Robin Williams at the Roxy

The first Robin Williams standup special I saw was the one he performed in 1978 for HBO. It contained material that would be put on vinyl with 1979's Reality ... What a Concept, but this special was the first place I encountered these jokes. I grew up referring to it as Live at the Roxy, but I'm now seeing it listed online as Off the Wall. I think I saw it sometime during my middle school years, so somewhere between 1993 and 1995. My family didn't have HBO growing up, either, so I would've seen a version that was edited for TV (likely Comedy Central). If I sound hazy here, it's because the special itself was so influential and magnetic that the material has stayed with me for years even as the details of when I first encountered it have faded. His Shakespearean riff as he wanders through the crowd; the references that were already a little dated when I first saw the special; the frenetic, flagellating look at what he sees in his mind when he bombs on stage; the pleasant poignancy of the closing bit of the main set, where he plays an old version of himself giving advice to young people. As that character, he says, in part:

"From me to you, you've got to be crazy. You know what I'm talking about? Full-goose bozo. Because what is reality? ... You've got to be crazy. You've got to. Because madness is the only way I've stayed alive. Used to be a comedian. Used to, a long time ago. It's true. ... You've got to be crazy. It's too late to be sane. Too late. You've got to go full-tilt bozo. Because you're only given a little spark of madness, and if you lose that, you're nothing. Don't. From me to you, don't ever lose that, because it keeps you alive. ... There's no way any government in the world can handle madness. You've got to fly above it all. Remember: angels, they have wings because they take themselves lightly. ... I don't wanna preach to you, because preaching is like my grandfather used to say: you can fool some of the people some of the time and jerk the rest off. That sucks. But from me to you, keep bozo. You got to. And like Lord Buckley said, he said, people are kind of like flowers. It has been a privilege kind of pollinating here in your garden. Come back; I'll be here."

He was only 27 the year this special came out: impossibly young, lithe, energetic, raw. The bits here sank into me like only something you see as a child can. Rewatching the video now, I still know the words and beats even though I haven't actually watched this performance in 15-20 years. Sometimes jokes from this special will pop into my head for no reason. It made such an impression that it took me years to realize just how big that impression was.