Interview by Lawrence Grobel
We put together this Blank on Blank using excerpts from two interviews Larry recorded on microcassette with Robin Williams in 1992. Read his related story that ran in Playboy.
Larry has a great collection of 50 celebrity profiles called Signing In available on Amazon.
The Animated Transcript
Lawrence Grobel is a freelance writer who has written 22 books and for numerous national magazines and newspapers.
In the year 2020, you’ll be seventy years old.
Oh, my god.
Now what will the world be like, then?
It’ll be one giant film corporation. There’ll be no longer any government. It will be one nation, under God, indivisible, with circuits and VCRs for everyone. I don’t know. 2020. There’ll be cold fusion. We’ll actually be able to power our cars with our own feces. That’s right. The emissions problem will be a little intense, but just light a match.
Things that I see in the future. I see… it could be quite incredible if we can master a few problems, like the air and the water thing might be nice. I see governments dissolving these barriers are all falling down for economic reasons. They’re all so interbound. That’s why when one market crashes it’s almost like a world stock market. And this a very long economic explanation… something I haven’t got a fucking clue about.
Do you think that there’s a role of the artist in society?
Yeah. For a comic especially, to constantly never let it take itself seriously, to play with, to fuck with the parameters. The premise that comedy is there to basically show us we fart, we laugh. to make us realize we still are part animal. As intellectual as we think we are, you still trip, we still have human foibles, sexuality, all the different things to still make you aware of your humanity. That’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s just to keep us awake, cut through the shit, peel off the mask and go, “Oh, you got a big nose.” Or put on the big nose and make you realize, “Wait a minute, I don’t have a big nose.” All that stuff. So you don’t take yourself seriously and destroy the species.
Do you ever worry about running out of material or ideas?
No, there’s a world out there. Open a window, and it’s there.
Sex… if you view sex and just go, “you look pretty ridiculous.” Even the face. The face you make when you have an orgasm, is pretty much. No one looks… Probably even Warren Beatty, gets that kind of [shouts]. Everyone looks pretty fucking stupid, at the moment they fire the spoo. You get like the wind tunnel face. Baby, baby, baby, baby. Oh, baby, baby, baby, baby. Baby, baby, baby. Everything kind of goes [noise].
It’s nature going, “You look like an animal.” It’s that one thing you got to know. You look a little silly. I don’t care what type of lighting you use, whatever strap on attachments, you still, sometimes look like a poodle and someone’s going to get a fire hose. These are the things you wonder.
Let me ask you about birth as a topic. But you did do the birth of all 3 of your children?
I just remember it was like a magic act. All of a sudden they put this little tent and next thing I heard this [sound] and then … They don’t scream the first few seconds, they just kind of go, “Eh! Wait! It’s cold! It’s very cold!” Then they wash them off and they suture them and they put those little yarmulke on. The little teamster cap. The little longshoreman cap. “Yo, Dad! Yo! Excuse me! You want me to unload this ship?” Then they handed her to me.
I don’t think I asked you any about your faults, if you have any and what they are.
In comedy, not pursuing things, committing to an idea and taking it to its fullest extent because it started when I first started performing, it was all jumping around. Explore an idea until you’ve exhausted it, really go to all the different parameters of it. I think another one is not working so much. This is very interesting, “Look at what’s bad about you.”
What’s bad, yeah.
Look in the mirror, and go, “Nostril hair. The fact that I braid them.” Sometimes, keeping track of people. It’s always a weird combination of worrying so much about the outside world, and not… you have to be more aware of the inner circle, the folks that matter. Because it comes from performing, you always want to make sure that everyone in the audience is all taken care of. That constant desire to please all the time. That can get you in some shit.
Do you have or ever make any New Year’s resolutions?
I haven’t in a while, I haven’t made any in, I think, since I was about a kid. I used to give up a lot of things for Lent, too, and then I still got hairy.
Here’s the best birth control in the whole world, if you really, if you have no pills, if you have no diaphragm, if you have no other form of contraception. Use it for ladies, if he comes at you with that little thing in his hand, just go [laughs]. Just laugh at it. They can’t deal with it, OK, it’ll be gone. The little thing will be out of there. Then it’s assault with the macaroni. Put it away.
Interviewing Robin Williams
In the wake of the death of Robin Williams on August 11, 2014, here’s what Lawrence Grobel remembered about interviewing the comedy legend:
Robin Williams made me laugh. He had a quick mind. Unlike most comedians I have interviewed, Williams was “on” more often than he was “off.” Most comedians suffer from depression. I don’t exactly know why. Rodney Dangerfield suffered from it until he turned 75 and found the right antidepressant that lessened his pain. You would never mistake Steve Martin for that “wild and crazy guy” he created; hanging with Steve can be like reading a book alone. Jim Carrey was pretty serious when we talked. Ray Romano even more so. Lucille Ball never cracked a smile. Bette Midler, too. Lily Tomlin took what she had to say very seriously. But Robin Williams? He could twist serious into funny in an instant. He could make you laugh at the most offbeat things. The brains he would have liked to pick were Einstein’s and Stephen Hawking’s. If he could have chosen another profession, it would have been “quantum mechanics.” His favorite movie was Dr. Strangelove, though the film he watched over and over again was Les Enfants de Paradise. If he could commit one crime without being caught, it would have been “The destruction of all the nuclear secrets.”
When I asked him what made him cry? He said, “Just the insane violence all over the world, that makes me cry. And it’s unrelenting. I was performing in a club in New York and afterwards there was a guy sitting down with an Iranian, a Palestinian and an Israeli, and they all acknowledged that they want peace but they don’t know how to get to it. How do you create a Palestinian homeland when there’s a large amount of Palestinians who want to obliterate Israel? How do you stop this insane cycle that just keeps going on and on?” When I asked him how he dealt with such matters as a comedian, he said, “You try and find a way to address it. Some people are better at it than I am. I haven’t hit that one yet. I’m trying to find interesting things to talk about with it.”
When I asked him what he would like to invent, he came up with, “Cold fusion. That would be the big one.” This was the same guy who danced around the stage doing an entire hilarious routine with a silk scarf; who brought one to tears with his sidesplitting take on the history of golf. “Most animals have a defense mechanism,” he said to me. Making people laugh is mine. That’s my offense and defense.”
I interviewed Robin Williams forPlayboy in 1992, for Rolling Stone in 2002, and for Autograph in 2009. The last time we spoke, I asked him what he would like to be known for? He answered, “The benevolent fool.”
And when I asked him his worst fear, he answered, “Losing your mind, your memory, your ability to think.”
I don’t know if Robin committed suicide or not, I only know that he was found dead early Monday morning, August 11, and that he had been depressed. Of all the people I’ve interviewed or spent time with, I can’t think of anyone less likely to take his own life than Robin Williams. He had the fastest mind, the most spontaneous way of thinking, and he was a genuinely nice guy. Perhaps, like Hemingway, he was losing his ability to think. That would surely have led to depression. But it’s just so hard to imagine he’s gone. He was such a bright light in such a darkening world.
Had he been a circus performer, he said he’d be “the last clown out of that little car.”
That’s how I see him right now, the news of his death still so raw. As the last clown following a long line of comedians squeezing out of a very small car.
“The Bottom – Instrumental”
Twentieth Century Fox