One of the greatest stand-up comedy specials of all time was A Night at the Met, the third of its kind by Robin Williams. Released in album form on August 9, 1986, the special (sometimes called An Evening at the Met) marks its 35th anniversary this week.
The “night” was recorded at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, something of a non-traditional venue for stand-up comedy.
“Over the years, the opulent theater had been the setting for any number of tales about the irrevocable consequences of our human passions,” Dave Itzkoff wrote of the special in his biography of Williams, Robin. “On this night it was as good a place as any for Robin to get a few things off his chest.” It went on to call the special Williams’ most personal, as he addressed his marriage and then-new fatherhood.
Its album version would win a Grammy in 1988 for Best Comedy Performance Single or Album, Spoken or Musical. And since his movie star career began to take off in the ensuing years, it was also Williams’ last major stand-up special for a while.
Featuring Williams’ trademark rapid-fire delivery, the hourlong A Night at the Met featured extended riffs about drugs, current events at the time, sexuality, and eventually pregnancy and fatherhood.
Sure, there’s some stuff Williams does that’s a bit iffy by modern standards, especially the various gay and ethnic voices. But it remains very, very funny to this day.
Stands the Test of Time
I discovered A Night at the Met at a young age, probably 12 or 13. My parents had it on cassette and I listened to it over and over again. Even though, I didn’t understand everything, whether it was the more adult material, the drug stuff, or the references to Ronald Reagan and Muammar Gaddafi.
Certain things hit differently now, watching it as a guy in his 40s with two kids. Especially the parts about parenthood, and such as the bit in which he imagines his 16-year-old son saying the same thing he said to his father: “God Dad, you’re fucked.”
Indeed, there are a few bits from the special that I can recite from memory. “Freebasing – it’s not free, it costs you your house, it should be called homebasing.” The entire “Dr. Roof” bit, and the part about the penis being called to testify at a divorce trial (“Mr. Phallus…”).
Robin Williams died tragically of suicide in 2014, seven years this week. He’s remembered for his early sitcom work, and his many years as a movie star, which included everything from comedy hits to an Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting. There have already been that biography and two different documentaries about Williams since his death.
However, my favorite bit of Williams’ work has always been this special.