When I was a kid, I loved Robin Williams movies. Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji. He was like a more refined version of Jim Carrey. Or so I thought. When I grew up into my teen years, I actually got deeper into his filmography and was surprised to find movies like Awakenings, Death to Smoochy, and Insomnia on his resume. It made me realize that this was a man with depth and tremendous range.
It also made me realize that this was a man with tremendous darkness inside of him. Now, actors leap from comedy to drama all the time. It’s nothing new. But there was just something different when Robin Williams did it. Here you had this manic comedian who would talk a mile a minute and make everybody laugh. And then you had a man who could portray a deranged character who could watch The Simpsons in the dark without even cracking a smile in One Hour Photo. It’s these darker Robin Williams films, most notably the darker comedies, that I keep coming back to whenever I think of the famous actor. So, here are 5 dark Robin Williams comedies that people don’t usually talk about, but should.
Death to Smoochy (2002)
Directed by Danny DeVito, Death to Smoochy is the kind of oddball comedy in the early 2000s that was just destined to fail. It’s about a children’s TV host named “Rainbow” Randolph Smiley (Williams) who gets fired from his job since he’s been having parents pay him to put their kids on his program. He gets replaced by a Barney-type character named Smoochy the Rhino (played by Edward Norton), who is too nice for his own good. Eventually, the mob gets involved, murder comes into play, and Robin Williams can be seen shouting and holding a gun. It’s good, wholesome fun for the whole family!
But seriously, Death to Smoochy reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Gabbo replaces Krusty the Clown, but way, way darker. Robin Williams is still funny in this film, as it is a dark comedy, but it’s still a very bizarre tone for a man who once dressed up as a nanny to be closer to his children. Watching an enraged, alcoholic Robin Williams wanting to kill a man who took his job gives me serious Joker-vibes at times. And the fact that it’s all played for laughs is all the more off-putting, albeit, still hilarious.
The Fisher King (1991)
By definition, The Fisher King may be more of a comedy-drama than a dark comedy, but since it’s a Terry Gilliam film, it kind of goes down that route anyway. And the thing is, even though it's a highly regarded film, you don't often hear people talking about it these days. The movie is about a Howard Stern-type radio personality (played by Jeff Bridges) who accidentally causes a mass murder. He becomes suicidal, until he meets up with a homeless man (Williams), who wound up losing his wife in the incident. Now, the former shock jock wants to help rebuild the man’s life as a way to find redemption for himself. It’s a really good movie.
Robin Williams won a Golden Globe for his role as Parry, a man so destroyed by what happened to his wife that it gave him a mental collapse. The story concerns a quest for what he thinks is the holy grail, and it deals with how his mind is still trying to process everything that’s happened to him. And yet, this is considered a comedy. It’s very dark though because Robin Williams’ character is only acting the way he is because of his traumatic experience.
The Big White (2005)
I think you have to have a certain kind of black humor to enjoy The Big White. It’s the story of a travel agent (Williams) who wants to cash in on his brother’s insurance policy, as his brother (played by Woody Harrelson) is presumed dead, but he needs a dead body as proof. Luckily (or unluckily) for him, he finds a dead body in a dumpster, and he uses it to collect upon the policy. Well, as you might expect, everything goes wrong.
I’m not going to tell you how wrong things get, but I can tell you that the plot quickly spirals out of control since that body was not put there by accident. Robin Williams is great as a man who just keeps on making bad choice after bad choice. In a way, he almost reminds me of Saul Goodman—a guy who you know wants to do right, but is too vulnerable to be taken for a sucker. I have a hard time picturing anybody else in this role since almost all of the characters in this movie trust Williams’ character, even though he’s lying his ass off. And Williams just seemed like the kind of guy who I would also be like, yeah, I feel like I can trust this man, just like the characters in this film do. A highly underrated movie that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody talk about before, but should.
World's Greatest Dad (2009)
Definitely the darkest film on this list, World’s Greatest Dad is about… somebody’s death, and Robin Williams’ character becoming famous because of that death. I know you could just as easily read a plot synopsis for the movie, but I genuinely think you should just go into this one blind like I did. Hopefully, it will blindside you as much as it blindsided me.
If you watch any film on this list, make it World’s Greatest Dad. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, World’s Greatest Dad is supremely dark, and as I’m sure you could figure out, that the title is being sarcastic. But if you couldn’t figure it out (because really, I’m sure you could just imagine Robin Williams being in an unironic movie with that exact same title), just know that Robin Williams delivers a powerhouse performance. He experiences tragedy, and manages to turn that tragedy into selfish fame. Given the subject matter, I think this movie might have been especially hard on the actor to go through, but he smiles and jokes his way through it. Because that’s the kind of pro he was.
Shakes The Clown (1991)
Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial debut, Shakes the Clown is about a town full of clowns. Literally. In this town, one of them is an alcoholic named Shakes (played by Goldthwait) who gets framed for a murder. Really weird (and inappropriate) comedy ensues. Have you ever watched The Greatest Show on Earth? It won Best Picture, despite being a terrible movie as far as I'm concerned. Well, anyway, in that flick, Jimmy Stewart plays a clown with a dark past, and I always like to imagine that he once resided in the world that Shakes the Clown inhabits. At least that would make The Greatest Show on Earth much more interesting. Man, I don’t like that movie.
Anyway, I would be lying if I said that Robin Williams stars in Shakes the Clown. He really just has a brief cameo as a very aggressive—and talkative!—mime. But Shakes the Clown is the kind of film that Robin Williams shined in, even if it was only for a memorable cameo. I’m really not sure whether his dialogue was in the script, or if he was really just ad-libbing his way through the whole scene, but you likely never even heard of Shakes the Clown before, so I’m including it on this list. You can thank me later.
And those are five dark Robin Williams comedies that you may or may not have seen before. Yes, I know there are several other, more famous Robin Williams movies you could watch, but I thought I’d take you on more off the beaten path. Robin Williams seemed to love to walk that beaten path often, and I like to celebrate his amazing career, by watching some of these much less loved performances. But what do you think? Out of the films mentioned here, which is your favorite Robin Williams dark comedy? Sound off in the poll below.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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