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Robin Williams: a side I haven’t seen in the press yet.

September 30, 2014

Depression is a powerful weight that is beyond me. Even when I had cancer for the second time, depression wasn’t in the mix. Disappointment, pain, and added melancholy weight–sure, but I have that every other day being an older guy looking for work and an income. Mike Wallace, William Styron, and Dick Cavett (no surprise there) suffered from it. And here a guy like Robin WIlliams hangs himself with a belt. I know there are people who loved him and who he loved that grieve for him, but after struggling through cancer and seeing the pain others experience trying to survive it, I have a very low tolerance or compassion for suicide. I did stand-up for over 12 years, many of those years in the bay area. Williams was widely regarded as a brilliant performer, but many comics were wary and in awe of him. Why wary? Because he had almost a sociopathic comedic personality: he could steal your entire act word for word. He got the rep for being a great improvisor, but one comic said to me, “He can come up with three things to your one, but two of them aren’t his.” Another comic who was shown his house by Williams, said, “So this is the house comedy built.” When he was doing Mork and Mindy, there were many stories of him being thrown against walls by other comedians while he wife wrote out checks, and he was protected by other clubowners who knew WIlliams was a thief, but the possibility of him appearing at their club drew people to their club so they never confronted or said anything. One comedian was quoted as saying, “I’ve been on the Tonight Show and David Lettermen and I’ve never left my room.” There were comics who would bitch about Williams stealing their stuff, then show people a check they accepted from him for over a thousand dollars. You can’t help wondering if some of this depression was from his past. After all, when you’re called a comic genius and you know you’re not, and have stepped and used the material of others, it has to be part of the loose mortar that crumbles your foundation. I have personally seen him do someone’s act word for word. And other SF comics would stand in the back of a club and watch him do their act, which he saw them just do in another club that same night. In one Playboy interview, Williams was asked about stealing jokes, and for at least one and a half humorless columns, Williams does a screed about how he made good on paying people. Even the title of one of his comedy albums “Reality what a concept” was a stolen line. He kinda walked into Jonathan WInter’s persona, and used it to absorb others, including Winters. Personally, I never knew the man. And I never spoke to him. But in his presence, success is a powerful presence, and I couldn’t help but be humble around him. And he also did some of the best dick jokes I’ve ever seen, and his performing abilities were astounding (Which is also how a thief justifies the theft of other people’s lines because he does it better than them.),but I could never professionally admire his comic art because I always wondered where it came from. And yes, every comic does some of this, including myself, but these are fragments not entire chunks of material. In stand-up, the worst thieves are usually the house emcee who is a local celeb who steals material from every comedian that has played the club. He could be a very good actor, Birdcage is his best work. He obviously made peace with many of the people he stole material from (my guess is supporting them later with huge checks), and it’s funny how giving money to people somehow makes them a nice person. But their work will always be associated with him. One has to wonder, what some of the causes of the depression were, and one might be that the love he inspired many times belonged to someone else. I feel for those he left behind, who he cared for and clearly cared for him.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2014 12:59 am

    Couldn’t live in a world without Monty Hoffman.

    • October 6, 2014 2:28 pm

      Now he is. The closest Robin WIlliams came to a near death experience is the film Popeye.

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