Some people define a timeless classic as a movie like “It’s a wonderful life” with Jimmy Stewart, or a song like “All you need is love” by the Beatles. I agree these are classics, but if I live to see my grandchildren, I hope to tell them of another true classic, Robin Williams.
I, like most of my generation, was introduced to the comedian through “Happy Days,” and later “Mork and Mindy.” For you youngsters, Williams played an alien who was ignorant of the human race, but found ways to be funny as hell about our social and political imperfections. His comedic timing was impeccable, but also the fastest many had ever seen before. He was the first person I really understood to be a comedian, other than Richard Pryor whom my dad adored. Like Pryor, Williams made fun of societal issues, human stupidity and most importantly, himself.
What I also have always loved about Williams is his ability to make fun of himself. Something I wish more celebrities could embrace, especially in this “15 minutes of fame” generation. The first stand-up show I ever saw Williams perform was one where he wore a Hawaiian pattern shirt, sweated like a whore in church and addressed his family and recent cocaine addiction. I can’t remember the year, but he also was on Barbara Walter’s list of intriguing people. Later, I remember seeing him on all of HBO’s Comic Relief for the homeless, where he showed his inner-pervert, and enjoyed every moment of it. Then, there were several memorable movies, “Good Morning Vietnam, Awakenings, Aladdin and Moscow on the Hudson.” Following were flops like “Popeye,” in which, just like all of us, Williams experienced a horrible disappointment. But through failure, he found a way to bounce back. In 1996, Williams’ role as a therapist from the south, rough area of Boston in “Good Will Hunting” who connects with a young, talented, yet abused kid from the same area played by Matt Damon (aka my “pretend husband”) reminded us of his incredible ability to make us laugh and cry in the same breath. His showed his ability to see his own imperfections while seeing the light at the end of the tunnel through love.
I recently watched Williams’ new HBO special “Weapons of Self Destruction” and was reminded of why I adore him so. He made references to the current administration, scandals at the Beijing Olympics, social media and its affect on face-to-face communication, sexual dysfunction, heart disease and, most importantly, his battle with alcoholism. Like his battles with cocaine, he faced his demons and made people laugh about it. He didn’t belittle the disease or those affected by it. Instead, he pointed the blame on himself with quick wit and self-deprecation. As a daughter of an alcoholic and one who has confronted her own demons of the disease, it’s refreshing to have someone on your side that can help you not take yourself so seriously.
Williams is now 58-years-old. In my opinion, he’s never put himself on a pedestal and has never expected anyone to do the same (Ahem…Tiger Woods). He has faced his faults and made the decision as a public figure to share those imperfections with us. And, all the while, he’s given us an awesome laugh.
I think most comedians are this way. They know how to make people laugh, even if it means laughing at their own faults. Classic comedians like George Carlin and newcomers like Dane Cook appreciate this. Williams knows how to do that better than most. And while doing so, he’s become a timeless classic for me, and I’m sure for many, many others as well.
Who’s your favorite comedian and why are they a timeless classic for you?