In Memoriam: Six Less Heralded Robin Williams Roles

Robin Williams, 1951-2014
Celebrated comedian and actor Robin Williams was found dead at his home yesterday, suicide was the reported cause of death. He was 63.

A brief perusal of Facebook and Twitter confirms what I initially suspected: everyone under the age of 80 has at least a handful of fond Williams memories. Catapulting to fame in 1978 with Mork & Mindy, Williams was already famous for his frenetic stand-up routines. His movie career took a little longer to get off the ground (*cough* Popeye *cough*), but soon enough he'd branched out from mere comedy roles to ones of greater emotional and dramatic heft.

Williams has been near to my heart for a very long time. My nascent comedy sensibilities were mostly informed by watching his and George Carlin's HBO comedy specials (1982's An Evening with Robin Williams is still spellbinding), and I probably saw every movie of his until the early 90s, and only stopped because I couldn't always afford rent, much less movies. He earned some ridicule, and rightly so, for some of his latter era choices (Jack, RV, Bicentennial Man, to name a few), but unlike other famous 70s comedians I could name, he never descended into utter schmaltz or remake hell, and generated some of the best notices of his career in movies like One Hour Photo and Insomnia.

On a more personal note, his stand-up specials and early movies were a common bond between myself and a childhood friend of mine who committed suicide almost four years ago. I've never suffered from depression, and I can't claim to understand why it drives so many to this end, but I fucking hate how it continues to take people away from us before their time. And yes, 63 years old counts.

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Comedian Ralphie May on Jesus in Arizona, Gays in Midland and His New Barbecue Sauce

Categories: Comedy

Comedian and former Houstonian Ralphie May says comedy depends on your point of view. "It's my job to take that point of view and flip it, so people can see how ridiculous they are. Especially when it comes to racism and discrimination, I don't even have to change what they're saying. I just flip it on 'em and people see, 'Hey, that ain't right.' Well, hell, that's the same exact thing you've been saying.

"Like Arizona, they don't want any immigrants, right? I bet you if Jesus went to Arizona, they wouldn't let him in. They'd be like, 'He ain't from here? Naw, he can't come in. Look at him, all that long hippie hair. Hanging out with a bunch of dudes all day, ain't none of 'em got jobs.'

Somebody could tell them, 'Hey, I think that's Jesus.' 'I don't care what his name is. You can't come in here, Jay-­soose. Walking around wearing a dress. What's the matter with you, boy? You gay? We don't want your kind in here.' And then Jesus wouldn't get in Arizona."

The reaction to football player Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend during the ESPN broadcast of the NFL draft last month proved that Arizona doesn't have a corner on stupidity. "He kissed his boyfriend and people lost their minds," May laughs. Referring to Dallas television host Amy Kushnir who walked off the set during a heated on-air discussion about the kiss, May says, "What did she say when she was walking off? [I'm going to Midland.] Guess what, honey, there are gay people in Midland. Yeah, you go to Midland. There are some gay people there waiting on your ass."

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Comic Mike Birbiglia Comes Back to the Lone Star State

Categories: Comedy

Photo by Brian Friedman
Actor, director, stand-up comedian and monologist extraordinaire Mike Birbiglia intends to lampoon each of these targets and many more when he makes his long promised return to the Lone Star state. In his first Texas appearance in nearly six years, Birbiglia will be doing more than 90 minutes of brand-new material as part of his newest tour: Thank God for Jokes!

Birbiglia's long sabbatical from the Texas comedy scene was even mentioned in his most recently recorded special, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, in which he said: "I was coming back from a five-day stint in Texas, which is awful. 'Cause it's in Texas. Not to say I dislike Texas...[but at the time] it felt like Texas just disliked me. So I had to dislike Texas back, to the point where I developed a small drinking problem. [A common occurrence] in Texas..."

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When Brilliant Met Divine: A Healthy Conversation with Bette Midler

Photo by Jonathan Pushnik
Bette Midler
She sings. She dances. She acts. She jokes. She cleans up decrepit, crumbling urban properties. She wins awards for all those things. And she also, simply, talks.

In a bit of a departure from her standard high-production fare, on April 29, Bette Midler, the aptly monikered Divine Miss M, addresses the equal-parts anticipatory/participatory audience of the Brilliant Lecture Series.

"I'm happy to be doing this event. I've been doing them for a couple of years now, I kind of enjoy them," Bette Midler remarked on her upcoming Q-and-A appearance with the series which this year has also welcomed luminaries Betty Buckley, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton. "I've been to Minneapolis, I went to Niagara Falls, I mean, I've been around.

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Bill Hicks: His Ride Ended 20 Years Ago

The Goat Boy in repose.
As of February 26, comedian Bill Hicks will have been dead 20 years. Houston's favorite son (don't try to deny it) was 32.

Whether he went on to meet his version of Jesus (the guy who doesn't like crosses), descended into the infernal regions (where the Satan-worshipping family down the block with all the good albums ended up), transmuted into pure energy, or is simply moldering in the ground in the Hicks family plot in Mississippi, we'll probably never know. Still, two decades removed from his untimely death from pancreatic cancer, Hicks remains one of the most revered and influential comedians ever.

Just ask Denis Leary.

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Jamie Kilstein: "What Are You Laughing At?"

Categories: Comedy

Courtesy of Jamie Kilstein
Three years ago, progressive, feminist, vegan comic and Citizen Radio podcast host Jamie Kilstein had a hot-shot agent, big-time manager and lots of offers for television work. Then he said, "Rape jokes aren't funny," in an MSNBC interview, and suddenly he was persona non grata in the comedy world.

