Robin Williams: World's funniest dad?

Originally published on June 17, 2006 | | written by Ruben V. Nepales

LOS ANGELES--Last time we talked to Robin Williams, our question on his wife Marsha's Filipino heritage led to some humorous remarks from the actor-comedian.

"You marry a Philippine woman and they like you in the Philippines," Robin quipped. Then, on the spot, he coined a term for Marsha Garces Williams' Filipino-Finnish heritage. "She's Finnipino," he adlibbed. "You get lechon with white fish."

Robin, who has a daughter and two sons, could be the world's funniest father.

He was unstoppable from that moment on. "I have to say the Philippine women are very hot," he admitted, and, fanning himself with his hands to stress the point, exclaimed "Whewwww! They're wonderful."

Addressing me, he added, "You know what I'm saying."

Robin explained how his father-in-law, Leon Pantaleon Garces (he pronounced the name in his version of a Filipino accent), left the Philippines and joined the Navy. Turning serious for a second, our Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient last year expressed his awareness of and sympathy for Filipino veterans like his pa-in-law who had to lobby long and hard for benefits and recognition from the US government.

Robin volunteered that the best friend of his youngest son, Cody, is Filipino-American. Robin's other offspring with Marsha is Zelda, an aspiring actress. He has a son, Zachary, with his first wife, Valerie Velardi.

Robin capped my first encounter with him by suddenly shouting "Balut!" as we posed for pictures. "Salamat!" I said to him. "Samalat!" he replied. Later, he got it right as he got into a black Expedition in the hotel driveway. "Salamat!" he exclaimed.

Our most recent press con with Robin is for the comedy "RV," which is about an overworked father who takes his family on a road trip. The movie's plot resulted in the comedian's discussion of parenthood, a perfect topic for today, Father's Day. Robin's first number one hit with a live action film in years, "RV" also stars Cheryl Hines, Josh Hutcherson and Joanna "JoJo" Levesque as his family, Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth.

Unlike many comedians who tend to be circumspect in person, Robin is constantly like an Energizer bunny who goes on and on with the funny quips.

So have you ever taken your family on the road in an RV?
No, I have taken them in a Volkswagen down the California coast. My son wanted to stop and he said he wanted a place with a kitchen. So in the end, we had Jewish camping (laughter). But it was wild because the Volkswagen had a pop up roof and kitchen. But no, we had to stay inside the hotel. We ended up pitching a tent inside a hotel room and ordering room service (laughter).

As a father, what was the most beautiful family occasion that you remember?
Staying in Tuscany, Italy was pretty amazing. We rented a house there. We've also had a lot of great vacations in Lake Tahoe, California.

What's your take on an RV?
An RV is a weird thing because it is literally a mobile home. It's bigger than any SUV. You really have to know that, anytime you make a turn, it is like dancing with a very large woman (laughter). You have to give her room. Who gets toilet time is a big deal (laughter).

How did fatherhood transform you?
The birth of my first son was really the wake-up call when you realize there is something other than you. You have a responsibility and once that happened, it really changed me. Once you have a child, it begins the process of knowing what your legacy is, what's your responsibility. Sometimes you will fail. You will fall down. You make mistakes but you just move on to the next step and concern yourself with what you are passing on to the next generation.

Are you protective of your daughter Zelda (who was present in the room)?
Somewhat (laughter). She met a young man recently who was terrified of me like I was going to go, "What are you doing?" So we met him and I said, "I won't hurt you." She is 16 and quite beautiful. She has a mother who is very honest and very sweet with her. Zelda is also really bright, which really helps. That is the best birth control in the whole world (laughter). She has a great deal of intelligence and integrity which she gets from her mother and myself. But I think it is mostly from her mother. My son is not here right now because he is playing hide-and-seek in Bel Air with a group of 14-year-old boys terrorizing people. My other son is 23.

Your kids in this movie are pretty obnoxious. How about your own kids?
Zelda is not. But every child will have a moment where you realize why some animals eat their young (laughter). There is a moment where kids will push your envelope. It's their job to doubt, to question you, to push you, to say no. It's like the Mark Twain quote that goes something like "I thought my father was very ignorant. I realized the older I got, the more intelligent he became" or something like that. Cody pushes me on a daily basis because he is 14. That's his job. One time I was yelling at Cody. He said, "Do you realize you are 54?" I went, "Thank you (laughter)." He was like, "Thanks."

Is it harder since you are a celebrity parent?
No harder than any parent. The only thing that makes it more difficult is that other people notice if you do it publicly.

What father-son activity do you enjoy with Cody?
Shopping with him is fun because we have different tastes. It's pretty wild because we hit these different shops which sell outrageous clothes. He would go, "Dad, check this out." And then I realize I end up buying clothes that make me look like a 54-year-old hip-hop guy.

Who do you think inherited your mind?
All of them in a way. Cody is a great writer. Zelda is a great actress. She is so intuitive. She was so good on the first day of filming her first movie. Zach is also like me.

As the best friend of Christopher and Dana Reeve, how did you deal with their passing?
It was like an overload. You can't really process it. First Chris and then Dana's mother and then Dana herself. You can't comprehend that on any level. I was at the memorial and it was the most amazing thing how articulate and very specific everybody was, especially Dana's son who is 14 and the most amazing combination of both of them. He spoke about them in the most beautiful way. Other than that, I can't comprehend.

I thought about you when I watched "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" because when Steve Carrell gets his chest waxed, I remembered your own hairy chest.
I literally had a lady say as she was waxing me, "Do you mind if I take a break? (laughter)." Finally, they had to hire two women. And after three hours, they both went, "That's it."

Did you survive it, though?
I did. I've also been lasered, which felt like you're being tortured and you want to give up information (laughter). It's the weirdest thing once your chest is shaved or waxed. All of a sudden you go, "I can feel my clothing (laughter)." You don't have the curve feelers anymore. All of a sudden, you feel your nipples.

Why did you wax?
To be more attractive (laughter). So Marsha didn't have to bring a weed whacker to bed (laughter). Because when hair starts to creep out of your collar, people go, "What a lovely tie!" I say, "Sorry, that's my chest hair." When you get older and all that hair starts to gray, there is a silver front and even the gorillas go, "Psst! Who's that? (laughter)" And when you start growing hair in your ears, you go, "I can't hear you." All of a sudden, you have like a topiary growing out of your nostrils (laughter). But when you get waxed, it is painful. You will literally scream names out.

Tell us about your own father.
He was a vice president of Lincoln Continental. When he retired, he noticed that I was finally doing well. He told me, "If something happens to me, take care of your mother." It was a great moment because he was kind of saying, "It's your turn now." It was tough for him because he has always taken care of us.

Did you learn anything from your father about cars, like changing oil?
Nothing. I am totally inept. I know how to pull a dipstick out (laughter). I have friends who can take an engine apart and put it together. Not me.

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