THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: Robin Williams Blames Canada At The Oscars
Today we are turning our attention to a classic and inherently theatrical clip captured on the Oscars featuring recently deceased actor and comedian Robin Williams.
At the 2000 Academy Awards, for the first time in the history of the awards a composition was elected as a nominee for Best Song containing the word "f*ck". Additionally, the song contained off-color references to popular and generally considered to be wholesome enterprises such as Canadian singer Anne Murray, international pop star Celine Dion and others. As a direct result of the controversial nature of the material, a special edition of the song was deemed to be necessary in order for the number to be performed live on the actual telecast. What to do? Who to choose? What to change? Such were the tricky terms of the situation, particularly since The Voice actor who led the song in the film proper had unexpectedly died months before, Mary Kay Bergman.
The source? SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT. The authors? Marc Shaiman and Trey Parker. The song? "Blame Canada". The performer? Why, the one and only Robin Williams. In SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT, conservative super-mom Sheila Broflovski urges fellow parents of the small town of South Park to band together to vocally protest the release of a smut-laden, profanity-filled new comedy film aimed at teens and pre-teens, which just so happened was created by two Canadian comedians. Sound familiar, at least minus the Canada part? The irony is surely more than merely intentional. As a result, Broflovski proclaims that the entire country of Canada is to blame for the corruption of the youth of America due to entities such as this movie, and, in an epic, LES MISERABLES-esque anthem she lists the many reasons why, ending on a stinging and sharp final phrase befitting of Stephen Sondheim himself (who is an outspoken fan of the South Park film, as a matter of fact): "We must blame them and cause a fuss / Before somebody thinks of blaming us!"
Subsequently, Shaiman and Parker engaged multi-award-winning stage and screen star Robin Williams to enact the song on the telecast - and, in a note of all-too-tragic irony, original voice actor Mary Kay Bergman succumbed to suicide in the months leading up to the release of the film, with Williams now choosing the same fate in his own life nearly 15 years later. While that incredibly unfortunate pallor will forever be dually cast on the song and its subsequent award show performance, the overwhelming joy coming as a result of the ribald, outrageous humor intrinsic to it and the indelible performances given by both actors in their very different iterations of it offer some desperately desired solace, in any event.
The perceived button-pushing performance of the song was the question mark of the telecast on the night of the broadcast on March 26, 2000. What would Williams do? What changes would be made to the song to appease the censors? Would anybody actually be saying the word "f*ck" on live TV? Furthermore, how would a cartoon come to life - particularly on a group song featuring so many characters - in real life, live onstage, for an international viewing audience? When Robin Williams took the stage with an unmistakable strip of duct tape over his mouth, ready to launch into the performance proper, viewers were on the edge of their seats. Then, he spoke - tape still applied.
Cue the musical performance itself - a veritable showstopper if there ever were any. In a newly redesigned version of the song, Williams performed "Blame Canada" mostly as it was heard and seen in the South Park film itself with a daffy and colorful chorus as back-up. When the time came for him to utter the pejorative term, he glanced back at the chorus as they elicited a gasp - never uttering it. Additionally, the "That b*tch, Anne Murray, too" line got an audible laugh from the audience, as well - and the singer herself revealed that she found the dig hilarious and would have performed the song herself on the telecast had she not had prior commitments, according to reports at the time. Alas, "Blame Canada" lost out on winning Best Song - the trophy went to Phil Collins for TARZAN's "You'll Be In My Heart" - but, as this clip clearly shows, Williams, Shaiman, Stone and South Park unquestionably had the last laugh (or ten).
So, now, go back nearly 15 years and see Robin Williams stop the show with "Blame Canada" from SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT.
Also, for even more clips of Robin Williams at his best, check out this week's extensive Flash Special salute, available here.
What is your absolute favorite line in this hilarious parody of scapegoating? Furthermore, what is it about the infectious energy and comedic commitment that makes Williams's performance of "Blame Canda" so utterly enjoyable? Undoubtedly, today's clip is an excellent example of a performer taking a home run and turning it into a grand slam - with a generous dose of controversy added for good measure.