On the first day of my Humber College Comedy Writing and Performance Program, our Mentor told us, “If you are here, there is something seriously wrong with you.” I remember thinking he was joking. He had to be. I was sitting in a room full of amazing people who only wanted to make other people laugh. What a beautiful thing. But every day that has passed since then, I can see exactly what he meant.
I remember one of the first assignments for Stand-up class. We had to write two minutes of jokes on pain. I was too vulnerable to write about my own pain. So I first wrote two minutes about the pain of someone else. I was ashamed of myself, because I had pain. It was a demon I have been fighting as long as I can remember. In fact I wrote about it once before here on Blonde. It was about my childhood battle with Scoliosis. Though I have learned to cope with my insecurities on the subject, I know it affects me still. I always forget about it until I find myself getting close to anyone.
Although Robin Williams passed away a few months ago now, I find myself thinking of him lately in the context of my own experiences dealing with pain through comedy. What many people construe as comedic charm is actually an armour of humour. That’s what we need to take from Robin’s Death. He was known as once of the funniest and kindest people in the entertainment world, but he killed himself. How? I am sure non-coms (non-comedians) think he had everything and his death was, though sad, very foolish. What Robin has done has reminded this generation that comics are not happy people. This message was delivered once before by another great comic by the name of Lenny Bruce. In Lenny’s final days, he struggled emotionally and legally over the censorship of material. Not many people today know his story unless you were a comic. I remember being told the Lenny was the Jesus stand-up, because he died for our sins. Lenny Bruce changed the rules of stand-up for the future. Before him… comedy was clean. Now, comedy is a place where issues can be addressed and in my opinion stand-up is the one place where no subject is off the table. Thank God for that.
People Like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin all said something to the world with their stand-up. Lucille Ball said something to world with Desilu Productions. Robin William said something to the world with everything he did, but in his lifetime we didn’t really see it. He did stand-up, he acted in great heartwarming hilarious films and it took him dying to remind us how important it is to realize how much of a silent killer depression really is.
My first year in Comedy School I was dumped. Oh I was dumped BAD. I was destroyed. Luckily, at that time I was assigned a stand-up piece addressing anger. That’s when I came up with this angry comedic poem about everything that happened. I have never been that vulnerable before. Doing it terrified me. Still, I got up on stage and performed it. Looking back at it, I hate that set. It was uncomfortable and painful, but it was so freeing. It was one of my first performances that I ever did. It was also the first time I turned to the stage to deal with something. By doing it, I made myself laugh. People were enjoying themselves and that was my payment for opening up and dealing with an inner struggle in a very public way. To be honest, I thought it was kind of… well, it was twisted. Strangely, I felt better and it helped me to overcome my personal tragedy. That was when I began to understand what my mentor was saying.
We had a class called Physical Comedy. It was because of this class that I truly began to see and understand the people I was working with. There were about 30 people in it and only three others were girls. Naturally, many of the guys became my best friends. One day, our regular teacher was away and filling in was the former Physical Comedy teacher. We did this activity were we had to list of the names of the chapters in our life. This may not mean anything to you, but when you get that specific and share the intimate details of where we are from and what we have been through with a group of people you begin to really see how beautiful and broken people can be. It was this day that I fell in love with every person in that room. I wanted to hug them, protect them and be there for them. I knew that comedians were not like other people. They were delicate and fierce all at the same time.
To me Robin Williams was always a symbol of strength and comfort. I knew of his fight with addiction, but as a fan I only knew him as a symbol of happiness and hilarity. I sometimes forget about the first words said to me in Comedy School. There is something wrong with all of us. There has to be. To know that our best way to deal with things is to get up make fun of our problems and leave with an adrenaline rush. The more I think about my life the more I remember how safe and secure these people made me feel. I also remember when I graduated thinking that I would never again know the love and comfort that I felt in this place. I was wrong, because after the program when I got a day job I began seeing the same comics who I would see in the stand-up world, but they weren’t stand-ups. They were bartenders, store clerks and working at the Apple Store. Comics are different, but we gotta live like we are not.
Robin Williams was a man who had accomplished everything that any comic dreams of, but still he was not okay. He wore that suit of humour with pride and brought joy to millions of people. His death is a permanent reminder that we need to remember that not just comedians, but people in general are suffering and sometimes it is really hard to tell. We need to see his death as a very important reminder that charm doesn’t equal confidence and quite frankly that we don’t know anyone. So be kind, be understanding and no matter how well you think you understand people, remember that you only see what is shown to you… and sometimes it is just a show.