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29th Jul 2018

The outstanding documentary on the life of Robin Williams is on TV tonight

Paul Moore

Trust us, it’s absolutely incredible.

While every documentary is unique, the key ingredient when it comes to separating the great ones from the decent ones is the ability to shine a light on things that the audience might have never known before.

With this in mind, Robin Williams : Come Inside My Mind is exceptional because it’s not afraid to portray both sides of the iconic comedian’s persona.

As you would expect, we’re treated to some absolutely hilarious gags, anecdotes and stand-up routines as we see Williams doing what he does best, making people laugh.

On that note, some of the previously unseen footage is incredible – Williams’ gift for improv is a joy to behold – but the documentary also excels in shining a light on the more difficult aspects of his life.

Throughout the course of the feature, the director, Marina Zenovich, doesn’t refrain from highlighting his various battles with drugs and alcohol.

This being said, even at his lowest point when dealing with addiction and mental illness, Williams was still willing to help others and make them laugh – his selfless work to help the homeless and reduce any stigma regarding people with learning disabilities shows what a kind man he was.

After seeing how Williams’ mother shaped his comedic stylings, we’re then treated to some remarkable footage from his early days at Julliard where he trained to be an actor alongside Christopher Reeve.

The documentary really gathers pace though when Williams gets signed to star in his breakthrough role, Mork & Mindy.

The term genius is used a lot but it’s perfectly apt to describe Williams at this point of his career.

As we’re told, his performance in that show actually reinvented the way that TV comedy is made because in its traditional format, live sitcoms were filmed with 3 cameras. On Mork & Mindy, his madcap energy, jokes and physical comedy were so good that the producers hired an extra cameraman just to follow him around. From this point on, all sitcoms would use an extra camera.

FYI, the outtakes that we’re shown from that show are bloody hilarious!

Despite this professional high point, throughout the documentary, we never lose sight of the fact that for Williams, comedy was always his form of catharsis. As he said, “stand up comedy was a great survival mechanism” and that’s apparent when his close friend John Belushi died. Shortly after this tragedy, the network decided to cancel Mork & Mindy.

During this dark period, the interviews with Williams’ close friends talking about his alcohol addiction are extremely poignant, especially when they’re juxtaposed with the jokes that he’s making about booze in his stand-up routines. Again, comedy was his way of publicly adressing his own issues and while people were laughing in public, we’re treated to a very private portrait of an incredibly sensitive and complex individual.

Despite these growing problems in his personal life, there’s no denying the fact it’s impossible not to be amazed at Williams’ remarkable skill as a stand-up comedian. Before stepping out to perform at The Met for two hours, he admits that he was absolutely scared shitless. What we didn’t know is that 25% of his routine on that night was brand new material that he improvised on the spot, that’s an absolutely incredible feat.

Throughout the two hours, there are interviews with those that knew him best; David Letterman, his children and ex-wife, Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, Steve Martin,Whoopi Goldberg and much more.

In terms of the aesthetic approach, the filmmakers use unseen footage from home recordings, old stand-up routines, clips from his films and some outstanding interviews with Williams throughout various points of his career.

For anyone that’s a fan of the comedian, this is an absolutely essential watch. More importantly, nearly four years after his death, it’s a timely reminder of what an incredibly gifted performer Williams was.

He’ll forever be missed.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind airs at 21:00 on Sky Atlantic.