TORONTO (AP) — Before the late Robin Williams enthralled television audiences on "Mork and Mindy," he already was a star on the 1970s stand-up comedy circuit — and by the '80s was a leading light for a new stand-up generation.
The political satirist Will Durst recalls how he once had the unenviable task of following Williams at the Holy City Zoo comedy club in San Francisco, a venue with a star-studded history that is being explored in a new documentary, "3 Still Standing."
"There were 15, 20 people in the club before (Williams) came on stage. He came on and word went up and down the streets. There were a bunch of nearby bars and everybody left them and wandered over to the Zoo. The place was packed, all the way out to the hall, onto the sidewalk. People were trying to peer in, just to watch him. And I had to follow him. When I hit the stage, it was like a massive movement out, like the great exodus," Durst said, laughing.
"That was quite a baptism."
Williams provides a poignant focal point for "3 Still Standing," which has toured U.S. film festivals and is being shown this month at Toronto's Hot Docs, North America's largest documentary festival. His 2013 interview for the documentary represents one of Williams' final appearances on screen.
The documentary follows the stand-up careers of Durst, Larry "Bubbles" Brown and Johnny Steele, who are credited with helping to launch a comedy revolution in San Francisco in the 1980s alongside Dana Carvey, Rob Schneider and Paula Poundstone. All were awed and influenced by Williams.
"There's a story Dana Carvey tells," Robert Campos, the producer of the documentary, told The Associated Press. "He was at an open mic watching these comedians up on stage and he thinks, 'Oh I can do that.' And then some guy goes up and blows the roof off the stage and Dana thinks, 'Oh, I can't do that' — and it's Robin Williams."
"You can go to any tiny comedy club in the country and there's a picture of Robin with the owner arm in arm," Campos said. "He just really loved to perform. It's like Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart say: Once you're a stand-up, you're a stand-up. There's something pure about that form."
Durst puts it another way: "It's like malaria. It's in your bloodstream."
Campos and his wife and co-producer Donna LoCicero said they felt compelled to make the documentary because they were huge fans of the '80s San Francisco comedy scene. Campos said when they told Williams about their project focusing on Durst, Brown and Steele, he said, "I love these guys, let's do it!"
Williams, who had battled depression and Parkinson's disease, hanged himself on Aug. 11, 2014, at age 63.
This year's theme at the Hot Docs festival is comedy. The opening night film, "Tig," is a profile of stand-up comedian Tig Notaro made in the wake of her discovery that she had breast cancer.
— Howie Mandel's feature film directorial debut, "Committed," which tracks the little-known Vic Cohen scrambling for success in Hollywood.
— "Monty Python: The Meaning of Live," a backstage look at the British comic group.
— "Live From New York!" pegged to the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live.
— "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon."
— "Being Canadian," by Calgary-born TV writer Rob Cohen ("The Simpsons," ''The Big Bang Theory") about the national characteristics of his fellow Canadians.
The 22nd edition of Hot Docs runs April 23-May 3.