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Golden Gate Keeper

License to Wed's Robin Williams loves everything about San Francisco. No joke.


THE VOICE ON the phone could burst out in improvisational rifts that could put you on the floor. Robin Williams has had that effect on people throughout 30 years of comedy. But today, there are few of the laugh-a-millisecond screeds that fuel his comedy routines, little of the insane cartoon-character voices he's provided in such roles as Genie in Aladdin and Ramon/Lovelace, the mad penguin king, in Happy Feet. He's not roaring "Good morning, Vietnam!" as he did in the Oscar-nominated film of the same name, space-chanting "Nanu, nanu" as he did in his breakout television show Mork and Mindy, or advising his students to "Seize the day!" as he did while playing an inspirational teacher in Dead Poets Society. Today, Williams, one of the most venerable entertainers of our time, who has lit up the screen in films ranging from Good Will Hunting (for which he won an Oscar in 1998) to Mrs. Doubtfire (for which he dressed in drag), is not acting.
 
Today, Robin Williams is serious about something: his hometown of San Francisco. This city, where he has lived since he was 16, saved him in a sense and gave him not only a home but also a career path. He arrived in San Francisco in 1967, the only child of a peripatetic Ford auto executive and a model turned homemaker. He was a child of privilege who had an overactive imagination and watched Jonathan Winters comedy on TV with his father for fun. He could have followed his father into business. But in the freewheeling San Francisco of the 1960s, he was inspired by a showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he saw with his parents at a San Francisco theater. "I was just, 'This is amazing!'" he says. He began acting at Redwood High School in Larkspur, where he was voted "most funny" and "least likely to succeed." After college and a stint in Manhattan at the Juilliard School, he returned to San Francisco comedy clubs, where he so slayed audiences with his stand-up routine that he was soon heading south to Los Angeles - first to star in television and then to take on films.

This month, Williams is back, playing a typically Robinesque character in License to Wed: Reverend Frank is a spunky man of the cloth who won't bless a couple's marriage until they pass his patented, foolproof marriage-prep course, which consists of outrageous classes, outlandish homework assignments, and some outright invasion of privacy.
 
But despite his success, he has never forgotten or forsaken his city by the bay.

"Noooooo!" he says emphatically when I ask him if he would ever leave. "You mean leaving - living someplace else? With global warming, I think I'll stay as long as possible. It'll be the glass-bottomed tour of the marina, but it'll still be interesting."

Here's a rare glimpse of the funnyman at bay.