It’s silly to mourn the death of a celebrity. It’s silly to celebrate a celebrity. They don’t know us and we don’t know them, and yet we have this attachment to some of them that is beyond measure and comprehension.
Social media has become an outlet to remember a celebrity once they’ve passed and I’ve always found myself at a distance when one has — until now. As many have said over the last 14 hours, I grew up with Robin Williams. To know me is to know my love for him; he shaped who I am and my love of comedy and there was no one better.
It’s always been said that the best comedians excel at drama, that it is the “darkness” behind their comedy that helps them do so. This was very much the case with Robin. We’ll get to movies like Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire – the ones that shaped my childhood – but when looking at his canon of work, it’s the movies like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and Insomnia in which his true brilliance as an actor, not just a comedian, was on display. When you think of Robin Williams you think of his elastic and untamed talk show interviews that go long and end in him doing about 45 impressions; that was Robin unfiltered, on display and him at his most genius. But when Robin got in front of the camera and under a dramatic lens, his subtlety and craftsmanship shined. His performances in Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and Insomnia helped him transcend genre and earn respect from his peers. If his dramatic work gave him credibility, it was his comedic work that gave him a connection to multiple generations.
Robin Williams means different things to different people. If you’re talking to your parents, you’ll hear them recall his time as Mork on the classic sitcom Mork & Mindy. For the rest of us, it’s films like Aladdin, Hook, Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire that we connect to most. His improv brilliance is on full display in Aladdin and it wouldn’t be half the movie it is without his incredible voice work. In Hook, he embodies the spirit of Peter Pan. But for me it was the VHS copies of Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire that helped raise me in a cinematic sense. To know me is to know that I can quote either film for verbatim. Neither is a work of cinematic genius but both represent – to me at least – a piece of my childhood and a connection to him, a connection to his spirit, a connection to funny.
I was always interested in comedy, especially at a young age, and I learned from Robin’s performances in both films about timing, inflection and delivery. As I got older, I delved more into his standup history. His specials are noteworthy and fantastic, of course, but it’s his episode of Inside The Actor’s Studio that is near and dear to me. It is not a stand up special of course, but he turns it into one. For some, his desire to veer from routine was irritating; no interview ever went as planned with Robin. For fans of comedy, it was always a gift. For young fans of Robin, this is absolutely required viewing. It’s 90 minutes (edited down from a few hours) of comedy gold. The man spends five minutes doing improv with an audience member’s scarf and it is funnier than most comedians’ entire life’s work. Robin’s comedy taught me to never take no for answer, to always go for the joke, to be relentless, annoying, abrasive, funny if you can be, to be unfiltered and to always find the light in the dark.
So while it’s silly to mourn the death of someone that didn’t know me and I didn’t know, this is what is Robin Williams means to me. There is a lot to take from his work – the funny and the dark. He straddled the line between both genres so brilliantly that it speaks to his character; he could put on a show like no one else and, in light of his death, maybe that kind of show bled into his real life. Regardless, we remember the man the way he would want to be remembered: thank you for finding the light.