August 11th is probably going to go down as one of “those days”.
Not in the history of the world, but in the history of my life, August 11th is shaping up to be very important.
Firstly because on August 11th, 2014, we lost one of the great minds (comedic, dramatic, or otherwise) we’ve ever seen on this little blue planet – Robin Williams. When you’re in a particular field, you find role models. People you look up to. You get attached to them, as silly as it sounds. That’s what happened with me and Robin. His death affected me deeply. I still remember exactly where I was when it happened, lying down on the mattress in our guest bedroom. I was only in there because the bed in my room had too much shit on it that I didn’t feel like moving. And I wasn’t going to feel like moving it that day. I spent the rest of that August 11th lifeless. As if everything – blood, organs, in-grown nails – had been taken out of my body. Because to me (and to many people my age) Robin Williams was a huge part of my childhood. He was the uncle that would come over and spoil you with gifts that you were too young for. He was the person you’d HOPE to sit next to on the plane, able to regale you with stories about “the old days” that he was never even a part of. He was the Genie, he was Mrs. Doubtfire, he was Patch Adams. But most importantly to me, he was Sean Maguire.
Anyone who knows me knows just how much I value the movie Good Will Hunting. The story behind making it, the story of the movie itself, the characters, the accolades. I love everything about it. It’s what every young writer DREAMS of happening to the first script they’ve felt passionate about. But to me, Robin’s performance cinches it. The only role he won an Academy Award for is his favorite role of mine. Every scene that he has with Matt Damon in that movie, it felt like he was speaking through the television set and directly at me. It gave me an ease, made me feel like everything was going to be all right. Here was a guy who, in the movie and in real life, had gone through some shit. Some serious shit. And he’s sitting there, wallowing in his shitty life, telling Will Hunting that he doesn’t regret a minute of it? It’s one of the more self-aware characters I’ve ever seen an actor portray. It’s sincere, sympathetic, and…broken.
Robin’s death didn’t just feel like a light going out. It felt like the biggest chandelier in your house got loose and fell to the ground. Two years later, we’re still picking up the pieces.
But if there’s one thing that I take away, it’s this. Every time I see people talking about Robin, they do so with a smile on their face. Every time I read people who are talking about Robin, they talk about his warmth. They don’t really need to talk about Robin Williams the comedian. Because we know who that is. They talk about Robin Williams the person. Who he was. Really. To be a real person in this industry is a mighty feat. To be a real person in this industry is something to aspire to.
That’s the big reason for the significance of August 11th. The other one seems minuscule in comparison. I’m coming off the best stand-up performance of my life. One of the comics I performed with thought I was funny and invited me to his weekly show, tomorrow. I should invite him to the local rehab facility. I just got word that I’m getting a prime spot in the lineup and a 10 minute set.
Before I do ANYTHING comedy related, I’ll listen/watch old clips of Robin to get into the comedy mood. To me, it seems oddly fitting that the day before the biggest performance of my short stand-up career is the day I think of Robin the most. He’s been an informal therapist, the rope that pulls me out of the quicksand that is life. To me, the best thing I can do, the best thing WE can do, is carry on his legacy. Of being a real person, one that laughed just as hard as your last joke as you did at his last joke. Someone that could pick you up in a down moment. Someone who could toss away all pretense and just have a good time with you. That’s who I want to be.
Thank you, Robin.
I want to leave with a quote from Matt Damon’s recent Reddit AMA where he talked about working with Robin on set:
“Working with Robin almost defies description. He was one of the most generous, loving, wonderful people I’ve ever met. He had this capacity that I’ve never seen on a movie set. When everyone started to get tired and started to flag a little bit, he would launch into standup. We knew it was original because he was making fun of crew members and pulling them into these bits. It was like 15 minutes of the best stand-up ever that was just privately for us. Everyone would laugh and laugh and laugh and then everybody would get this boost of energy and go back to work. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for what he gave us. In my heart, that’s where he is, as this person that I’m deeply deeply grateful came into my life and changed it for the better.”
Thanks for listening. I hope you’re all well.