Williams’ comedy was more settled into the gap of my parents’ generation than it really was in mine. I, however, grew up watching the best (The Awakening, Good Will Hunting) and worst (Popeye, RV) of his films. He was a household name. A comedian that was so energetic and so child-like that it was impossible to not allow his charisma to drastically change your demeanor. That same energy and child-like-ness, also, made him one of the most devastatingly difficult people to endure during interviews. He would fidget and act like he had drank two gallons of Kool-Aid before coming on to be interviewed. In my mind, it is not impossible to see how such a man, when all of the cameras were off, would struggle with a devastating depression.
Over a month ago when I heard he had gone back into rehab after falling off the wagon and, now, with the news of his apparent suicide, my mind quickly shot to the final scene I saw him in. It was Season 3, Episode 6 of Louie entitled “Barney/Never.” The juxtaposition of elements in that episode, thinking back on it, reveals–in my mind–perhaps a little more about Williams than most of his screen time did.
The episode opens in black and white with two men, Louie and Robin, meeting at gravesite of a recently deceased man to pay their respects. Not much interaction takes place between the two men until they meet up, randomly, at the same diner later on. They begin to tell stories about Barney, a man who, apparently, was not exactly the most honest or endearing man according to their accounts. Matter of fact, Robin talked about the man asking him to invest in a business plan and never paying the money back when it fell through. This was not a man that probably deserved their physical appearance at this gravesite and, yet, they came.
The conversation turns to the deceased’s favorite strip club that he had attempted to get both Louie and Robin to go to each in their own turn. So, to honor his memory, they decide to go to the strip club. When they let out the news that Barney had passed, they find themselves in the midst of mourning strippers, DJs stopping the music to give a brief moment of silence and a general atmosphere of great respect for a man that was exceptional to all worked there. As Louie and Robin walk out after witnessing that scene, the door shuts and both start laughing at the irony of the situation and then they bid each other a good day and go their own ways.
That was a brilliant joke to land on. Full of irony, compassion for the worst of all people and a sense of the foolishness of life. But the other thing that could be noticed in that segment was a Robin Williams that both looked older and carried himself like he was weighed down. It may have just been the character, but there was not much of the early energy and child-like-ness involved here. There was a certain sadness in his eyes that worked well for the scenario, but I am not convinced it did not speak more to where Robin Williams was, right then, in his actual life. There is acting and then there is just letting natural emotion build up the heaviness of a character. I think it was the latter.
That episode sums up my feelings about the news of Williams’ death. The juxtaposition of getting that final laugh from the audience and the man struggling underneath trying to achieve some sort of happiness or joy for himself. If there is one thing that could be said about comedians, in general, and Robin Williams, specifically, it would be that comedians give themselves, selflessly, to their audience. It always felt like Williams was giving his stand-up and his film characters everything he could conjure up even in the worst of his material and films. I am saddened by this news and his energy and wonder will be missed. However, I am also thankful for the last scene that he incarnated for me. A joyful laughter surrounded by the mournful lament of strippers and silenced DJs. Robin, you, sir, got the last laugh.
Warning: Explicit language, but one of his funniest stand-up segments.