Ever get annoyed? Ever feel like someone needs to be told where the dog died? Or handed a crowbar and a tub of Elbow Grease to help them pry their head out of their arse? Congratulations--you've come to the right place.

And when I'm not commenting on the latest thing to piss me off, I'm trying to figure out my own twisted life. Because, hey, I'm like that.

On a gentler note: for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, and other assorted bullshit: You are NOT alone.

And if you're looking for a laugh, search on the key word "fuckery." It's just my little thing (as the bishop said to the actress).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Too Soon

There is a protocol in comedy clubs:  if an audience member feels that the comedian has made a joke about a recent tragic event without allowing for a decent interval of mourning, they will call out, "TOO SOON!" (For a great illustration of the affect this can have, see the film The Aristocrats.)

Last night, I found out one of my all-time performing heroes, an actor and comedian who has been a part of my pop culture consciousness since I was eight, took his life.

Robin Williams, dead at 63 by his own hand.

Al had just come home from his horseshoe league (welcome to suburbia--I like it), I happened to notice the posts on Facebook, and suddenly, he had a woman in a panic, melting down, going, "Nononononononononono..." and then bursting into tears and weeping.  I don't usually have that kind of reaction to a famous person dying, but this... this cut close to the bone, not just because of who, but how. Out of the sheer need to laugh, I bought Jim Jefferies tickets for next week. (I usually don't go to shows that close together.) And today, I made a pilgrimage after work to the Public Garden to the bench where he and Matt Damon were filmed for Good Will Hunting.  Someone started the tribute last night... by this afternoon, the delta of a path behind the bench was filled with quotes and prayers and wishes.  Someone had been kind enough to leave a giant box of sidewalk chalk.  I left flowers... yeah, the ones that say, "Too soon." People were gathered, silent, respectful. I had to leave... it was too much.

It was like losing Jim Henson, only this time, it wasn't just a piece of my childhood that was gone--it's someone whose worked shaped mine.

It started with Mork and those damned suspenders.  I had a pair of those suspenders, complete with pins. And a yellow shirt. (Hey, I was 10. Whaddya want?)  The improvised craziness of his performance coupled with the alien learning vital human lessons... it came at the right time in my development.

And then... then came HBO and stand-up specials.  A lot of kids from my generation got their comedy education from two places:  their parents' record collections and HBO. Carlin... I think I own almost all of Carlin's HBO specials.  Whoopi Goldberg's one-woman show on Broadway.  The showcases with comics doing five-minute sets (I remember Rodney Dangerfield and Roseanne, long before she dropped her last name or even dreamed of her own show, doing vignettes in between sets.) Richard Pryor's stand-up films. Bill Cosby Himself playing several times a day.

And Robin Williams.

An Evening with Robin Williams was filmed in San Fransisco, had to have been in '81 or '82; he framed the concert with a bit in the character of Pops, the crusty old news stand guy.  To this day, I can quote my way through it. "Hey, hey... Mistah Williams!"

Live at the Met... I think that was '85 or '86.  I could do those bits word for word, right down to the vocal inflections and accents.   Doctor Roof! "Making a sound like a baby in a blender..."  I have memories of watching that in our crappy little apartment when I was first married, and listening to the soundtrack on the CD player of my best friend's minivan whilst tooling through the back roads of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.

It's almost thirty years later, and I STILL laugh all the way through.

Comic Relief... well, by then, I was growing up a bit and couldn't afford HBO.

But I saw the movies; not all of them, but the ones that mattered, at least to me. Garp. The Fisher King. Hook. Dead Poets Society. Awakenings. Dead Again. Bits in Hamlet and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Aladdin. Mrs. Doubtfire. The Birdcage. Good Morning, Vietnam. Good Will Hunting. Death to Smoochy. Insomnia. And, his real triumph, One Hour Photo, the first performance I ever saw him give where he actually acted--dropped his schtick, his crutches, and threw himself into this sad, disturbed man who had nothing of his own, who just wanted a family, and saw someone who had it all and didn't care. THAT was the performance he deserved the Oscar for.

