11 August 2016

Remembering 24 Hours With Robin Williams

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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It was some years ago, and I was dating a stand-up comedian at the time, who would take me to clubs for performances. I would be deposited into the green room, where comics would gather before their show, to pass the time.

“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.
Credit: JoonHo Son

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.

Credit: Loren Javier
In moments, even then, there was a shadow across him. If you looked, you saw someone driven to expel his own demons the best way he could.

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)

3 August 2016

Content Writer or Copywriter: What's the Difference?

Many content writers can write copy. Many copywriters can turn out great content. Both content writers and copywriters write words for clients. But although the job titles are often substituted for one another, the two terms are not interchangeable.

Photo Credit: J E Theriot

Content Writer

In its purest definition, a content writer writes content. But there's more to the job than that.

These writers create specific content seamlessly crafted to contain appropriate keywords, metadata, links, tags, descriptions, web-friendly viewing format...and it's all while writing an online article optimized so that search engines (SEO) can find the darn thing.

Content writers are frequently called upon to create ‘evergreen content’ (articles that remain relevant and are not time sensitive, just like this post). Content writers create blog posts, articles, newspaper pieces, white papers, magazine features, long-form content, website landing page content, bios, and much more.

By nature, content writers are very similar to their reporter cousins, and many, like myself, were journalists in a previous life. Your friendly neighborhood content writer will:

  • Often work to very strict deadlines creating pieces that carry a more detailed message than copywriting projects
  • Write longer (800 words or more) posts
  • Create articles that are share-worthy across multiple social media platforms
  • Work for multiple clients or on multiple projects for a single client
  • Will have specialized, niche knowledge, such as technology or finance, as well as broad, general knowledge
  • Will create content with or without a byline (ghostwriting)

Content, by its very nature, is designed to help businesses build relationships, create client authority, and develop trust. Much content work relies on fact-checking, interviews, and, in the case of ghostwriting, studying the client tone to ensure a consistent voice is upheld. Content writing also requires a successful conversion gameplan. The majority of content I create, for example, will end with a strong call to action that needs to be written in such a way as to encourage readers to connect with the client while providing them very real benefits for doing so.


Similar to content writers, copywriters create ‘copy’ for clients. But where content writers often work on client blogs or website, copywriters are typically used on the advertising side of things. Copywriters tend to specialize in short-form content that includes:

  • Headlines
  • Banners 
  • Taglines and slogans
  • Blurbs
  • Social media posts
  • Direct mail 
  • Press releases
  • Brochures, leaflets, or catalogs

But that doesn’t mean that copywriters don’t use long-form to help their clients. In fact, it’s an area where both content and copywriters often converge. Many copywriters are now working in both advertising and content, creating strong digital promotional material for clients across a variety of industries.

And while content writers often convey a company's message, copywriters are often the creative mind behind the campaign itself. Copywriters are there to develop marketing materials that will bring a target audience around to a certain way of thinking; to purchase your product.

Make no mistake, because of the tight space limitations put upon copywriters - they are the gurus of short-form!

Better Business Options

As more and more businesses begin to recognize the benefit of working with writers who possess skills in both spheres, the distance between content and copywriter seems to be shrinking. A writer who can generate quality content that will not only increase readership but will also help businesses convert readers from potential to paying customers is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Which is Better?

That's a bit of a trick question. Because, at the end of the day, the 'better' one is the writer who understands your project and can deliver the product you need, when you need it.

Are you a copywriter or content writer who works in both areas? What are your comments on how the two seem to be merging? Let me know in the comments below!