This is proof that I have the best job in the world. I get to sit in a room with a few other journalists and enjoy 20 minutes of free Robin Williams improvisational comedy. I’d have to pay hundreds of dollars to sit in the nosebleed seats when he goes on tour, but I was right up close with him at the Robots junket and even got made fun of.
I was wearing a shirt from my Tahitian honeymoon which became the butt of a recurring joke. I was honored though. I mean, Robin Williams making fun of you, personalized comedy, it’s great.
Every little thing inspires Robin Williams. The first thing he noticed when he saw exactly 10 journalists waiting for him was, “Wow, a minion!” Then he noticed what people were drinking “Oh, look. Betty Ford’s people, red bull and water.” And finally, our equipment. “This is like a history of recorders. [into an Ipod] Hi, I’m Steve Jobs. Welcome. Thanks for buying this. Obviously, you didn’t want to get the shuffle.”
Q: What goes on in your mind, is it just jokes, jokes, jokes?
Robin: It’s just jokes, jokes, jokes and then occasionally I get serious, like why are you fucking with me? But it starts like that, you’re right. I should have started off going, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today.” I just looked at all this technology going because I like this stuff and I talk about it because it seems appropriate as journalists with different budgets. Some of you work for newspapers, others magazines. You’ll know who has cash, who’s got a little per diem and who’s got grandpa’s.
Q: Do you ever get stumped?
Robin: Stumped? No. I will attempt to jump and keep moving. Did you question the person when you bought that shirt? Did you say, “Mr. Ho, did you want to sell that?” No, wear it, it works for you. Chaka! Did you think it might be the end of the viewing day in Maui? No. I don’t get stumped, I just try and go. Did I attack you? Yes. Was that unnecessary? Mm, yes. Am I wearing a T-shirt that I shouldn’t wear at my age? Yes. Do I have arm warmers on my hands? Yes. Am I wearing a watch that looks a little gay? Yes. Does that make any difference because this is radio? No. It’s an orange watch band for those of you at home going, “That’s weird. That is so untasteful.” Is this a recording device or an actual camera? Oh, how retro. It’s just a phone. I got a guy came up with a camera going, “Does it make a call?” It’s just a camera, okay. It’s also an MP3 player and a vibrator.
Q: When you’re recording, do they let you loose?
Robin: Yeah, they let me do exactly what we just did and then pick. Kind of like looking through shit for gold, but they basically say, “Okay, you try this” and then we adjust knowing that number one, this will be for kids and you don’t want them going through puberty during the movie. What happened? [Deep voice] “Things changed.” And you play with it and then once you start seeing the early renderings come in, you realize, “Oh, okay, I know what it looks like” and the fact that he’s falling apart, you can start to play with that and the parts that are old, which I am, that helps. That gives you the idea where you can go with it.
Q: Was “Singing in the Oil” in the script?
Robin: That came as a riff and I thought, you know, sometimes you play and I’ll do songs and sometimes it’ll be song parodies. Most of the time you realize you’ll never get the rights because a lot of estates don’t, especially Mr. Gershwyn. Or as I used to say, Ira. George, where’s Ira? Shut up, he’s right here. [Sings], “Singing in the oil, my blood is gonna boil.” And I did it and I thought, “You’ll never get the rights” and they got the rights and went, “Uh-oh. Uh-oh.” Because I love that number and they did it. And it was like wild. That’s kind of cool.
Q: Is this voiceover the ultimate for you?
Robin: Yeah, it is. It’s the closest thing you can get to doing standup other than HBO, where you’re free. Yes, there are certain boundaries because it’s a kids’ movie or a PG, but now given the level of sophistication of children, even that’s been pushed. “I have google.” I know you do. “What happened to Tom Sizemore?” I don’t know, shh.
Q: Are there any limitations because the genie could turn into anything?
Robin: Yeah, there is that. I mean, I can do a voice like at the end when all of a sudden I try different things when he’s in the full body army. They’re dressed like the Valkyrie on crack. There was that thing and I tried one that was just kind of like a German Broom Hilda which is kind of frightening in a Germanic way, which they can be frightening anyway. But when I tried the Scottish, it just seemed so out of joint as it should be. But he can’t morph. He can’t change like the genie did, like to start doing 50 doing characters. But he can play because he’s a shyster, he’s a scam artist. We had one thing that Chris had a great idea, that he’s doing the shell game except he’s got clear glasses. Find the pea, find the pea. You idiot! Why did you bring the clear cup?
Q: Why was that cut?
Robin: I don’t know, they lose certain things because they think it’s either too hip or whatever. I don’t know, I mean, it’s a great idea because it’s like a guy playing Three Card Monte with the cards turned up. Find the Jack, find the Jack, find the Jack, find the Jack. Oh, man, I left them up. Because I used to see those guys in Central Park and I lost money. It was always scary.
Q: I thought you were going to lose one like Janet Jackson.
