Robin Williams tribute at Comedy Club

On August 11th, 2014, the entertainment world was shocked by news of the suicide of comedy legend Robin Williams. The subsequent anecdotes from family, friends, and all-but-strangers alike seem to paint a picture of what would seem to be one of the most convivial and charitable human beings that ever lived. Despite the postmortem love fest, not all of us can honestly say that we have adored him–or at least his work–all along. Many in the younger generations tended to view Robin Williams as somewhat of a caricature. Someone whose persona was to be mowed down in quick, drive-by segments on one of the more modern, “cooler” comedy formats found on Cartoon Network‘s soulless Adult Swim, where Williams was often lampooned as a hack at worst and merely ironically funny at best. Why, the very mention of liking any of Williams’ work over the last 20 years could serve as grounds for having your Hipster Membership Card permanently revoked. To be fair, Williams brought some of this criticism upon himself with more than a couple questionable artistic choices, many of those made purely for monetary reasons by his own admission. I must confess that I largely shared this jaundiced view of Williams, save for a few classic films like “Good Will Hunting” or wonderful independent films such as the 2007 Bobcat Goldthwait directed “World’s Greatest Dad” (my personal favorite of his films, though it’s not for the easily-disturbed). That is, I shared this view until I began interviewing comedians for this very monthly comedy column in EU. To my surprise, it was oftentimes Williams–and not the likes of Bruce, Carlin, or Prior–whom comedians cited first and foremost as their most important influence. Almost eerily in hindsight, it was during these conversations that I gained a lot more respect for Williams than I had had previously.

“Robin Williams came along right when I was getting interested in stand-up,” said Dave Coulier in an interview with EU earlier this year, “and he just blew the doors open for so many different kinds of comedy. Robin Williams did all these incredible characters and would just kind of freewheel up there. I got to share the stage with him many, many times. When I was 20-years-old I had a great set at the Comedy Store in Hollywood and that was when Robin was a gigantic zenith in the sky as far as a comedian, and afterwards one of the comedians said Robin wanted to meet me. I told him, ‘I want your career’ and he responded with something like, ‘Well, sometimes you can have it’. I could do a great, dead-on impression of Robin Williams. I ended up doing an impression of him for the Mork & Mindy cartoon.”

Even a comedian whose style is completely different than the wildly energetic Williams’, the more low-key Paula Poundstone, whom I also spoke with earlier this year, credits him with “changing the game in comedy” and opening doors for off-the-cuff styles such as hers.

With various tributes to Williams currently being held throughout the country and around the world, on August 14th, Jacksonville held one of it’s own at Comedy Club of Jacksonville. Following the lead of A-Train, the evening’s opening act who was donning his best “Mork & Mindy” shirt, the sold-out audience held up the candles at their tables and held a moment of silence for the late comedy great.

“Robin Williams was good about his depression cause he didn’t hide from it and he used it and he did a very good job with it from a comedy standpoint,” said comedian David Beck, addressing Williams’ depression and substance abuse in an interview after his set following A-Train, “What I’ve always said about this business is is that if you’re not good with your alone time, be careful cause it can lead to drugs, alcohol, and depression.”

Perhaps club owner Steve Smith summarized it best when he said, “It’s almost like he gave so much laughter to everyone else that he didn’t have enough for himself. The way we memorialize him is fact that we’re gonna continue here at the Comedy Club of Jacksonville and make people laugh. That’s what he wants. Keep laughing.” 

About Richard David Smith III

writer, lab rat, and purveyor of fine energy drinks. pro Oxford comma.