Nanoo nanoo, Robin

image 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…]

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

49 thoughts on “Nanoo nanoo, Robin”

  1. it sucks.i hate it. somehow it just seems far too personal, far too unreal. the world is a far darker place without him in it.

    1. That really means a lot, Marcia. He and Jonathan Winters have always been my absolute favorites, followed closely by George Carlin. No one comes close, and knowing that makes this last blow hard to take.

  2. Definitely the best and most personal tribute on Robin Williams’ passing I read so far. I didn’t really grow up with Robin Williams, but about a year ago me and a friend rewatched Mrs. Doubtfire and I was stunned by his skills (both at comedy and acting) and how he managed to tackle a subject like divorcing parents with so much heart you can’t help but relate to it wholeheartedly, or as you adequately put it: Humor is the flip side of sadness.

    1. Thanks, Arend. I really appreciate that. He had a huge impact on me as a kid; I even wore rainbow suspenders like the pair he wore on Mork and Mindy. If you want to see what I believe is his greatest dramatic performance, watch The Fisher King sometime. It still stops me in my tracks thinking about it — and what must’ve been a role that skirted his own personal demons. As for Mrs. Doubtfire and so many of the roles he played as an “ordinary”man in extraordinary circumstances (Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society), his ability to draw upon humor and humanity were unparalleled.

      1. Thanks, I’ll check out The Fisher King. I know of the movie, but I’ve never seen it yet. It is indeed his versatality as an actor that makes him stand out for me. I loved his performances in ‘One hour photo’ or ‘Insomnia’, where he has the viewer (well, me at least) identifying with a criminal mind.
        Anyway, thanks for your words on the matter. I’m sure Robin Williams would’ve appreciated to know how his work affected you and others.

  3. “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.”

    Eloquently stated, Ned. If there is an afterlife, Robin is most likely moved beyond measure by this post. 🙂

  4. So, so touching, Ned. Your words brought me to tears, sweetly. RW was my favorite actor and comedian. I’m so, so sad and yet so very appreciative of the joy, the depth of feeling, the heart, and light that he gave us all. He was a huge light in this world. Your post is a loving and wonderful tribute to him. Thank you, my friend.

  5. Beautiful, my friend. A god has fallen from our heavens and we are all diminished because of that.

    In many ways, Robin is one of the icons that led me to a life in comedy (if only as part of a greater comedy of errors). I would say that my world has been rocked by this event, but as you suggest, it has been rocking steadily from those first moments that we met the man.

    We are fortunate that so much of his humour and pathos has been recorded, that we might wash our pain with tears of mirth (Mork’s son) and empathy.

    [In my next post, I begin on my eulogy of Ned Hickson.]

    1. Robin Williams, along with Jonathan Winters, opened doors and paves comedic roads in ways many will never realize. Regardless, comedy — and humanity — will continue to benefit because of it. And I am glad you are walking along that road, my friend.

      And as for my eulogy… do you know something I don’t?!?

  6. Horace Walpole said that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel. The fair dinkum comedian lives with both points of view and Robin in this respect had on powerful binoculars. The real mystery is not why he succumbed to the tragedy that is the world we live in but that it took so long before he did so.
    R.I.P. Robin
    Cheers Ned
    Respect Red

  7. Well done, Ned. The first time I saw Williams was doing standup on some Canadian (Canadian!) afternoon talks show. I must have been home sick from school. I remember thinking, even at what must have been a pretty young age, “Who is this guy?” He was a lot more than any of us knew, it turns out.

    1. As a kid, I used to watch old reruns of the Jonathan Winters Show, and the first time I saw Robin Williams do stand-up I was blown away by the his ability to “channel” characters like Winters, literally jumping from character to character in a nano second (not to be confused with a nanoo second). Winters had this part of the show where someone would bring in a box of items gathered from the audience, and Winters would randomly pull out items and turn into a character based on what he pulled out. It was fascinating to watch how quickly his mind could work. Ironically, Winters also suffered from heavy bouts of depression throughout his life.

      It seems like those few who are given the gift of accessing the creative parts of the brain most can’t, there is a trade-off.

  8. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute.
    Mr. Williams brought so much joy and laughter to my life.
    My world is sadder now.
    His life mattered.
    I wonder if he really ever comprehended that fact, and knew how much he was loved.
    Rest in peace, DearOne.

    1. I like to think he could feel the happiness he shared with the world — and still does 😉

      It seems like those who are born with creative genius are often plagued with depression. I find comfort knowing I’ll never have to worry about that…

  9. Fisher King!!!! I loved that. It’s funny how over the last few days I’d tried to remember just how many things I’d seen him in, and how many iconic characters he’d created. Then the next day I’d remember a few more, and then a few more, like it was never ending. How did I forget Fisher King?

    1. I had the same experience, coming to the realization of just how many of the decade’s best movies Robin Williams has been in. I think Fisher King stands out for me because it was the first really serious role I’d seen him in, and it blew me away. He should’ve gotten an Oscar.

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