What Robin Williams Left Behind…

Robin WilliamsEveryone and their brother is posting tributes to Robin Williams today of course. Everything from personal stories of “I met Robin and he…” to memories of other people that involved Robin and his work.  How he made people feel like it was ok to be a bit of a weirdo.

It almost seems like me-too-ism to be writing another, but I guess the internet is the way we process grief these days.

Being a comedian living in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s Robin Central. His house is an hour from mine. Many comedy events had the shadow of “Maybe Robin will stop by tonight.” And he sometimes did. Sometimes he did some time on stage. Other times he just watched the comedy happening on stage. Because from everything I could see, he still loved the immediacy of live standup comedy.

The only time I met Robin was when I was a kid and my Mom took us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Robin happened to be there with his kids and we ran into them in the gift shop. We quietly said hi and thanked him for his work. He said he appreciated it and went on his way.

My Dad, who met a lot of celebrities in his days as a traveling salesman, always taught us to be respectful of celebrities when running into them in public. No autographs, no pictures. Just be nice and say hi.

“Live at the Met” was one of the soundtracks of my childhood. I had nearly every word memorized and I can remember the one vacation when we rented a motor home and spent the whole time listening to my worn out cassette of that show.

When Aladdin came out, my friend Denny and I saw it at least 10 times in the theater. I’m a Disney nerd of course. But the addition of my favorite comedian was too much to resist. The 9th or 10th time we saw it was when I was first dating my girlfriend (now 21 years in).  I convinced her to go and she sat between us while we recited the whole damn movie. She eventually said, “You two need to shut up now.”

My last encounter with Robin was in 2011 at Comedy Day in San Francisco. I had a set that year. Very excited since that’s the in-crowd of San Francisco comedy. The food for performers is kept immediately off stage and separate from the food for everyone else hanging around backstage because it’s better stuff.  But I don’t like to eat right before going on stage.

So I did my set, had a great time, and left the stage to go shake hands and such.  As I headed back into the tent to grab some performer level food, I was cut off.  “Sorry, Robin’s back there and we’re trying to keep him from being mobbed.” Darn that Robin. Denying me my performer food. I knew he’d be back there awhile.

I watched him perform (video below) and it was great, of course. I knew he’d be mobbed backstage and there would be other chances to meet him without being part of the throng.  So I left early that day, sure there would be another chance.

And there wasn’t another chance. I missed him every other time he appeared at some little show or stopped in at the Throckmorton on a Tuesday night.

I loved his movies of course. Dead Poets Society is amazing. Popeye is my favorite. Despite being a disaster, I think it’s one of the most misunderstood movies of all time. And I watched Mork and Mindy religiously and had my own pair of rainbow suspenders.

But the standup.  The raw energy of his live stage performances. They’ve influenced my own style since the beginning.  Just last night I realized my own “Shakespearean Bee Death Soliloquy” could have come right out of the Robin Williams Handbook.

I think there’s a couple things to remember here. The obvious being that we need to tell people that we appreciate them.  But I’m sure Robin had no shortage of that. It wasn’t enough to fill whatever hole he had. But expressing that appreciation helps those of us that are left behind feel like we completed a circle somehow.  I feel like I need to write letters to Eddie Izzard and Butch Walker immediately.

The other thing that strikes me is that, the work and the craft get you there, but that’s not what people will remember about you.  Almost nobody is quoting Robin’s jokes today.  It’s all memories of what how Robin treated them or the experiences they had around listening to him. Not some big Deadhead-like community, but just the little things that made people feel better about themselves and closer to those around them.

Thank you Robin. My life would be a much different place today without you.

For my money, this is one of the best standup bits every written. This is a consummate craftsman at work.

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