Here at Robin Williams’s star, it felt like trying to see the Mona Lisa. It was packed like sardines with tourist families and fans, all reaching above heads to try and snap a photo of the vigil. Reporters were next to me prepping for their segments with their crews, some interviewing asking people “Why have you come to Robin Williams’s star today?” I came to mourn, to be in this random crowd for 10 minutes, to feel a shred of his material legacy. I was comforted to see this man dressed in the red uniform. He seemed to be a necessary, cooky character standing one foot away from the flowers, notes, and drawings.
When I saw the flurry of posts on Facebook two days ago, I could only think of my friends. I know so many comedians, and I know it is a thin, dark line to walk. Comedy is a safe haven for the ultimate insecurities, paranoias, tragedies, fragilities and fears. Watching stand-up is sometimes like watching a nerve be spliced open. There is no other way to release the intensity inside than by blowing it off like a champagne cork and reframing it as a joke. The balance for that tragic, fragile core is the multitude of silly voices, dick & poop jokes, physical gags and puns. It all translates into a magical cocktail of laughter. Congratulations to you all for fucking doing it in the first place and I thank you for doing what you do. It scares me shitless.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I gleaned from my college acting professor, Ms. Elaine Vaan Hogue, was a statement: “This work can be therapeutic, but it is not a substitute for therapy.” To change and extend it to all disciplines of art is necessary, be it comedy, drama, film, music, visual art, or any of the iterations in between. We are all sensitive, ego-driven, comedy and tragedy loving individuals for whom it is sometimes difficult to function ‘normally’ because of the way we interpret our environments. And when I think about suicide, I think about that thin, dark line. I have never come so close to it, but I can see how one would get there.
In 2012, my life was suddenly devoid of my art and love. All in the span of a few months, my long-term relationship ended after a tough rattle, my theatre company dissolved, and I was laid off from an awesome job. It’s safe to say that in the aftermath, I was not fully myself–depressed and definitely not able to do more than what was required of me. The facts didn’t occur to me until several months later, when my Mom pointed them out.
Then after a while I started playing music again. Then I started to feel less lost and worthless. Then I began to lift myself up. Through it all, my wit sharpened. It was a distraction and a relief. It’s safe to say that my salty, inner cynic is definitely not hiding anymore. She’s. Here. To. Stay.
I grew up watching Robin Williams: a legend, a genius, a madman, a father figure, a genie. His impressions, his fuck-it-all bravery attitude, his subtle and pained portrayals inspired me and my fellow actors to do good work. A comedian’s passing is particularly painful because we’ve lost another opportunity to laugh. We have lost another moment to help us continue the balancing act, and to dissolve our tragedies with the anarchic force of laughter.