When you think about comedy and comedians, one name immediately springs to mind: Robin Williams. If there was ever an actor who could make even the most mundane topic funny, it was him. Cracking up an entire room with his antics was something that came easily to Robin Williams but not everyone can do it like he did. He had a natural ability to be funny and he often attributed this to growing up with “dysfunctional” parents and being the class clown at school. But there’s more to it than that. Apart from his personal experiences and upbringing, what made Robin Williams so funny? Why was he able to crack us up with just a look or a small gesture as opposed to other famous comedians who can’t? In this article we’ll take a look at 6 reasons why Robin Williams was so funny.
His improvisation skills were second to none
Williams was a true improvisational comedian and could create an entire routine on the spot with very little effort. This is something that not every comedian can do. The closest comparison is probably with the late, great Jonathan Winters. While many comedians write their material down and memorize it, Robin Williams was able to create his stand-up routines on the fly, making it look effortless. We’re not talking about a few jokes here and there – we’re talking about entire 45-minute sets that he had made up in his head. And they were hilarious! His improvisational skills came in handy not only during stand-up routines but also during live shows and while acting on film. Whenever he was faced with a challenging scene or a situation where there was no script to follow, he would “make it up as he went along”.
Here are a few examples of Williams’ ad libs:
In the movie Good Will Hunting, Williams improvised about how his wife used to fart in her sleep so loud, “it woke the dog up.” For the animated movie Aladdin, Robin improvised over 16 hours’ worth of monologue, which had the downside of having the script rejected for Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination. Director Barry Levinson talks about a similar experience (except for the Academy Awards part) in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam where Williams created so much ad lib that hours of it ended up on the cutting room floor.
He loved what he did, and it showed
We’ve already touched on this a bit but the love and passion he had for what he did really showed. He was absolutely fascinated by comedy and the art of making people laugh, so much so that he was often seen reading up about the history of comedy and the lives of famous comedians throughout his life. When he was starting out as a stand-up comedian, he even went as far as to travel from gig to gig with a trunk full of props, costumes, and other comedy paraphernalia just to get a better understanding of the trade. When he finally made it big with films like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society, he carried the same passion into his acting. As a result, he was often praised for his dedication to playing the part, even earning an Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting.
He had an incredible memory
Another reason why Robin Williams was so funny was due to his incredible memory. Because he was such a comedy fanatic, his mind was filled with facts and trivia about comedy, which he frequently used during his stand-up routines. He had an extremely good memory and could easily recall any moment that made him laugh, no matter how long ago it happened. His ability to remember minute details about any funny situation or person’s particular style of humor was uncanny.
His slight build was an advantage
Robin Williams was a very slight man (he called himself “elfin”) and a lot of his comedy routines were based around his slight build. He had a very youthful appearance and his slight frame was in stark contrast to the more heavy-set comedians of the 1970s and 1980s. He often used his slight frame to his advantage by making fun of it, often exaggerating his skinny appearance by contorting his body and making silly faces. His slight build also allowed him to play a wide range of characters that were very different from his real-life self. Although many of his characters were funny, they also had a certain sadness attached to them. He was often drawn to playing characters that were lonely and misunderstood, something that came from his own personal experiences.
He knew when to be wild and when to pull back
Another reason why Robin Williams was so funny was that he knew when to pull back and when to run wild and let loose. His style of comedy was very frantic, often involving a lot of physical and visual humor. He didn’t just stand there and crack jokes, he ran around and acted silly, making everything he did comical. He also made plenty of sound effects to go with his antics, adding yet another dimension to his comedy style. He knew how far he could go with his physical and visual comedy before he went too far and it became a bit too much. He was able to gauge this perfectly, giving his comedy routines just the right amount of energy.
He was a true comedy expert
The fact that Robin Williams was a true comedy expert goes a long way to explaining how he was able to make us laugh so much. He knew everything there was to know about comedy, from reading about it as a child to performing it on stage as a grown man. He was Juilliard trained in acting. This constant learning and exploration of the art of comedy gradually turned him into a comedy expert. He was an expert at reading the audience, knowing when to change his routines slightly to fit their mood, and when to find that perfect moment to end his set and receive the applause he was after. He was an expert at reading other comedians and knowing how to best respond to their routines. He was an expert at knowing what worked best for him as a comedian, both on and off stage. And so, he didn’t need a drunken audience sipping concoctions from their penis colada mugs to get a laugh
Given all of the above, it’s easy to see why Robin Williams was so funny. His ability to make people laugh was a gift and he used it to the best of his ability, giving the world some of the best comedy routines we’ve ever seen. He was an expert at his trade and his passion for comedy shone through in everything he did, making him one of the most loved and respected comedians of our time. Williams died from suicide in reaction to a very aggressive disease, Lewy Body Dementia. Robin will always be remembered for his zaniness, cleverness and compassion.
Written by Bart Will Shart