Unfortunately, I have started drinking again, so this post about Robin Williams may well be precarious. It is 3am.
Just a few months ago, I wrote about what Rik Mayall meant to me and why I became a stand up comedian. How morose and unpleasant to find myself thinking about the death of Robin Williams now.
Robin Williams was the first American stand up comedian I adored. My introduction, as it was for most people, was Mork and Mindy. Around the age of 14 or 15, I bought the LP of Wow, Reality What A Concept. I listened to it over and over again, there is much that tonight, I found out I can still recite almost perfectly. The Three Mile Island Shakespeare and the Kindergarten for the Stars (“Sammy Davis Jr Jr”) are almost intact in my mind. I think I may have ripped off his “let me show you inside a comedians’s mind” schtick, and this was the first time I heard reference to the id, something I still bang on about now.
I remember being in the basement of HMV Oxford Street in 1987 and hearing Robin Williams over the speakers. What the hell was this new recording? I was told it was for a film, Good Morning, Vietnam, that wouldn’t be out for sometime. I bought it immediately. (when I went to university I, probably quite tediously, used to do my recitations of those monologues. My other obsession was trying to perfect the way Bill Murray tripped over a step in Scrooged). His 8 minute routine on The Prince’s Trust Gala of 1987 became my template of what I would attempt to replicate when I tried to be a comedian in my late teens. Williams’ guest appearance on Wogan to promote Good Morning, Vietnam was one of my most worn out betamax tapes. When I travelled around the US in 1988, I was desperate to catch the movie, but every goddamn town I arrived in had stopped showing it the day before. Finally, when I reached Portland, staying in a hotel that mainly dealt in hourly rates, I saw the film. I adored it. Williams showed me the freedom and excitement of stand up, that incredibly energy, that showing off with aplomb and delight. In Seattle, I bought The Robin Williams Scrapbook in a secondhand store, I still have it now. Anytime I stayed in a place with a video recorder, I rented another VHS, whether it was his Live at the Met or Mork and Mindy episodes.
I remember the night when I was told Robin Williams had turned up, by chance, at the London Comedy Store and done 30 minutes. My friends and I had debated going to the Comedy Store that night but gone off somewhere else. I went into shock that I had missed such a thing, and sat motionless, every now and again getting up to pace around furious and confused. I could not believed I had missed this comedy behemoth.
He was vital, he was vivid. We grow old and our teenage obsessions dull into a memory of “sorta liking someone”, but my 18 year old mind worshiped Robin Williams. He is amongst a very small band of comedians that I can thank, or blame, for what I do and what I am now. The energy and passion he had was a lesson I learnt from, and still do. Here was a man who did not entertain as a job, he did what he did because he had to. Seeing the outpouring from his fans, it seems all the more tragic he died (or so reports say now) from a suicide brought on by depression. It is a reminder of the insidious nature of the foibles of the mind, that the reality seen by a depressive sees no hope. He was a comedy hero. That moment he leapt out on the stage of the Met, leaping like Nureyev, basking in the adulation, then shooting his mouth off at 200 miles an hour, I even wanted Hawaiian shirts like him. How desperate I was to see his Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin. I got older, and forgot that obsession. I forgot the importance. Stupidly, it is only with his death, that the full force of his influence comes back.
(footnote – I have just remembered how much I adore The Fisher King, how could I forget that)
Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles with guests including Stewart Lee, Mark Gatiss, Sara Pascoe and Sarah Kendall can be found HERE