Writer Paul Theroux observed that if you were not able to move people to laughter, you would be very nearly defenseless. Agree?
WILLIAMS: Very much. Most animals have a defense mechanism. That’s mine. That’s my offense and defense.
Theroux sees the roots of your eagerness to please as being tangled in your childhood dislocations and obscure and unmemorable misery. Any truth to that?
WILLIAMS: I think so. Moving around you learn to adapt. You find a mechanism that allows you to adapt to the isolation, and then try to overcome that as quickly as possible.
If you could take revenge on anyone…?
WILLIAMS: I wouldn’t. The best revenge is not to take revenge.
WILLIAMS: Bell bottom pants suit. I gave it to a guy outside my apartment in Hollywood who had been attacked. He had no clothing. He had to deal with it.
Inhabit the body of someone you know personally while keeping your own mind?
WILLIAMS: Gary Shandling.
WILLIAMS: Scientific American or New Science.
Worst telephone call?
WILLIAMS: ‘I’m leaving the agency.’
Perform in a circus?
WILLIAMS: I’d be the last clown out of that little car.
Worst work experience?
WILLIAMS: I was on a road crew that cleared up poison oak. It was fucked. I got it all over me. It was a summer job, I was sixteen.
Have you ever experienced absolute terror?
WILLIAMS: Once, when I was about to do The Birdcage. It was on a plane coming into Miami, dropping 500 feet in the last thousand feet. You get really quiet. As you drop you see the ground. And it’s very intimate, at that moment you feel very connected to everyone on that plane.
Change one thing about your childhood?
WILLIAMS: Having a brother, not a half brother.
Saddest thing that happened to you?
WILLIAMS: A double bill: the death of my father and the death of my mother.
Are you superstitious?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I got that from my mom. Not ladder or cat, but carrying around little objects.
Do you believe in magic?
WILLIAMS: I’ve seen people pull flowers out of their ass, of course that’s magic. My favorite are Penn and Teller—it’s punk magic. They will deconstruct the trick, but do a better trick. It’s layered. They fuck with you while they’re doing the trick. Magic is just applied technology. People think Moses opened the waters—no, he knew about low tide.
What fictional character would you like to have been?
WILLIAMS: Bilbo Baggins, from Lord of the Rings.
What would you like to be known for?
WILLIAMS: The benevolent fool.
WILLIAMS: Losing your mind, your memory, your ability to think.
Sell your soul for one thing?
WILLIAMS: I can’t.
What about to save the life of a child?
WILLIAMS: Then I probably would. Damnit man, work for the devil.
If you could have witnessed one event in history?
WILLIAMS: The birth of Christ. Just to know what is myrrh?
If God exists, can She be trusted?
WILLIAMS: Or is God the devil when he’s drunk? Or is the devil just God when he’s drunk?
If you could ask God one question?
WILLIAMS: What are you doing?
How might God change the priesthood?
WILLIAMS: Oh God, there’s so much to go with. The Divine Witness Protection Program. The automated confessional now at the Vatican. Shock collars for different problems. Did you touch a child? Press column three. If your hand goes anywhere near a pubescent boy, hit that shock collar button.
What would you say in a commencement address to graduating students?
WILLIAMS: Stock up. What did Kurt Vonnegut say? Wear sunblock. Get canned goods, ladies and gentleman. Be prepared. A small survival rifle. And knowledge. Learn as much as you can about skinning, drying, and desiccating beef. When it hits the fan, and it may not, it may just hit the air conditioner, and as we realize, as Ronald Reagan once said, that global warming’s a myth, but he was in the early phases of Alzheimer’s….but now we know. You’re walking into, as the Chinese say, interesting times. They’re mapping the human genome, ‘You want a boy with gills, you got him’—‘My son Joe, he’s on the swim team. How did he win? He stayed underwater for four hours.’ The potential is huge.
Single most valuable thing you’ve learned?
WILLIAMS: The value of silence.
The five most important things in life?
WILLIAMS: Love. Security. Laughter. Home. And a nice bowel movement.
Choose the way you’ll die.
WILLIAMS: Shot by a jealous husband at the age of 90.
Pick your pallbearers.
WILLIAMS: The Supreme Court.
If you could be reincarnated as someone you know?
WILLIAMS: Oliver Sacks.
Reincarnated as an animal?
WILLIAMS: A wolf or a porpoise.
The most difficult question you could be asked?
WILLIAMS: If you were in prison, would you be the bitch?