If asked about the late Robin Williams, many people of our generation would think of the beloved actor from such films as Mrs Doubtfire, Dead Poets Society, the Night at the Museum trilogy, Hook, Jumanji: the list goes on and on. Yet Williams, who very sadly died in the summer of 2014, was extremely big on the stand-up comedy scene in the 1980s. For those who haven’t seen any of his televised gigs on YouTube (and I recommend you do!), think of the way he behaves in any of the comedy films in which you have seen him. Think of the wacky, goofy energy he brings to his comic roles, and the variety of hilarious voices, and now times that by ten. Insert some crude language and racy humour and this is pretty much what you see on stage in his stand-up shows.
Yes, Williams comes across as a complete and utter madman in his comedy routines, and it an act which is absolutely endearing to watch. His classic 80s dress code of a loud, baggy shirt and floppy hair only add to the overall effect; when you watch him running and jumping around the stage you will end up feeling exhausted yourself. It is Williams’ relationship with the audience which only goes to emphasise his rare comic gift: not only is he a genius of timing, but he is truly able to ‘feel the room’, and as soon as he steps onto a stage he immediately bounces off the reaction of his audience, creating a fresh and exciting atmosphere. When I say he has a gift I really mean it, Robin Williams was an exceptionally talented comedian.
Although he broke into the comedy circuit in San Francisco in the 1970s, it was the 80s in which he exploded onto the scene as a big name in comedy. Thanks to his fame as an actor, he was able to tour some live shows in this decade which were televised, and extremely popular. These included An Evening With Robin Williams in 1982, and Robin Williams: Live At The Met in 1986 (in which Williams was the first to point out what an incredible yet simultaneously crazy opportunity it was to perform at New York’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre). These performances are packed full of what Williams did best: witty material about politics, alcohol/drugs and social issues of the time, improvisation with his audiences in which he doesn’t need even a second before he quips a response, all accompanied with his hilarious voices, impersonations and manic energy which seem to come so naturally to him and fill the entire auditorium with his vibrant personality.
If you are looking for a masterclass in comedy, Robin Williams is certainly your man: this legendary comic genius of both stage and screen was brimming with natural talent and timing. Having been over three years since the devastating news of his passing, he still is, and always will be, sorely missed by all.
Watch this clip from Williams’ show, Live at the Met (1986).
words by Abi Cutler
Rowan Atkinson, known as Mr Bean, Johnny English and, of course Blackadder, has been entertaining the nation since 1979. During the ’80s he was a rising stand-up comedian, delivering his humorous anecdotes, embellished with dramatic pauses and funny asides as he toured the UK. Although Atkinson presented a satirical radio show on BBC Radio 3, his comedy career in the early 80s really kicked off with Not the Nine O’Clock News, a humorous television show on BBC 2 at, you wouldn’t be surprised to know, nine o’clock. The show was a parody of the nine o’clock news broadcasted at the same time on BBC 1. The funny sketches and scenes shown related to the news of the week and were written and often delivered by Atkinson.
Although less somewhat less known, for four months in 1980 Atkinson toured the UK with his stand-up routine. My personal favourite being, although technically not recorded in the ’80s, his Tom, Dick and Harry funeral routine, where he delivers their parting speech as a vicar. Having performed live at the theatre with the famous Monty Python gang, Atkinson’s delivery of stage presence and natural wit made him a quick favourite with the British public, and probably helped launch him into the success of Blackadder. A recording of his stage performances has been available since the ’80s and if you ever want a good chortle I suggest you check it out!
Check out this clip from Not the Nine O’Clock News:
words by Hannah Billingsley-Dadd