Monday, August 25, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain...

A legend in his own right
I have a vivid memory of a man. He’s standing on a stage in front of a crowd. He’s a comedian, and for the last thirty minutes he has made me laugh. This is of no surprise to me, this man has made me laugh my entire life. I can’t remember a time when this man wasn’t around. The tingles that ran down my spine in excitement when he stands up on a railing, squinting with one eye and a pipe in his mouth exclaiming for all to hear, “Who am I?” The time when I was too young to watch this man put his hand between Billy Crystal’s legs and pretended to be his penis. The times I hoped that when Mork from Ork called Orson, Orson would never call him back. The time he granted wishes and wished for freedom. The time he was Pan the man. The time he burned his fake boobs. All these moments and more are riddled in my life, but one stuck out. This one time in particular, the time Robin Williams invited an audience into his mind.

If you've never seen Robin Williams do stand-up, it's like watching a meteor shower; if you blink you'll miss the rapid fire deliverance of a joke that he teased earlier that you had no idea he'd come back to it. I was just a kid watching this stand-up from 1978, Comedy Central used to show old stand-up sets. It was "Robin Williams Live at the Roxy" and Robin motions to open his head so that we could go on a magical journey inside the inner workings of his machinations, and what a journey it was. This was a side of Robin I had never experienced. He was going to-and-fro in his mind, from the intro to the setup. He argued with his own mind and threatened to release the subconscious. When he finally does, he comes out, crotch in hand, flips off the audience and exclaims in a way that was more true than act, "Fuck you! What do you want from me anyway?" And just as methodically, he closes his head and slowly goes into the next part of his act. But I wasn't ready to move on, I did not have the time to process what I saw. I saw brilliance, I saw a genius mind being honest, and quite possibly, I saw a sad man be too honest.

I wanted to grab the people in the audience, I wanted to shake Tony Danza, Henry Winkler, and John Ritter; all these famous people I recognized. I wanted to stop them from laughing and say, "Wait! Did you not see? That wasn't an act! That was real! That was a true soul in its bare and most honest state!

As a kid, I never witnessed comedy like that, if you can actually call it comedy. It was more a  play of Robin Williams experimenting in the playground that was Robin Williams. After that, Robin could do no wrong for me. You could take his greatest films and you can put them up against the not-so-good ones and I will still take "Robin Williams Live at the Roxy" as his greatest performance, one that outshines the good and the bad. One that I can truly say, changed my life.

I'm late to the game of posting about Robin. For the last two weeks, I have been moving house and without internet. When my wife told me that he passed away. I was floored like the rest of the world. And saddened still to find out how he passed away. The internet exploded with posts about Robin. Most in sadness, a few in anger, others who were dismissive of him. I knew right away that I wanted to blog about him. I never had the good fortune to meet Robin (though, being from the same hometown, I always felt a connection to him). What I knew of him I knew through his films, what he shared, and what I always heard from people. Everything that was ever said about the man was that he was sweet, shy, loving, and one of the funniest people you'd ever meet. I liked that a man like that existed, I liked even more that he seemed to be a genuinely good man. I watched his films, not with a grain of salt because "oh this is Robin without the beard, so you know it's going to be over-the-top and silly", but because he was in them, and I loved the man. So the day he passed away, I cried.

There has been only one other time in my life where someone I didn't know had passed away and I cried. That was Christopher Reeve. He was my Superman, how could it not hit me?

Robin wasn't my Superman. Robin was my voice in Vietnam. He was my alien that wanted to learn about Earth. He was my father who loved me so much he pretended to be my nanny. He was my robot who wanted to be human. He was my genie that I set free. He was my doctor who made me laugh. He was captain, my captain. And in that stand-up, the one that changed my life. The one where he let you into his mind and shared a scary journey of him. He was me.

There are people out there much smarter than me who talk about the depression Robin suffered, who remind us that we are not alone and that there's a hand out there in the darkness. I hope that if you ever find yourself down that dark road that you remember you are not alone, that Robin Williams felt just like you did, and that there are those around you that will be there for you to pull you out of that darkness.

I have had trouble trying to convey what I wanted to say in this post. I have stopped and started several times, I didn't know where to go with it. I guess I just wanted to hear myself say how much I loved this man and how dearly I will miss that infectious laugh and that sad smile, you know the one. We have all seen it. And I guess if there are others like me out there that felt like you were kicked in the gut when you found out that he was gone, you're not alone.

Thank you, Robin. Thank you for helping me find my little spark of madness by sharing yours with me. I swear to you, I'll never lose it.

Now here he is, Robin Williams Live at the Roxy, back in 1978.

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