In stream-of-consciousness comedy, Robin Williams is a flash flood. When they're on stage together, David Steinberg opens just the right floodgates. It's either the easiest job in show business, or the toughest. As with all the greats, the audience can't tell the difference.
You can see for yourself when the two bring their show to the Vilar Performing Arts Center tonight. A few tickets are still available, but you'd better be as quick as their wit.
He ain't robbin' Robin
Steinberg is a comic genius in his own right, but mostly plays the straight guy in their Evening of Sit Down Comedy, loosely following the format of his Showtime series, "Inside Comedy."
"The audience is there to see him first, so I let him run," Steinberg said.
It's complete improv, and Steinberg spent years with Second City. Outlines are Williams' enemy and Steinberg never uses them anyway. The only restriction is that they don't cover the same ground twice.
"If we've done something, we never go that way again," Steinberg said. "It's rare thing to be able to do that."
They might talk about how Mork and Mindy shot Williams to stardom and how creator Garry Marshall told him, "It's not Shakespeare, but you'll be able to buy (stuff)."
Movies and TV shows they've directed or starred in are possible topics. Maybe Williams in "Awakenings" about neurologist Oliver Sacks' work with Tourette syndrome patients, to which Steinberg wisecracked: "I'm working with one tonight!"
Laughter's the best medicine
They've been friends for years and they've done this before, beginning with a couple segments of Steinberg's "Inside Comedy," where Steinberg matched Williams with his comedy hero Jonathan Winters. That's too much comedy to pack into one segment, so they let it run to two.
Fast forward several months and Williams was scheduled to do a show in Cleveland as a benefit for the hospital where he'd had open heart surgery. Williams had such a great time on his "Inside Comedy" gig that he asked Steinberg to do something similar in Cleveland. The catch, Williams said, was that they'd be doing it for free.
"The best heart clinic in the world and you're asking a Jew if he'd do this for nothing?" Steinberg said. "Of course I agreed to do it! I even got all the email addresses from all the doctors I might need along the way."
They took their show to the 92nd Street Y in New York City and some other stops along the way.
Williams said, "We have a month. Why don't we go hit a few cities?"
And that's the abridged version of how they landed in Beaver Creek.
"We're enjoying ourselves immensely," Steinberg said.
Love and hate mail
Steinberg had his own variety show and his "sermons" on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," helped get the show thrown off the air. He chuckles now when he describes a sermon from a Jewish comedian encouraging us to "Put the Christ back into Christmas and the Ch back into Chanukah."
"It was officially the most hate mail ever received on network television ever," Steinberg said proudly.
Not so long ago, Steinberg presented The Smothers Brothers their Freedom of Speech Award during the Aspen Comedy Festival.
"Inside Comedy" is one of his favorite projects, he said.
"It's an interesting process for comedians. They're not switched on as they would be in a show. It's more natural, less contrived," Steinberg said.
Steve Carell and he were looking to do something together and decided that between the two of them they knew most of the funny people on God's green earth.
Let's make a documentary, Carrel suggested.
They met with Warner Brothers to pitch the idea, figuring it was just a formality, that Warner Brothers wouldn't want it.
"I felt good that day and started spinning little tales. They said they wanted to do it," Steinberg said.
Carell was somewhere south of completely thrilled because it wasn't Plan A.
"Fortunately Warner Brothers offered us a deal that was so bad we were able to say no," Steinberg said.
Steinberg raised some money and spent a year interviewing some of the world's comic geniuses.
"What we couldn't get over was that everyone said yes," Steinberg said.
All the interviews were at least 40 minutes long and they were trying to figure out how to edit everything down to two or three minutes. Finally, they decided to give the comics room to run.
"At the time there was nothing like it on television," Steinberg said.
Since they'd raised the money, and he had some time, they decided to pitch an interview show. They took it to Showtime first.
"They called us while we were still in the parking garage after making the pitch," Steinberg said. "They said, 'Don't take this anywhere,' which is Showtime language for 'Don't take this to HBO,'" Steinberg said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.