Robin: Oh, lose a nipple? Well, she’s metal too. When that thing popped out, it was not a tit, it was a door knocker. Every Tivo in the world was like [rewind noises]. 42 to the right, 53 to the left. What’s offensive about that? There’s guys on This Old House going, “I could use that.” It’s a towel rack. What are you offended about? Every other ad’s for Viagra. Mike Ditka, does anybody get the pun? Mike Ditka for Viagra. I take it, I get taller.
Q: What is the difference between Disney and Blue Sky?
Robin: Difference is no difference in the level of [talent]. There’s no restrictions in terms of I did the same riffs I did for Disney and the same riffs I would do for them, and then they’d just pick what they want. There was no constraints like, [Mickey voice], “You’re working for the mouse now.” It was afterwards that things got crazy and so far we’ll see if they’re honoring that agreement, if I’m not selling stuff. I used to do the joke about Mickey has only three fingers because he can’t pick up a check. Even Goofy’s going, [voice] “Why did you lose Pixar? That’s a great business idea.” It’s like Apple going, “Fuck the iPod. Don’t need that little bullshit piece of technology. We can go on with the miniMac.”
Q: Not the creative artists, but the corporate entities differences?
Robin: I haven’t noticed. I mean, the Fox corporate entities so far have been good but we’ll have to see. There’s the long term, it’s the other part of the equation, the merchandising, the selling of stuff. I’ll make a movie but it’s how you sell it. They own the character, the physical character but it involves my voice. I don’t want to sell stuff. That’s kind of been a no fly zone and that’s why we had the falling out and then the reconciliation then the falling out again. But it was always over that.
Robin: My thing is I believe I just want to make films. I don’t want to sell burgers. It’s kind of been that thing. Even if they offered millions of dollars, [accent], “Come to Japan and sell lovely product. No one will ever see it in America, and there is no such thing as the internet. They will never see your hairy ass in America. Sell Japanese thong underwear called Thong in my Heart.”
Q: Was part of accepting the project that it not be sold as, “Robin Williams as the sidekick?”
Robin: No, no, it’s just part of accepting just being part of this project, just to be part of this world. To do a cartoon which I love. I mean, as much as I make fun of the Japanese, I love Manga and Animation. Japanese make cartoons not for kids, and if you see some of the really adult cartoons, they make cartoons even the Marquis De Sade would go, [French], “Please, stop. The multiple penis monster and the schoolgirl, what are you doing?” And I just gave the Marquis De Sade a Spanish accent. [accent] “Why did you make me from Castille? I am from Paris, crazy bastard.” But yeah, not to be the sidekick but just to be part of it. And the good news is Chris and John Lasseter are like this. They’re good friends and they each got the same creative bug which is wonderful. I wanted to do it, be part of the computer animation and eventually, John, someday I’d like to be in a Pixar movie. It’d be really cool and now that you broke away from Disney, you a free man. Don’t have to work for the mouse no more. Mm-mmm. [hums]. Gone away from Anaheim, mmm. Goin’ north to Pixar. Don’t have to work for the mouse no more, mmmm. Minnie ain’t gonna be my ho. Goin’ back to where the livin’ is slow. Good luck getting’ the rights to that.
Q: When did they start showing you the character?
Robin: Two years ago they showed me a drawing. I saw the drawing and realized he was part coffee pot and I went, “I’m in. Pull my crank, baby. I’m going.” Yeah, the crank is good. We didn’t do that joke for the kids. What are you doing? Hmm, oh, yes, girl! Now play with the bowls. Work the shaft. Inside jokes, people going, “No.” [Arnold voice] I didn’t want to do the standard thing, you know, the full robot thing would be very difficult.
Q: What makes you laugh?
Robin: Chris Rock. Eddie Izzard. Rumsfel, because he sounds like my dad after a couple of gin and tonics. If you keep track, he says stuff that even a major alcoholic would go, [slurs], “Eh, that doesn’t make sense. That makes no goddamn sense.” He says just amazing shit, and Cheney who is basically- – I think they’re worried about, that’s why they did the whole SpongeBob is Gay to actually point away from the kids that Squidman is Cheney. You see that one character and you realize that’s him. He is just so kind of animatronic on that level. And when you see him in the debate where he said, “I’ve never seen you before in my life” and the senator’s wife going, “We met you at the prayer breakfast.” And he goes, “So, I don’t care, I don’t remember.” Either one of two things, you’re a lying sociopath or you have short-term memory which is, “What did I just do?” You launched, sir. “No, I didn’t.” Okay. Okay, I didn’t do that. “I didn’t do that, never did that.” It’s like Martin Short’s character. “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. No, I did not. I didn’t invade Iraq. No, they had weapons of mass destruction. Look right here, look right here, look right here. Look at that little- – oh, that’s a helium truck, okay.” What are we going to do? “We’re going to invade Syria.” What are you going to do, like a game of Risk? “We’re going to leave one cube here and put two cubes here and then we’re going to go to Tehran” and now Kim Jong-Il said he has nukes. That’s a man who does have nukes. “And if you give me money, I will turn them off. That’s what Bill did. He gave me grain. Are you going to give me grain? Because I am like God here and I have a standing one million man army and air force. And medium range missiles that could maybe hit Japan.”
