The Desperate Trek To Good Morning, Vietnam – The Allure of Robin Williams

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

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18 Responses to The Desperate Trek To Good Morning, Vietnam – The Allure of Robin Williams

  1. Michael says:

    Sad. I chased a DVD of Good Morning Vietnam from the states obsessively. And went to see the very first showing in UK.

    Sad too that you’re drinking again, as it seems to be a source of unhappiness for you.

    • robinince says:

      I will be sober again on departure from Edinburgh. A week where I fell off.

      • p.c says:

        .Oh that’s raw!
        Lovely comments about Robin W, and he is so familiar in my household of course, I have watched him recently with my children, as in many other homes!. Further back of course, in my adolescence Rik. I mourn Rik..Someone who was horrendous to my parents. I still have that visceral reaction of hoping with all my nerves that my parents won’t catch me watching him!
        Further back In my life, of course is Mork and Mindy, I was properly still growing up then. Thanks Robin W!

        Thanks Mr Ince for posting I currently need a flight booked from Edinburgh!

  2. Declan McCarthy says:

    Well said from your heart to the page. If you haven’t heard it before Marc Maron has re podcast his interview with Robin Williams well worth a listen. Nice tribute from Marc as well.

  3. Jeanette Lamb says:

    My favourite was his first. “The World According to Garp”.
    I can’t believe he’s gone, much to soon. 😦 His reason for passing is one of the greatest tragedies. And to us, his fans, it’s like our brother has died because that’s how close we felt to him because of all the times we we were “with” him while he was on the screen.

  4. Rob Hough says:

    Hoping “…brought on my depression,” which seemingly should be “…by…,” is a non-Freudian typo.

  5. liliannberg says:

    Beautifully written – straight from your heart.

  6. I remember that Princes Trust routine as if it was yesterday. As a 17 lad, he walked on and I only knew him as Mork from the TV and thought “oh great, some washed up sitcom star trying out stand up”. Now I’m not a comedian and do not understand the intricacies of routines and all the “technical” stuff surrounding stand up but it just blew me away. He was a force of nature on the stage

    Ronald Reagan as “Disney’s last wish” 🙂

    “Make me a President….urghhhhhh”

    RIP Robin. Thanks for everything

  7. Mervyn says:

    Robin: that’s not rubbish, that’s perfect. (Apart from the use of “goddamn”: but doing how ever many shows you’re doing at Edinburgh each day and writing mournfully at 3AM, I think you’re allowed a single blip and anyway, I probably mis-read the contextual Americanised intention.) For the record, I’m at the Fringe and came out of a joyous show just after midnight to that news. It wasn’t just the fact the pleasure of the last hour was immediately swept away but that uncomfortable feeling – however cliche’d – a lot of comedians perform because not to brings them back to a mental dis-equilibrium they’re desperate to escape from. That compulsion to be funny is the same thing that makes them miserable and more than anything this made me want to go back to the 4 comedians I’d just seen who’d uproariously entertained 200 or so people and hug them and tell them I loved them and hoped they were alright. In a weird way then, Robin Williams has – however briefly thanks to his death – turned me into a walking pastiche of his worst films. I’m not sure that’s what he would have wanted but in the absence of anything else positive about his death: I’ll take it.

  8. Nicely written. I’d also ‘forgotten’ Williams until I recently saw his “Weapons of Self-Destruction” stand-up performance on TV. It was extremely impressive and a reminder of what grown-up comedy can be.

  9. Cup&Saucer says:

    Beautifully written Robin. You’re right. It is so sad he took his own life. The love of so many people is sometimes not enough when the mind isn’t willing to listen.

  10. Lovely stuff Robin – my favourite film of his was One Hour Photo.

  11. Heisenberg says:

    “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.”

    This.

    I love that you mention the Wogan appearance, I still have that VHS recording and have watched it hundreds of times over the years – thank you for writing this, it’s exactly how I’ve been feeling since the great man’s untimely death.

    “I had to stop drinking alcohol because I used to wake up nude in front of my car with my keys in my ass, not a good thing.”

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