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The Death of Robin Williams: Mourning Within a Community

I have to confess something right up front: I was not a huge fan of Robin Williams. At least, not in recent history. The past few years, he had become more of a cliché to me than a comic. I don’t think I am alone in this opinion.

The past eight weeks I have been taking a stand-up comedy class at the Comedy Parlor in Tulsa. This Sunday, the night before Robin’s death, was the last class and my third time on stage. I plan to write another post about the experience as a whole, but over the last two months, I’ve slowly ingratiated myself in the world of Tulsa comedy, though I don’t know the half of it yet.
I didn’t really process Robin Williams’s death until I got on Twitter that night and saw the dozens of comedians I follow grieving.

As I read through posts, I kind of remembered who Robin Williams was. That my first memory of him was actually watching Mork and Mindy as a kid on Nick-at-Nite. That I used to watch Hook all the time with my sister. That I’ve seen Aladdin hundreds of times and Genie was my favorite character. That I can still remember the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when his boobs catch on fire and laugh to myself. That he was such a part of the cultural lexicon when I was growing up the comics I admired as a kid did amazing impressions of him that I tried and failed to live up to.

What I’m saying has already been said by other people in far more eloquent ways. Paul F. Tompkins wrote a wonderfully concise tribute. Conan broke the news during the taping of his show on Monday then paid a beautiful tribute to him on Tuesday. Others focused using his death as a way to highlight the importance of treating depression and reaching out to the mentally ill.

Monday night, there were tribute shows at the Laugh Factory and Comedy Store among other places. I had been asked to do a room in Tulsa on Tuesday. After his death, it was planned to be turned into a tribute show until a comic decided that it was “too soon.”

However, Tuesday night, I found that many of the comics were simply lost. They didn’t know how to cope except to stand up and talk about Robin and his impact on them, what a loss it was. A few had had the opportunity to see him live and re-told his jokes with reverence. Some were so distraught they meandered about the depression they suffered from and how they understood him.

I think that’s why Robin Williams’s death has effected everyone so much, but the comedy world in particular. Comedians are predisposed to depression. In order to be a comic, you generally have to observe the world and comment on it in a unique way or have gone through some stuff. And the world is not a pretty place all the time. Telling jokes and making people laugh is also a heck of a way to make yourself feel better when your day isn’t so great.

In short, I haven’t been a comic for long and I did not know Robin Williams or his darkness. But I know the people upon whom his death has made an indelible mark forever. And as a new member of the comedy world, I’ve seen his death from two sides in a way.

Robin, we’ll miss you.

Nanu nanu,