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Longtime manager of Robin Williams discusses video retrospective

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Longtime manager of Robin Williams discusses video retrospective (AP file photo)

For more than 40 years - what he calls the greatest years anyone could have - David Steinberg managed the career of comic genius Robin Williams. Steinberg is an executive producer of a massive new video retrospective of Robin Williams appearances and performances: “Robin Williams: Comic Genius.”

The collection is available in two configurations – a 22-DVD set running more than 50 hours and containing more than 100 performances, and a pared down 12-DVD set featuring the cream of the crop.

For the first time, all of Williams’s most memorable standup and television performances have been gathered together: all five HBO standup specials, never-before-released concerts including the Montreal stop on his final tour in 2012, dozens of his best talk show and late-night TV appearances with Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey, Saturday Night Live, James Lipton’s Emmy-nominated 90 minute interview with Williams on “Inside The Actor’s Studio, raw footage and early standup shows.

At the centerpiece of this historic set is “Come Inside My Mind,” a powerful, hilarious and heartbreaking documentary told largely in Williams’s voice that premiered on HBO earlier this year. I recently spoke with Steinberg about this unprecedented comedy collection.

The Maine Edge: I’m blown away by the sheer magnitude of this set. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into putting it all together. The act of licensing all of this material to appear in one collection had to be a colossal task. Was it therapeutic for you to work on this?

Steinberg: It was really emotional and fun. You’re right – straightening out the licensing and obtaining the rights for a lot of this material was a monumental task but it was an absolute joy re-experiencing all of these performances. Luckily, I got to experience it all the first time it happened. Going over it all for “Robin Williams: Comic Genius” was kind of an interesting grieving process which ended up in real joy.

What we really tried to do was illustrate the genius of Robin Williams and how that mind of his worked because he really didn’t have a filter between his brain and his mouth. He was fearless. What he thought of, he spit out. His organizational skills – to think of something and immediately form it into a real thought – I’ve never seen it before in anyone before or since.

The Maine Edge: Was there ever a time that you can remember when Robin’s lack of a filter caused him to fear that he might have gone too far?

Steinberg: He did think about that and we spoke about it but that wasn’t until after the explosion (laughs). He was fearless, and I think part of that was because he also had no malice. What he said were his honest thoughts about something, but he was never about trying to hurt someone. He would point out the stupidity of some people and the stupidity of greed and arrogance, but it was never malicious.

The Maine Edge: What would Robin think about this massive collection of his work? Would he be overwhelmed? Would he be embarrassed? Or would he embrace it?

Steinberg: He would be embarrassed by the enormity of it, but he would never watch it, because he lived it. Robin was about living it.

The Maine Edge: Was Robin Williams critical of his own work?

Steinberg: He was always worried that he didn’t do enough. He was completely tireless. The high points in his mind, I think, would be when he went overseas to Afghanistan and Iraq to entertain the troops and also the fun he had doing “Comic Relief” with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg and a host of other comedians. I think those were the real career highlights for him because those were all about giving back.

The Maine Edge: It seemed like Robin always had a project in the works. Was he afraid to slow down?

Steinberg: He was happiest onstage. He would do a concert in front of 7,000 people and then go straight to a comedy club. He just had so much energy and there was so much he wanted to talk about, he just didn’t stop. He loved that stage and he loved talking to people.

The Maine Edge: Was he able to do ordinary things that you and I take for granted, like going to a grocery store?

Steinberg: In 40-some years with Robin, he never went to a grocery store that I know of. He was really from another planet and we used to joke about the fact that on the planet Robin lives on, lunch just magically appears. New clothes just magically appeared. He did love to shop for some things. He loved to buy bikes and go riding and he loved to buy backpacks and ski parkas. That’s how he relaxed. He loved lonely sports like bike riding and cross-country skiing because that’s the time he had by himself. He shared the rest of his time with other people. He was tireless.

(“Robin Williams: Comic Genius” is available at www.RobinWilliams.com.)

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