So on Sunday I was sitting in one of those bodegas with the fairly gross and overpriced buffets, downing a meal before going to a rehearsal. I was staring out the bodega’s window at nothing in particular when a friend of mine who I love dearly came into my field-of-vision, literally bounding down the street. This friend is a great improviser, comedian, and a really good guy. Currently he’s doing deservedly well, because his work is exceptional. A lot of people in our community admire him and for good reason: he’s funny and smart and very adept at making you feel good about yourself, on and offstage.
His strides were long and there was a big smile on his face, listening to some rocking tunes on his phone, no doubt. I’m almost certain he was off to a rehearsal of his own. He was in NYC in exactly the right place and time doing what he should be doing. That filled me with a sense of pride for him and for all of us that are devoting so much time to our work.
He was gone from the window as soon as he was there. He must have been in a hurry. I went back to my chinese noodles and fried plantains (don’t judge!). Seeing my friend bouncing down the street reminded me of when I met him just a few years ago. He was pretty shy and withdrawn: a deer in the headlights. I learned later that he was dealing with a lot of self-doubt and some serious emotional issues.
I was thinking of our community’s part in bringing him out of his shell and making him the much-loved artist he is today. This is something I adore about the NYC comedy community. If you work hard and are kind to people, you will find a niche. And filling that niche will foster a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself that feels stoic and important.
Finally, I was thinking about the feelings of jealousy when someone is talented… TRULY talented, like my friend is. I’ve had feelings of jealousy before, as we all have.
“Why isn’t it ME that gets to do that project/be on that improv team/make that web video”… and so on and so on.
It made me think about all work my friend must have done to get to the point to be as artistically brave as he is now. And how we really don’t know what’s going on in each other’s inner-lives, only what we show to other people. It reminded me not to be jealous, because what’s happening in the interior is always infinitely more complex than the exterior.
It almost seems fated that my friend’s brief passing-by lead me to thinking about all of these issues when just one day later we lost Robin Williams.
I’m not going to pretend like I’ve been thinking about Robin Williams a lot over the last ten years or so. His choice of projects really diverted from my own tastes. I don’t know if I’ve seen one of his current movies in years. But his death still hit me like a ton-of-bricks, as it did for a lot of people in the comedy community.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why this one is so hard, so I watched an episode of Mork and Mindy and Popeye last night. I don’t think that Mork and Mindy episode or Popeye (which I remember being MUCH more entertaining as a kid - it’s really an almost total snooze) are going to be what Williams is remembered for. But even in those few examples of his catalogue, the trademark Robin Williams style of play is there in gleeful bucketfuls. He never stops playing when on screen in a jubilant effort for us to love him. And we absolutely do. Every single moment… even in Popeye! Williams never stops improvising, never stops bringing the complex machinations of his characters to life. There is so much going on behind his eyes, or eye in the case of what I was watching.
Another friend of mine wrote to me after William’s death how cool it was that he just wanted to make people laugh in the spirit of pure comedy. He wasn’t trying to teach, wasn’t trying to satirize or edify… just comedy comedy comedy. And so often with the work that I do and that we all do the educational benefit of it for us in the doing and our audiences in the watching is to bare witness to the sheer JOY of the whole thing. And so often that is more than enough. I hope I can take that lesson and carry it with me from this week.
And then there is the other lesson, which takes me back from Robin Williams to my friend to so many other comedians: sometimes those who are the most loved and the most funny and the most joyous performers are the ones who have the most going on inside, behind their wild-eyes, always thinking, always reaching for the next joke. It’s easy for us to forget this when we are sitting in a darkened theater and laughing, but it’s very important not to. As much as we were put on this Earth to make people happy by our performing, we were also put on Earth to watch out and care for each other. Often, those who are the most cartoony are also the most three-dimensional.
Goodnight, Robin Williams. Thanks, and you won’t be soon forgotten.
Q: Has there been a particular show that changed your life or perspective on something?
A: (Guy on Right) I remember seeing ‘Rent’ when I was 15 in 1996 with the original cast. I was from a fairly conservative town in Canada and it just really changed my perceptions on the way people could live their lives. The other show was seeing De La Guarda a few years later on a visit here because if ‘Rent’ changed the perception of how people could live their lives, De La Guarda was theatre that could change your perception of what was real and what reality could be or was.
Q: Why is theatre important?
A: (Girl on Left) I’ve actually been thinking about this recently because I had been seeing some [terrible] theatre back home in Vancouver and I was starting to wonder if I just didn’t like theatre. So that made me think about what makes it real or why is it good. And I think the conclusion that I can come to right now is that the theatre that I resonate with really echoes where I’m at and makes me contemplate and reaffirm where I’m at in my life.
Photo by Christa Tandana
Check it out! I was outside the theater on my way to see
Here Lies Love with some friends when I was photographed and interviewed for TDF’s People At The Theater blog. What a treat. I’ve always thought TDF did great work. I’m happy to help.