I didn't bother to follow him in the press--I just didn't care about divorces and rehab and gossip. I cared about the talent, the whirlwind of insanity that produced such brilliance. The couple that mattered... Phil Donahue, when he said he'd given up cocaine because of the death of John Belushi.  "Look at him--he was a bull. If cocaine could kill a big guy like that, what would it do to a little guy like me?"  The David Frost interview where, when talking about his first divorce and remarriage, the pain came through of the ugly things implied about the beginnings of his relationship with Marcia. The very real moments when the truly decent human being shone through the schtick.

Inside the Actors Studio (in its early days, when it was more than a flavor-of-the-month schmooze fest)... a master class in the art of the interview and improv.  James Lipton asked him, "What is your favorite sound?"  And Mr. Williams made a little brrrrrrrppppp--the sound of a tiny fart escaping--laughed and called it, "the great equalizer."

And when he returned to HBO specials... 2002, talking about Viagra... and 2009, after a relapse and another divorce...  

There is no single performer who has influenced my own style--my personal comedy and outrageousness--more than Robin Williams.  After all these years, yeah, I've taken the old schtick and shaped it and made it my own, but at rock bottom... I'm imitating Robin Williams.

And he's gone.  Suicide.  And my heart... my heart aches for him, his children, his family. How the hell do you process this?  Captain, my captain, NO! 

And it pisses me off--comedy never gets the respect it deserves.  Let me tell you something, folks--tragedy is TIT.  Drama is so fucking easy, it's ridiculous. Comedy?  Making people laugh?  Try it sometime. Get up in front of a room full of people and tell a joke. Or take a comedic sketch and play it. Or jump into an improv piece. Or tell a story that should either shock or offend and instead, make them laugh and commiserate. Betcha ya can't. Comedy--especially that of the stand-up variety--is an under-appreciated art form that takes INCREDIBLE perseverance and masochism coupled with a natural ability to tell a story, timing, and judgement.

It also takes a hell of a lot of pain. 

This is secret of great comedy:  it comes from immense, intense pain.  It comes from a place so dark that the only way to escape it is to laugh at it--to make fun of it, taunt it, give it the finger and tell it to fuck off.  The difference between the people who are chuckle-worthy funny (say, your average sitcom actor) and the people who leave you aching (or, in my case, having an asthma attack) from laughing is a two-fold factor:  a) pain; and b) the balls to laugh at it.

The problem, however, is the same as when taunting any violent, intelligent beast:  it waits. It stalks. It bides its time until you are vulnerable, and the evil fucker pounces.

And you, my friend, are dead meat because this isn't an external enemy you can run away from or call the police on.  This is your own darkness, your own self, the person who knows your failings the best and can beat you over the head with them until there is no defense left except escape.

Been there, and thank the merciful fucking Gods I have managed at those last moments to grasp a spar of light and hold on until the beast, the Black Dog, wore itself out and slunk back to its lair.

Too many haven't, and this is the latest in a long line of immensely talented, creative people who succumbed.  From all reports, he'd been trying to do the right things to take care of his depression. He had his addictions under control.  The problem with depression, however, is that sometimes, the meds don't work. Sometimes, the therapy doesn't help. Something triggers you, your brain chemistry changes, and you flip.

Been there. Done that. Thank whatever beneficent forces exist in this universe, I made it out the other side.

It isn't about being weak or stupid or selfish. It's because there's a broken circuit in your brain.  For some of us, it's genetic. For others, it just happened. For another group of us, it's because we went through some Very Bad Things and survived. No matter what, it's real. 

I've made this plea before, and I'm going to make it again:  LISTEN.  If someone you know and love is in this kind of pain, LISTEN. Ignore your fear, ignore your need to reassure yourself by talking and issuing platitudes. Just LISTEN.  Let them talk.  Get them angry and yelling if you have to, but don't shame them. Don't tell them they're stupid and ungrateful, or silly.  Just be there. Be the spar they can hold on to until the beast retreats.  

And be there to help them climb up on the desk and sound their barbaric YAWP!  

Thank you, Mr. Williams, for filling my life with laughter.  May your soul find peace and your next journey be happier.

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