For a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, Robin Williams was everywhere on screen, delighting adults and children. Doing something that seemed impossible, the often profane comedian transitioned from the role of manic comic to manic family entertainer without ever losing his edge, or his voice. But before he was a scene-stealing movie star, he was a stand-up comic who could make any moment funny.
Nearly two thousand minutes of the humor of the late, great Robin Williams populate just half of Time Life’s collection Robin Williams: Comic Genius. Over two volumes and eleven discs, the first two volumes of the collection help paint a picture through his words and the words of others that highlight the intelligent, manic nature of a comedian we were blessed to experience but who left the stage much too soon. [The set is actually twenty-two discs in its entirety, but I’m attempting to cover the half received to review.]
Volume One begins with an HBO special, Robin Williams: Off the Wall, from October 1978. While there are various appearances from Williams on that first disc, there is also the featurette on the “early years” and an interview with David Steinberg, Williams’ manager who calls Williams his brother from another mother. Various specials dot the next few discs (“Robin Williams: An Evening at the Met” in 1986, ” Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” in 2002, “Robin Williams: Weapons of Mass Destruction” in 2009) with introductions from Lewis Black and interviews again with Black and Steinberg. The sixth disc of the first volume is a primarily a variety of sets from 2004 to 2008 that Williams provided for different American military forces around the world.
Volume Two’s first disc features six episodes from the Mork & Mindy television show from 1978. There is an interview with Williams’ co-star, Pam Dawber, that highlights that disc, before transitioning to episodes where Williams appeared on Saturday Night Live (1984, 1986, 1988) on the second disc, appearances with Oprah (1991) and her thoughts about him on the third disc, interactions with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show (1992, 1995, 1997, 2004) and an interview with Leno himself. Discs five and six provide “Robin Williams: Inside the Actors Studio” and the documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” (2018) from Emmy Award-winning director Marina Zenovich and Oscar-winning producer Alex Gibney.
There is so much here to consider – what made him funny? What made him tragic? – that these hours of footage and laughs will take weeks to unpack and enjoy. But the truth is that while Williams’ death robbed us of a great comedian, the way he looked at the world and the joy he brought to audiences will remain long after he is gone.