He made Superman laugh when he needed it most. That is what I'll always remember. After my show last night I was sitting with friends when I was told Robin Williams was dead. I have little to say about my gig today. Suffice to say it went well and we will get back to talking about the shows tomorrow. The news of Williams' death is devastating. He was my first stand up comedy hero. He was the man who introduced me to stand up comedy. I had enjoyed his appearances on "Happy Days" where he was so powerful he could go head to head with Fonzie. When the character spun out into the show "Mork and Mindy" I was hooked. He was the funniest man alive.
I owned two of his comedy records. "Throbbing Python Of Love" where he impersonates Elmer Fudd singing Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" is still one of the funniest things I've heard. Yet it was "A Night at the Met" that had the bigger influence. It was a funnier and tighter routine but the ending (that ending) was sublime. Williams walking off hand in hand with his son had the biggest influence on my live solo shows. His DNA is scattered throughout my onstage persona. There was something beautiful about this show that as a young lad I couldn't quite put my finger on. In hindsight I know what it was: that comedy could be beautiful as well as funny.
I used to listen to both shows on vinyl and impatiently wait for the arm of the record player to slot back into its resting place so I could quickly switch sides and not lose the rhythm of his routines. I memorised his routines and I could do impersonations of him for my class mates. My friends and I would constantly quote his material to each other. I loved him, plain and simple. Yet even as a kid Mum would say to me, "Look at his eyes. He has sad eyes." She was right. Even when he was the funniest man alive there was a sadness there, a vulnerability that revealed what was going on deep down in his soul.
I think people forget that he wasn't just fearless as a comedian. When he was a massive star he was making wonderful films like "The World According To Garp". I saw that movie as a kid and it was such a brave performance. He could easily have just made comedy after comedy and we would have loved him for it. Of course he couldn't do just that. Williams was an artist. He had many facets. He had something to say. Seeing this movie as a teenager taught me that comedy could take many faces and sometimes they don't always have to finish on a big laugh. Sometimes they finish in tragedy but that shouldn't diminish the laughs you've had along the way.
"Good Morning Vietnam" was another significant movie for me. Firstly it was the movie that made me realise I needed glasses. I sat in the audience squinting my eyes to watch Williams in one of his greatest performances. It was also a movie that dealt with the spectre of war with humour and pathos. This for me was the next step up from Hawkeye and the gang at the 4077th. There were rumours around my school that Williams ad libbed everything. I still to this day can't tell where the ad libbing kicks in and where the script shines but I choose to believe he never looked at the words. He was just given a vibe and went from there. I loved everything about it and I could quote so many of his lines but it was in the quieter moments when he says goodbye to the troops that got me. It was those eyes, those sad eyes.
Williams took it to the next level in "Dead Poets Society" and I remember walking out of the cinema wishing that he'd been my teacher. Even now when I think about what I would do if I quit comedy I have often thought (in my wildest dreams) about being a teacher who could inspire young lads with the power of words. Peter Weir was the perfect director for Williams and brought out a nuanced performance that paved the way for the likes of Jim Carrey to make the transition from funny man to credible actor.
There were so many films that I loved. "The Fisher King" was one. "Good Will Hunting" was another. I remember seeing a movie by a young Christopher Nolan because I had loved "Memento" and I wanted to see his second movie "Insomnia"because it also starred Al Pacino and Williams together. If you've never seen it you should give it a go. Pacino is great and Williams goes head to head with him. If he could go head to head with Fonzie he could take on Pacino, right? Those eyes were put to good use in that film as he attempted to play with our desire to like him through the prism of a character who was not a good person.
So many stories. So much love. The outpouring of grief from the highest profile cats in the world to the dude living in the suburbs who just found him funny is beautiful, painful and sad. It was interesting that Patton Oswalt made a reference to "Pagliacci" in his tribute to Williams. As a teenager I was obsessed with "Pagliacci" as I'd been introduced to this story through the movie "The Untouchables" and the comic "Watchmen". I had shown Mum that story in my comic and she had said to me, "That's Robin Williams". It makes me sad to know that my household wasn't the only one that saw this.
To understand the true power of Robin Williams; to celebrate all the good he did while he was here and to think of him when his powers were at their shiniest, I think of the story about Christopher Reeve. I'm sure you've heard this story or if not will hear it throughout the weeks to come. If you haven't heard this story here it is: In 1995 Christopher Reeve had a terrible accident when he fell from his horse and had ruined his spine. He needed an operation to reattach his skull to his spine and the chance of survival was only 50/50. While Reeve waited to go into surgery the doors flung open and in walked Williams dressed in a surgical gown, glasses and speaking with a Russian accent declaring he was about to perform a rectal exam on Reeve. It was the first time Reeve had laughed since his accident and helped pull him through. When the chips were down only Robin Williams had the power to make Superman laugh and inspire him to stay with us just a little longer.
This is how I choose to remember Robin Williams.
And I wish he'd stayed with us a little longer.
12th of August, 2014