In his talk-show appearances and stand-up routines, Robin Williams radiates the neediness of a child who tugs on a favored relative's sleeve and repeats the same joke over and over again, demanding validation. An emptiness that can only be filled by adulation and love also characterizes many of his dramatic performances, which is why Patch Adams—which artlessly juxtaposed his two sides, the manic clown and the mawkish sentimentalist—sadly remains the quintessential Robin Williams movie. Originally broadcast on HBO, Robin Williams: Live On Broadway captures his return to stand-up comedy following a 16-year absence. Much has changed in those 16 years, and while Williams is noticeably less hyperactive than in past appearances, he still relies heavily on a quaint combination of antiquated stereotypes and frantic mugging. Throughout Live On Broadway, he returns repeatedly to his limited but energetic gallery of blustery caricatures, most notably the flamboyantly effeminate homosexual, the kooky foreigner, and the flamboyantly effeminate foreigner. An early bit on soccer and the World Cup functions as little more than an excuse for an endless series of vaguely xenophobic, strangely interchangeable ethnic caricatures. For a while, it appears that Williams has retired his Run-DMC-era B-boy stereotype, but he trots that bit out during a routine on the novel ethnicity of Tiger Woods. Williams makes up for lost time with familiar, if frenetic, takes on such well-trod comic terrain as The Crocodile Hunter, Martha Stewart's foibles, Viagra, prostate exams, celebrity boxing, and Michael Jackson. More than once, Williams imagines a flabbergasted HBO executive crying out in horror over the shock value of his own act, as if the network that brought America Oz, The Sopranos, and Real Sex would have a collective heart attack over such Bruce Vilanch-level naughtiness. Needless to say, HBO has nothing to worry about: Williams' frantic busyness seems designed to present the illusion of danger and subversion without being the least bit dangerous or subversive.
More from The A.V. Club