Q: Any plans for more live action stuff?
Robin: Yeah, you mean like a regular movie? And maybe some porn? Like Good Will Humping. “It’s not your fault. This never happened before.” I’m sorry. She’s like, “Oh, don’t talk about that.” Ma’am, what paper is it.
[Woman replies that she is syndicated.]
Robin: Oh, so it’s going to be syndicated to the Sunday section. “At that point Mr. Williams went off into a lovely riff about a movie.”
Q: You’re doing The Big White?
Robin: Right, The Big White is a movie filmed in Canada and Alaska about a guy who finds a body and tries to scam an insurance company. And House of D is about a kid growing up in Soho in 1970 with a single mother and a slightly mentally challenged friend. And he has this relationship with a woman who’s in the women’s house of detention. He talks to her. Because there used to be people who go and because they had third floor cells, you could talk down and people could talk back and forth to people in jail, and he develops a relationship talking to her.
Q: You’re the mentally challenged friend?
Q: What are your collaboration with the screenwriters on Robots?
Robin: You always give them the base. You do the lines as written.
Q: Before your riff sessions?
Robin: No, in the same sessions where you were going off. You do that and then you just try something in the same scene. You’d give them always a base. You can’t just go off and leave them like, “Screw your writing. Fuck you, William Shakespeare. I can do to be or not, what?” You just go off on that, but you always give them the base. And the writing, you still have to keep the plot moving. But when they tweak it. The thing you have to balance with this is kind of the madness and the heart of it, to keep the story going with Rodney and his father, the desire to keep the adventure going forward. And I always respected that but I would go off and play.
Q: So it’s you, the writer and the director?
Robin: No, it’s me and the director at that point. There’s no writer going, “He didn’t say my words.” So? You’ll still get the check.
Q: What are your emotions when The Final Cut gets flushed down the toilet?
Robin: Well, I didn’t know they flushed it down the toilet. That pisses me off. Even metaphorically, I never felt like it was that kind of movie when we made it, but it’s the idea. It was weird because yeah, it was badly released on that level. They said they were going to platform it but not platform it and then off a dive. “Here’s your movieeeeee.” Usually a platform means you’ll go from two theaters to eight to maybe 200 if you go max. It was a weird thing because it was very disconcerting. It’s a strange movie and I didn’t think it was everybody’s cup of tea but they had some great reviews, and enough to build on to give it a life. But that’s the dangerous thing. Some movies if they don’t have at least a really hard driving force behind them, you’re right, you’re gone. If you’re not in the toilet, you’re in the stream real quick. Gone. And it was tough because Omar is a good guy. He made an interesting film, kind of strange and unique and it deserved more than a weekend in two cities.
Q: And one of your most interesting characters?
Robin: Yeah, very conflicted guy. That’s the good news about being in small movies. Like the next one I will do is this movie called The Night Listener, based on a short story by Armistead Maupin, actually a true experience of his. And that’s the best stuff to do. I mean, the good news is, you’re off the radar. The bad news is, if it comes out and you’re still off the radar, you’re off the radar. You’re gone. The only hope you have is DVD then where if somebody says, “Hey, here’s a DVD I think is interesting.” You know, One Hour Photo came out and did reasonably well in theaters but its life where most people have seen it is on DVD, which is cool and I’m okay with that because most people’s home theaters are better than a Cineplex.
Q: Are you interested in fewer comedies now?
Robin: No, I’m interested in doing as many comedies as I can get if they’re funny. It’s hard that they send stuff, like they keep wanting to remake certain comedies and I’m going, “That’s great, but don’t.” Harvey. They wanted to remake Harvey and I went, “Oh, no, no, please don’t. Please don’t do that. [Jimmy Stewart voice] I- – I- – – I- – I don’t want his ghost. Ro- – Robin, why did you fuck with it? It- – it was a great movie. D- – don’t do it.”
Q: Did you meet Mel Brooks on Robots?
Robin: Oh, no, I met him before. Meeting with him, for me, if you ever ask if I’m stumped, when I get around Mel Brooks, I’m like, “Hello Robin” okay, I’ll be quiet. I get like a four-year-old. “It’s uncle Mel, it’s uncle Mel.” By the way, it’s a nice shirt, I actually have that shirt.
Q: It’s from my honeymoon in Tahiti.
Robin: Oh, now I feel like shit. [crying] “I got laid in this shirt.” It’s really interesting. Even the Tahitians went, [accent], “We don’t wear it, but…” I bought a jean skirt when I was in Fiji. Only men where this skirt. It’s kind of like a longer kilt, an Amish kilt basically. And I started wearing it around San Francisco and even gay friends, “Uh-uh, don’t do that. Cover the leg warmers, okay?”