It’s been over six years since George Carlin died of heart failure at 71 in Santa Monica, CA.
George was widely regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comedians of all time. He’s listed in Comedy Central’s list of Top 100 Comics at number 2, just behind the great Richard Pryor, but just ahead of the trailblazing Lenny Bruce who paved the road for comedians all over the country to be able to speak freely and test the boundaries of obscenity.
But George Carlin’s fame is nearly unmatched as a comedian. Arguably, his bit “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” is one of his most memorable. It was funny on several levels. It challenged the status quo and pushed the boundaries of decency laws in the U.S. in 1972.
In comedy terms that bit would be described as “word-play,” “the witty exploitation of the meanings and ambiguities of words.”
But at the Summerfest in Milwaukee in 1972 that bit would be described as obscenity and would get Carlin thrown in jail. That bit not only got Carlin arrested but also got WBAI, an FM radio station in New York City, cited by the FCC for broadcasting “obscene” material.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision. Evidently, the nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” doesn’t hold true in a court so powerful that calls itself “Supreme.”
So what are those words? “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.”
Those are the words that are so disgusting that a man got thrown in jail, radio station fined and the Supreme Court to issue a ruling that gave the FCC the broader right to decide what was “indecent,” and what can and can’t be broadcast on the public airwaves, words that are so profoundly offensive that those very same words are printed on the transcript of the court ruling and stored where? The Supreme Court.
Here’s Carlin with the Seven:
This piece is a classic and every student of comedy should know about it. But my point in this post isn’t just about “The Seven Words,” it about word-play and the power that word-play still has in comedy.
Some of the younger comedians, don’t believe in word-play they will give you some sciolistic nonsense about word-play being “hack.”
That couldn’t be farther from the truth! Word-play can result in puns, but not always. If you approach word-play the way George Carlin did, you can find the paradox in certain words: “You can prick your finger, but you can’t finger your prick,” is one of Carlin’s old standards.
Hack? Well I guess it depends on the listener’s point of view. But that joke has been around for more than 40 years. It’s memorable and it has a shelf-life.
It it used a lot in script writing too. Arrested Development was a super popular show for many years and the writers employed word-play as one of their primary tools for getting a laugh.
Let’s look at one of Carlin’s last HBO specials. He opens using a word-play bit and gets a rousing ovation. What a way to open!
Here’s a transcript from that performance:
George Carlin’s Modern Man
I’m a modern man, a man for the millennium. Digital and smoke free. A diversified multi-cultural, post-modern deconstruction that is anatomically and ecologically incorrect.
I’ve been up linked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech low-life. A cutting edge, state-of-the-art bi-coastal multi-tasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond! I’m new wave, but I’m old school and my inner child is outward bound.
I’m a hot-wired, heat seeking, warm-hearted cool customer, voice activated and bio-degradable. I interface with my database, my database is in cyberspace, so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive and from time to time I’m radioactive. Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, ridin the wave, dodgin the bullet and pushin the envelope. I’m on-point, on-task, on-message and off drugs.
I’ve got no need for coke and speed. I’ve got no urge to binge and purge. I’m in-the-moment, on-the-edge, over-the-top and under-the-radar. A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary. A street-wise smart bomb. A top-gun bottom feeder. I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps and run victory laps. I’m a totally ongoing big-foot, slam-dunk, rainmaker with a pro-active outreach. A raging workaholic. A working rageaholic. Out of rehab and in denial!
I’ve got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant and a personal agenda. You can’t shut me up. You can’t dumb me down because I’m tireless and I’m wireless, I’m an alpha male on beta-blockers. I’m a non-believer and an over-achiever, laid-back but fashion-forward. Up-front, down-home, low-rent, high-maintenance. Super-sized, long-lasting, high-definition, fast-acting, oven-ready and built-to-last! I’m a hands-on, foot-loose, knee-jerk head case pretty maturely post-traumatic and I’ve got a love-child that sends me hate mail.
But, I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing– a supportive, bonding, nurturing primary care-giver. My output is down, but my income is up. I took a short position on the long bond and my revenue stream has its own cash-flow. I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds and I watch trash sports! I’m gender specific, capital intensive, user-friendly and lactose intolerant. I like rough sex.