"Daniel Tosh, who's a very famous comedian, made a rape joke and a woman in the audience screamed out, 'That's not funny.'" says Kilstein who's appearing at Houston's Station Theater this Sunday. "Daniel Tosh very cleverly -- you can put that in italics -- said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if this girl got raped? Wouldn't it be funny if like five guys raped this girl right now?' So me, as a comic and decent human being, I said that was horrible."

Kilstein was accused of censorship and the incident became a polarizing debate over freedom of speech. "This one well-known comic said, 'Well, what if a woman in the audience got stabbed by a monkey? Am I not allowed to make jokes about monkeys?' First of all, have one in six women been stabbed by a monkey? If a woman was stabbed by a monkey, would the police be like, 'Well, were you drinking with the monkey? Did you used to date the monkey? What did you think was going to happen if you rubbed banana all over your face and then teased the monkey?'"

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Comedian Bobby Lee Talks about Stand-up, Hollywood and Life after MadTV

Categories: Comedy

Photo Courtesy of Bobby Lee
Comedian Bobby Lee
"As an older guy," Bobby Lee, the former MadTV favorite starts, "my body is changing. It's getting scarier. I look like a scallop. I look like a mythological creature. I look like Pikachu with diabetes." Comedy lovers are in for a Valentine's Day treat as Bobby Lee returns to the Houston Improv Comedy Showcase on February 14.

"Audiences from Texas are the best because their comedy palates are very evolved," the comic flatters, "you guys are sophisticated in that way." With reverence to famed Houston comedians like Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks, Lee says "a lot of comedy club in Texas have been around for a while for a reason." Lee has made the Houston Improv a regular tour stop, appearing there annually.

Perhaps better know for his eight years on Fox's unfortunately-cancelled sketch show MadTV, Lee has had renewed inspiration to perform live. "While I was on Mad, I didn't do stand-up. I didn't really want to be known as a stand-up, which is stupid. [But] stand-up is the only thing where you have complete control of your franchise. You're the boss of your own destiny."

When asked to evaluate the differences between film and live theater, he's quick to clarify that he "enjoys it all", but thinks "acting is a little bit scarier." Lee, whose film credits include The Dictator, Pineapple Express and the Harold and Kumar movies, says "the validation is quicker. I was in a movie with [Dictator star Sasha Baron Cohen] and I waited a year for the movie to come out. Some people called me to say it was funny. With stand-up, you're in it right away. [It] feels good."

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Ron White Coming to Bayou City, Stays "True to His Nature"

Categories: Comedy

Photo Courtesy of Live Nation
For stand-up Ron White, comedy is a trial of endurance. "Expect to laugh real hard. Not just chuckle, but gut laugh for an hour. It's really physical. I can't stand it any other way." Houston audiences up for the challenge can catch the Blue Collar Comedy alum working two shows at the Bayou Music Center on Friday. Houston has always been kind to White, who claims to have "worked every comedy club in the whole damn city" over his 27+ years touring the country.

A Texas native, White has many connections to the Lone Star State. "I'm never far from Texas. My mom still lives in San Antonio and my son lives in Austin. Of course, I was raised in Deer Park, which is like Pasadena without all the glitz."

White says he likes the challenge of Houston crowds, because you never know who will show up. "[Houston's got] a pretty big spectrum of people. There's doctors and oil workers. [Last time I was here] somebody said it looked like the crowd had just walked off a very nice municipal golf course."

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Comedian Michael Yo has a Houston Homecoming

Categories: Comedy

Courtesy of Metro Public Relations
Comedian Michael Yo

Stand-up comic Michael Yo and the comedians of the Hot Mess Comedy Tour will be taking over the Houston Improv on January 31 and February 1, and they promise to deliver a night unlike any other.

"Hot Mess Comedy", Yo explains, "is when you go to a show and you never know what's gonna happen next. You never know what craziness is coming up. It's like if you saw Lindsay Lohan, you have no idea what she's gonna do. That's basically what we want for this show." For audiences new to this comic's high energy, pop culture minded on-stage persona, he guarantees his comedy is "all about having a good time."

Yo has plenty of reason to be hopefully about his first time headlining at the Houston Improv. "This is my first homecoming show! We've really been moving tickets and this is all kind of a reunion for me." Yo says audiences will get the chance to watch him alongside his parents and all his "old Houston friends."

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The Shoulda Saids: 5 Things I Should Have Said to That Screaming Woman at the Bank

Photo by Manuel Calavera
Not an actual photo of the screaming lady, but not far off, either.
Have you ever found yourself in an unexpected situation that rendered you gob-smacked speechless, but then you later thought of a whole litany of retorts and snappy comebacks that would have felt so good to deliver in response?

No? And when was it that you arrived here on Earth, from a distant galaxy?

Here's the deal. Not long ago, I was doing some business in the drive- through lane at my bank. It was a nice day, weather-wise (remember those?) so my convertible top was down, allowing me to fully enjoy the fresh air, the soothing sounds of birdies tweeting, and the like.

Suddenly a car pulled in behind me, windows rolled down, and the driver was screaming. I mean, like, at-the-top-of-her-lungs screaming. Initially, it appeared she was the car's only occupant, but it soon became clear she was a-hollerin' at a small child, presumably her own spawn, huddled out of sight in the passenger seat beside her.

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