The first time I saw Robin Williams he was tossing an egg into the air the same way one might release a dove. “Fly! Be FREE!” he gleefully hollered as “Mork from Ork.” On his face was a mixture of hope and enthusiasm that was infectious. Magical. As if he could see something none of us could — but that we believed in because of the innocent faith he projected. For a brief moment, as the egg was suspended in the air, it seemed entirely possible that it would defy the laws of physics and take flight, propelled by the power of laughter from the live studio audience.
But as I sat in front of the TV and watched the egg fall to the counter top with a splat, the laughter was suddenly squelched into a sympathetic hush. Robin kneeled in front of the shattered egg, devastated, unable to fathom why the joyous release had ended so abruptly. In that moment he won the hearts of an entire generation of fans, including mine. I also understood for the first time that humor is the flip side of sadness — and how there are few things that can unite people, or open their hearts to a new perspective, as quickly as laughter.
Robin had an intrinsic understanding of the power of comedy. And, just as intrinsically, its flip side. Because of this, he was without question one of this generation’s most influential comedians, paving the way with his groundbreaking free-associative stand-up that challenged comedy writers, actors and performers to question traditional formula and discover new comedic equations.
Perhaps it’s fitting that I remember him with a mixture of joy and sorrow, laughing at his impression of Elmer Fudd singing rock ballads, then unapologetically getting teary-eyed when I think of his portrayal of mentally anguished “Parry” in The Fisher King; or the joy of his unabashed maniacal laughter compared to the sorrow that now follows its silence.
For what seems too brief a moment, Robin Williams was suspended, seemingly defying the laws of physics and taking flight — propelled by the power of laughter. Though it has suddenly been squelched into a sympathetic hush, generations of fans will remain united through that very same laughter that opened their hearts.
Fly. Be free, Robin…
[In memory of Robin Williams, each of us at Long Awkward Pause is offering our thoughts this morning as part of a special tribute to a man whose comedy was — and continues to be — like no other. For more reflections and a look back at some of the iconic moments of Robin’s life and career, please join me at LAP by clicking here…]