More than Mork: 6 hidden gems from Robin Williams
Robin Williams was more than Mork, more than Garp and Mrs. Doubtfire and Popeye. The comedian, who died Monday, left behind a world of performances — improvisations, interviews, guest appearances — all of which carried that same special Williams euphoria. Here's a peek at some of his lesser-known bits.
Slurping from Carson's coffee
Williams hit it big with Mork in 1978, but it took him until 1981 to appear on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. It was worth the wait. "Where is home for you ... or did you come from a home?" cracked Carson, sending Williams off into a quick bit about life in his presumed mental institution. Then the dangling boom mic caught Williams' eye, prompting a Flipper impression. And he even stole a sip from Carson's coffee mug, assuring him, "Don't be afraid, the sores went away."
Jiving with the Muppets
Williams made multiple appearances on "Sesame Street." He taught a fellow Robin about similarities, educated Elmo on the many uses of a stick (perhaps in homage to his idol Jonathan Winters?), and fed a banana to a shoe. In his final appearance, in 2012, he taught the show's two-headed monster about the meaning of conflict. The best part? When the monsters start yammering in monster-Muppet gibberish, an unfazed Williams jabbers right along with them. He spoke all languages, as long as they were funny.
Everything's a prop at the Met
Williams' third comedy album, "A Night at the Met," was based on a charmingly crazy 1986 performance he gave at New York's Metropolitan Opera House that was filmed for an HBO special. The chauffeur-guided opening sequence and dazzling opera house suggested a calm, formal evening, but that image was immediately dissipated once Williams bellowed, "Tonight, the part of Robin Williams will be played by the Temptations," and then leapt onto the stage as if he were a classically trained dancer. Everything on stage and off became a prop, from the dazzling chandeliers to the incongrously parked stagecoach to the opera boxes to Williams' own glass of water. And everything was fair game for a joke, from Prince Charles' ears to Williams' own alcoholism. "Hey, I'm the same (expletive)," he announced of his sober lifestyle. "I just have fewer dents in my car." (Video contains profanity, but funny profanity.)
Thanks for the 'Star Trek: The Musical' set
Williams won his only Oscar in 1998 for "Good Will Hunting," and gave a livelier acceptance speech than 99 percent of the winners. But it was his 2005 speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes that really stands out. He slyly nibbled the hand that fed him by mocking the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for once giving him the same "best newcomer" award they later notoriously bestowed on Pia Zadora. He labeled the show's loopy, loony backdrop the "lovely 'Star Trek: The Musical' set," and joked that he thought "Foreign Press" was a wrestling move. But the speech was never bitter. Williams went on to thank the group for recognizing comedians, honored his wife and children, and credited his assistant, Rebecca Erwin Spencer, for keeping his ego in check by addressing him as, "Hey, Mork Guy."
A comedic life in two minutes
When Williams was promoting "Mrs. Doubtfire" in 1993, TODAY's Gene Shalit posed a question: "Can you tell me, biographically, your whole life?" Most people might have been taken aback, but not Williams, who put on his fasttalkinglikeacattleauctioneer voice and delivered. In a monologue chockful of impressions and gestures and jokes, he took Shalit through his days of improv, struggles at junior college, Juilliard training, TV stardom, movies and right up to the film he dubbed "Mrs. Doubtfluff." Shalit marveled at how Williams had just pulled two decades of life together in seconds, asking if he'd ever done that routine before. A laughing Williams seems startled at the very idea, laughing, "No one's ever asked." It was a good thing someone did.
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Matching comic chops with Carol Burnett
If there's one comedian who could match Williams joke for joke, it just might be Carol Burnett. In 1987, the two comedic powerhouses collided on ''A Carol Burnett Special ... Carol, Carl, Whoopi & Robin." In the most memorable sketch, a plaid suit-clad Williams plays a mourner who teaches new widow Carol how to keen. And then in an odd twist, the two actors do the skit again, with Williams improvising new dialogue that seems to come as a complete surprise to Burnett. "There's some coffee in the embalming room but it tastes funny, be careful," Williams warns the other mourners. And when he bursts into a spiritual, Burnett has to turn away from the camera so the audience doesn't see her shaking with laughter.
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