Forgive me the opportunity to return to the subject of Robin Williams' untimely death once again. "Untimely" because it is one of those things that I didn't imagine having to deal with. I am guilty of imagining how I might cope with the passing of those closest to me, but I never met Mister Williams. He was a stranger in both noun and adjective. He thought and moved faster than most rooms full of six-year-olds.
It never occurred to me what all that frenetic energy and chaos was about until I had to reckon with the "off switch." That's because I had become comfortable with the idea that Robin Williams was a survivor. John Belushi wasn't. Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, Phil Hartman: For various reasons, neither were those guys. The fact that part of me wants to launch into a bit about how it's probably best that they didn't stick around longer so they could fade into obscurity doesn't feel right. Being funny is hard work. I know, because when faced with the choice, many years ago to have that job, I chose a different path.
But I am pretty sure that all those guys and a dozen more men and women who made me laugh in profound ways pushed me to become a teacher. This is especially true of Robin Williams. For better or worse, the kids who have spent time in Mister Caven's classroom have endured my own personal brand of standup comedy five days a week for the past seventeen years. I'm lucky. I've got this captive audience. When I bomb, I know I need to go back and rework my act for the next class, but it's all still improvisation at its heart. That's what I became aware of as I watched the flurry of images and video bits from more than thirty years of Robin Williams' career. In so many ways, he was still working out those favorite bits: Shakespeare, childhood, substance use. Like a musician, you could hear themes that never got fully played out. He was still working for that punch line.
Well, he got there. It took a little longer than some of his contemporaries, but it came. My wife and I mused over whether there would be some cosmic rim shot and we both would suddenly get it. Only it's not funny "ha ha." It's funny "sad." This one left a mark.