I'm sure all film fans were deeply saddened by the recent death of Robin Williams.

In obvious tribute, News outlets and internet sites are broadcasting clips of his finest works, and videos of his performances are naturally trending.

It occurred to me that, whilst I'm aware he is classically trained in his profession, I'm at a loss to discover if his style is something totally unique, or if he is an example of a specific comedy/acting discipline?

Despite his versatility, his physical comedy was obviously his defining characteristic; did he demonstrate a particular style, such as the Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or even Mr Bean style of physical performance?

Do such styles even exist (likely under different names than those provided) and if so is Robin Williams a scholar of one, or is his style truly as spontaneous as the Media is currently emphasizing?

Either way, what a loss. Even in his most over-sentimental formula films, his ability to create such energy from his physical performances was not to be understated.

  • RIP Robin Williams.
    – Ankit
    Aug 14, 2014 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


Robin Williams was a king of "Improvisational" comedy, where he can take a subject or event (or even a prop) and spout funny lines or impressions off the top of his head. One must be entirely quick-witted to excel in Improv, which is one of the reasons it's a difficult art to master (and most clips of Williams' work will confirm he did, in fact, Master that craft). I've heard, though I have no sources to prove it, that more than 50% of his output over the course of all his movies and TV appearances was improv'd on the spot.

Physical Comedy is something completely different. Physical Comedy has to do with acts one would do with their body, like Melissa McCarthy falling over a fence in The Heat or Chevy Chase falling down stairs on SNL, or even Lucille Ball jumping on a conveyor belt to eat chocolate candies. Old-Skewl stuff like The Keystone Cops and Charlie Chaplin, which had to rely on "sight gags" since they were done in the silent era, were early purveyors of Physical Comedy. Falling off buildings, falling into pools, slipping on ice... All that stuff falls into the Physical Comedy area.

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    ... So you're saying that Robin Williams' blending of these two disparate styles is totally unique, and as such he is not part of an older stylistic tradition or technique? Whilst not slapstick, Williams definitely exhibits a physicality within his comedy; is this derivative or inherent? Aug 13, 2014 at 13:49
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    As one who studies Comedy and Comedians, I don't see any true Physical Comedy in his schtick. Maybe once in a blue moon he falls down, but he is absolutely, at the heart, an Improvisational Comedian. Very much like early Howie Mandel, though I wouldn't put them on the same level. Williams was a level of his own. Aug 13, 2014 at 13:59
  • When Whose Line Is It Anyway aired from 1998-2007 and was hosted by Drew Carey, the reason the show was so well received was due in a (very) large part to Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie. Those two were such a phenomenom with Improvisational Comedy that viewers were sometimes left in awe of their quickness.
    – CGCampbell
    Aug 13, 2014 at 14:14
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    Fun fact: Aladdin couldn't be nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar because Williams improvised so much (source). Aug 13, 2014 at 14:19
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    @CGCampbell - A little known fact is that much of WLIIA is scripted, or at least partially scripted and the topics are known before the show begins. So it's not truly "Improv", they've got a little time to think up the bits. Aug 13, 2014 at 14:21

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