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September 28, 2006



Congrats, Ken. That's the comedy equivalent of one of us hitting a home run off Greg Maddux in his prime.



Douglas McEwan

Now that post took me back. From 1979 to 1981 I emceed inmprov and sketch comedy shows 1 night a week at The Comedy store, where Robin always performed with our headiner troop, The Comedy Store Players, when he wasn't off shooting a movie. I had my own sketch troop in the shows, so I seldom ever appeared in a sketch with Robin, although it happened once or twice, and your description of what it was like "sharing" an improv sketch with Robin is right on the nose. He never meant to upstage everyone. He just couldn't help it. I seldom visited OFF THE WALL, as I never got on with Dee Marcus, but I had friends in the troop, in particular Hennan Chambers, and went to watch once in a while. They were great, though the best troop I ever saw was WARBABIES, which included Archie Hahn and Peter Regert.Difficult as doing as scene with Robin was, he would periodically remember it was a scene, not standup. The worst person to share an improv scene with was Sam Kinison. I did that just once. Much as I loved Sam offstage, to Sam, an improv scene was just stand up with people onstage to scream at. You'd never have gotten a "Fuck you" in with Sam. Just a "Fu--" before he screamed over you.The best improv teacher I ever studied under was the late Bill Hudnut. That was a great class, the only place I ever found myself playing scenes with Carole King.I miss improv. It was more fun than anything but sex.


there are those that would argue that "not letting you get a word in" is a horrible way to improvise... but hey, who's the millionaire?


I am not sure if it was on HBO or such, but long ago I saw a Robin Williams performance set, where he introduced and brought out of the audience John Ritter to help out. It was just awful. Ritter seemed unable to find any space in the set which was obviously Williams, and ... I think in his mind, Ritter was waiting to find the moment to say "fuck you".Which goes to my point about Robin Williams. He seems the type that works solely alone with a big "A". That's not a promising sign for any improv. He's that kid who never knew when to let the punch line just linger a second, but used any time available to give five more variations of it one after the other, until the audience is laughing AT the delivery, rather than the punch line. Which I guess can be grating.And maybe the only people that can get in are other Hollywood A list egos that Williams recognizes - Crystal et al.I was shocked to see him on "Whose line is it anyway" once, and... it was just flat. The others improvised off of each other, together, Williams so obviously could not. the experience you had, up close, in a workshop-like atmosphere, must have been incredible. And your response must have felt like a relief to you, and got the laugh probably because it was on everyone's mind.

Beth Ciotta

I can totally envision your bit with Robin. No wonder the audience laughed. Hilarious. :)

the impish scribe

Liked the story Senor.Am a UK based writer trying to break into US TV sitcom writing field - any chance of wise advice, suggestions, pointers, people who'd be keen on a UK import etc?The worse thing you could say is no, or even: not reply.

Mr. Hollywood

The first time I met Robin was back in the early 80's. He had done a film called THE SURVIVORS and I was intervewing him in the backyard of his publicist's house in the hills of Sherman Oaks. All was quiet when we set up (TV interview so we had lights, etc.) but when the interview started, every noise interruption imaginable (construction trucks, garbage trucks, jets flying over, gardeners, dogs barking, etc.)It was like a bad comedy sketch. But funny as hell as Robin riffed to all of the sounds. To this day, when I see him he looks at me and says "interview from hell!"

Julie O.

Timely post, Ken -- I've been toying with the idea of taking an Improv class at a club here in town where Wayne Brady used to (and occasionally still does) play. It's kinda terrifying, but that which doesn't kill me makes me a better writer...


Oh come on, you'll pick up a few more readers than two.Anyway, I was privilaged to attend a filming of Cheers in the 90's; the one where Woody takes his girlfriend to a motel. I was wondering if you could talk about the Cheers set... any "secrets" or problems or stories connected with it?


Off topic, but the Becker thread was too old... why I could not watch Becker... my wife is Dr. Karen Becker, family physician, working in the Bronx. She is a little bit of a curmudgeon, but much sexier than Danson. Just sayin.


Hmm, Lance Mannion. Didn't he check into a Boston hospital for a hernia operation? Seems he played Woody at raquetball or some sport, and won. When he scored the winning point, he let out what he called his "victory yell." Lance was finally tracked down by Diane when a nurse at Cheers told another nurse about a patient who wouldn't keep his hands off her.

Barking Up Trees

i've also bookmarked your kid as i'm a sox fan since the 70s... he gonna do a pats blog too... ?

Herbie Popsfarter

That's a great story. I love the term "inspired word jazz' that describes RW's skill perfectly.


I agree, Andy Goldberg from Off the Wall is great. His class was totally fun. First saw him and Robin (and John Ritter) improv together in maybe 1979.He also wrote a book -- just google GOLDBERG and IMPROV. Really lays out the building blocks, good character stuff for actors and writers.


"a reader"? Thanks Ken, and I was going to tell everyone that you were not only funny, but could do a great serious dramatic sketck too. Well, once anyway.At least now I know why every time we worked together you kept looking at me and saying, "Fuck you." I just thought you didn't like me.

Paul Duca

Ken, didn't you feel a base comfort level for improv from being a disc jockey? I mean, already being used to thinking of funny things to say off the cuff and on the fly?


"The hardest part is going to a deli afterwards and watching your classmates eat fried kreplachs at 11 at night."I only ordered them because you said they were best eaten late at night.


Consider yourself bookmarked from Wolcott.

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    Ken Levine is an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. He and his partner wrote the feature VOLUNTEERS. Ken has also been the radio/TV play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres.
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