know that people are out there that care. It's not like rock 'n' roll fans, it's a different type of fan.
Do you think the fans have changed over the years?
I think in the Mork and Mindy days it must've been crazy and insane!
RW: It was insane, but it's weird because they are still there going: "I've been a fan since..." or they say: "My father watched you on Mork and Mindy." I was like: "Cool." It's wild to think of--and I'd meet like kids in Iraq, who remember me from Flubber or Hook or Good Will Hunting and don't have a clue about Mork and Mindy.
Same for me, for me it didn't start until Bicentennial
RW: Yeah, it's a weird thing. People will come and find different movies.
I think, have the fans changed? Yeah, they've just mellowed. It's not the frenzy like in the beginning. It was like teen magazine AH! Mork & Mindy! And then it becomes like: "Hello." It's a bit like me, it has mellowed with age. It's been nice, and to know that there have been people there all along--it's been really lovely. It made me very happy.
It's an interesting group of people. I've met so many different people that have been fans of my work over the years and it's cool because it's been such a wide gamut of people. Tonight you will get an interesting idea of that kinda nice mix. And when I perform across the country I get to see another, different mix of people. For me it's been nice, it's been a really good ride.
Like tonight we have a small meeting coming up with
about 20 people and the ages are from like 20 to 60.
RW: Ah, fucking A! Yeah, because those in their sixties are the ones that watched Mork and Mindy 30 years ago. The ones in their 20s are from movies and sometimes from the new stand-up. Sometimes my manager goes: "You gotta get out to the young people," and if I do, I do; if I don't, I'm not going to reach for it, because then it looks like you're trying to look young when you're not. I'm 56 and I'm happy; this is great.
Oh, there is this rumor--well, it's not a rumor, but
is it 1951 or 1952?
RW: '51. July 21st, 1951, so I will be 57 this year. Yeah, it's wild because for a long time they said I was born in Scotland, but that was also me. I kidded a journalist once, I was joking with this guy and they were like: "Are you nuts?"