In the news today, Robin William’s death. The Robin Williams. There must be thousands of people who share that name; I know at least two. I only know the famous RW the way most people do. Yet I know the comedian community must be reeling, and many of us less funny civilians feel the same. I’ve been studying American comedians since the Seventies, when I asked my father one night during our nightly Tonight Show ritual, “Why aren’t there more women comedians?”
Robin was there, all those years, making his way from the comedy clubs to TV, funny but a real actor too. Living through his personal tragedies, until now. Yesterday, my mother was watching August Rush; Robin played one of those angelic street people he did so well. (editing here: a day later, mother says, no he was playing a con man. Adorable in any case when I passed through the room.) Once, I had a SF friend who was thrilled to report that Robin and his kid came into the neighborhood pizza joint for lunch. I was under-impressed with this near brush with fame. By then I had created my comedian Nessa Allen; I was completely aware that even famous comedians have to eat. Recently someone told me she knew someone who knew one of his ex-wives. The ex didn’t think he was funny. Yeah. Nessa’s family constantly says “Not funny, Ness!”
Two months ago, I spent a sweet evening watching Weapons of Self-Destruction. (2009) Concert hall, classic stand up stuff, Robin was fifty-eight, full of sobriety and sex jokes, a hilarious hairy short guy, saying “fuck me!” with great comic enthusiasm. Well, I thought, that made more sense than the other impossible lusts I’ve been afflicted with in the crone sexual awakening I’ve been going through during the past couple years! And now, fuck him! he’s gone off to join all my dead men buddies.
Here’s the spooky thing that is thumping my heart tonight: Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the magic of fiction, connections between words and life. Well, here are some lines from this summer’s draft of my Nessa Allen novel: She’s doing comedy, on her way to commit suicide:
She’d never imagined she’d be doing stolen weather jokes for her final show//She regurgitated the caustic routine flawlessly, // In her addled mind, she laughed at herself; in the long run, she was no better than Robin Williams. Back in the comedy club days, when the rising comic stars and falling clowns were all one big family, Robin was always in trouble with his brothers for stealing their jokes.//Nessa, the natural parrot, would have been in that same pirate boat, if not for Charles and Duke reigning her in, keeping her honest. Plus, she was just a girl, no threat to the guys. Williams was already a big shot by then, doing Letterman. He couldn’t get away with using borrowed material on that big stage, any more than he could help being a comedy sponge. //Comedy, as a commodity, was hard to pin down. Selling jokes for a living was like hawking sunshine; Nessa has been in the dark for years now. //In 1978, on a memorable Tuesday night, Nessa, Duke, and Charles had stayed at The Comedy Store after hours. Robin was there, along with Charlie Hill, Richard Pryor, Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Duke’s pal, Willie Nelson. // Comedy was portable, and it was history. Herstory. Too bad she wouldn’t be around to write her eulogy. She was no better than Robin Williams. No worse either.
Oh, Robin. Farewell. And if death really works that way, where you hang out with the other dead guys, say “hi ya” to all mine. You’ll like them; you’re all very funny!