This is the seventh of the “50 Albums to Christmas 2019” series.
There’s a cachet of sorts to the great comedy albums of the 70s and 80s. Derek & Clive, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Lenny Bruce. These were the greats recorded on vinyl or 8-track that you’d hear about from other people who’d heard about them from read about Led Zeppelin or other famous people playing their own copies to death. Each of them tent-pole moments in the evolution of stand-up. Some have aged better than others. Murphy’s Raw is almost completely unfunny in today’s age of #metoo while Bruce’s Carnegie Hall platter was considered controversial then but would still be considered sharp as tacks in today’s world of HIGNFY, Veep & The Thick of It. Robin Williams’ two albums, Reality What A Concept and Live at the Met meanwhile transcend age.
Williams’ two best films, Aladdin and Good Morning Vietnam, work best because they let his style of improv comedy out to play and simply record the results. His two albums show that style in their completely raw state. Outrageously funny, intense, highly manic, super energetic, this is the improvisational high that your Ross Nobles and Eddie Izzards aspire to, the observational left turns that the John Bishops and Michael McIntyres strive to find, strung together at such a speed in such a runaway train of thought you almost fear for his mind simply waving a white flag out one earhole going “Easy there bud, I need a break”. We learn why a duck-billed platypus is definitely a sign that God gets stoned, why ballet choreographers should never be football coaches, and that the trip to the delivery clinic is still as traumatic for all parents then as it is today. In thirty seconds. You’re too busy laughing to hear half the jokes. OK the sections on Colonel Khadafi and Ronald Reagan are out of date, but substitute in ISIS and Trump and hey presto it’s exactly the same.
Do yourself a favour if you’ve never heard Live At the Met and stream it. Choose to be offended if you will, but don’t let his memory fade. Williams committed suicide in 2014 having previosuly struggled with alcoholism, drugs, and - at the time of his death - early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Like the classic story of Pierrot, his comedy half had a tragic side - which is probably why his third best film is One Hour Photo, an exposition of that side of things - but we must celebrate and remember him in totality.