Memories of the funniest man who ever lived, on the second anniversary of his passing
I once spent the night with Robin Williams. No, not like that.
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“Hi, I’m…,” he cut me off.
“What bet did you lose?” Robin Williams said, standing to shake my hand. For reasons I never knew, he either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be alone off stage. Unbeknownst to me, I had been assigned to be his ‘babysitter.’ It was early, and there were a series of short shows that were to take place during a charity event over the next twenty-four hours.
As the club busied itself outside, he immediately made efforts to make me feel at home – and to make me laugh. A comic needs an audience, like the rest of the world needs air. I laugh easily, and he was a comic genius. Such began a very strange, brilliant, frantic evening that even today I can’t fully explain.
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He was ramping up for the first performance and started to move about the room, firing off funny faces or phrases over his shoulder like bullets from a gun. Each one hitting me, hard. His energy was palpable, and it fed everyone in proximity. It raised you up, and it buoyed you along; you were flying alongside him.
The audience was reserved; not what a comedian requires for a good set. Few were laughing at his frenetic act on stage and at one point he stopped. He put the microphone back in its stand. He jumped off the stage, squeezed through the tight placement of tiny tables overflowing with patrons, drinks, and food.
“Excuse me. Coming through. Excuse me,” in animated Williams style, stopping now and then to steal a chip from an unsuspecting attendee. He reached into the green room, grabbed me by the wrist, and began to lead me back the way he came. “Excuse me. Coming through. Excuse me,” stealing another chip from the same attendee. He pulled up a chair for me on the stage. "Sit."
He grabbed the microphone again and turned to face me.
“The Laughing Audience Member, New from Hasbro. Laughs on command. Laugh. Laugh!” He said. And, I did. He was that funny. Throughout the shows, whenever the audience fell too quiet for his comfort, he would point at me making another funny face or lobbing another comedic grenade. I would collapse, laughing.
For hours he dragged me by the wrist, anywhere he went, a willing, captive audience. He fed on laughter. And he seemed to genuinely get a kick out of being able to cause my collapse into tears of laughter, several times physically having to lift me back onto my feet.
Over the course of the night, I watched a true genius create. The speed with which his mind found ideas, cultivated and shaped them into full-on comedic gems was astounding. I know what my creative processes can do to mess up my day – you are compelled to follow them through to their fruition. I cannot even begin to know what it might have been like for him. The constant noise of creation; never silent.
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Our paths did not cross again, but I never forgot that night. When I heard the news two years ago, my first thought was, you finally found a moment of silence. And now, two years on, I am still struggling to reconcile the man I experienced – who danced, and joked, and hugged, and played, and touched people, and lived – with the dark, aching void his passing has created.
Comedy is tragedy, plus time. And with time we will find our way through the tears, to the laughter he spent his life giving us. He gave us his all.
(a version of this originally appeared on the NewsHub)