I like tough love. I use the “F” word in my emails and the software on my hard-drive is hardcore–no soft porn. I bought a microwave at a mini-mall; I bought a mini-van at a mega-store. I eat fast-food in the slow lane. I’m toll-free, bite-sized, ready-to-wear and I come in all sizes. A fully-equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically-proven, scientifically- formulated medical miracle.
I’ve been pre-wash, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, vacuum-packed and, I have an unlimited broadband capacity. I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal. Lean and mean! Cocked, locked and ready-to-rock. Rough, tough and hard to bluff. I take it slow, I go with the flow, I ride with the tide. I’ve got glide in my stride. Drivin and movin, sailin and spinin, jiving and groovin, wailin and winnin. I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty and lunch time is crunch time. I’m hangin in, there ain’t no doubt and I’m hangin tough, over and out!”
Have you ever wondered what the secret to success in comedy is?
Ever feel like it’s just this massively intimidating idea, like this enormous blob of ectoplasmic goop that has no shape or form?
Building a career in comedy can be so daunting.
School is so much easier! In school they tell you what to do. You know when to take your SAT’s. You’re told how many units you need to graduate, what you’re GPA needs to be.
In college, you’re told that in order to become a teacher, you have to take certain classes, get so many units, take an internship at a company and if you graduate with the right GPA and honors, you have an opportunity to have a job waiting for you when you finally graduate.
It’s a process and it’s similar for a lot of careers. It usually goes something like: High School-College-Internship-Job-Career. That’s organized and easy to conceive; maybe there’s some variation or advanced degrees for specialties like law, medicine or engineering, but it’s still a process that’s pretty well defined.
When you start out doing comedy, there is no obvious process and nobody tells you what to do. You have to find your own way as you go. You can talk to others, but there’s still no real map.
Or is there?
Comedians always ask me, “what’s the secret to success?”
My favorite response? “It’s not a secret.”
There are successful comedians and artists out there all the time telling you what they did in their careers.
I tell all my students exactly what I did to hit my financial and artistic goals.
The success guru Tony Robbins said, “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.”
By that he means copy their methods not their products. In other words, find out how they got successful and do the same thing.
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I can’t tell you how to succeed. I can only tell you what I did to reach my level of success in this business. I’m still learning and still achieving and some years are better than others.
I don’t just try to figure it all out on my own. I look to others, study their careers. I read biographies of other successful artists and listen or read their interviews. Sometimes they can reveal some pretty awesome things that they did to succeed. I jot them down and see if it might work for me too.
One of the keys to success in this business is to realize that show-business is two words and whether you’re a writer, performer or both, if you start thinking of this as building your business you’ll find that it’s a little less daunting. After all, building a business has a simple formula.
The basic formula to building a business is:
Find an Idea
Have a Plan of Action
Secure Funding to Implement that Plan
Sell That Idea to Customers on a Recurring Basis.
Most Comedians have step 1, the idea, (perform stand-up), but they want to jump immediately to step 4 without digging in to step 2 or 3.
In fact most comedians don’t even want to think about step 3, because it means they have to spend money, but let’s leave that aside for now. Let’s focus on steps 1 and 2.
Step 1: The Idea. Comedians have the idea; it’s their comedy or the idea that they want to do stand-up. But what’s really missing with most comedians is the plan of action.
The problem is that it’s missing both creatively and economically.
One of the things I suggest is to read and listen to what other comedians did in their career to get where they are.
Bill Burr is one of my favorites. His blend of honesty, passion and emotion in his material is what has propelled him to the status he enjoys today and what will continue to keep him on top.
What’s important to understand is that Bill wrote jokes for the first few years of his career. “I knew I had to know how to write jokes,” he says.
It might not have been his plan of action but looking back at his paper trail, a smart comedian might get some ideas from that plan. He then said, “I still wrote out jokes for the first ten or eleven years of my career. I was always kind of writing onstage. About six years in, I was riffing and doing that type of thing…”
If you read closely, can you see that Bill is kind of giving you his plan of action? His method? His secrets to success?
Remember what Tony Robbins said, “find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do…”
You have been toiling on your act for a while. You’ve written. You’ve tightened. You’ve rehearsed. You’ve sweat. You’ve honed. You feel you’re beginning to find your voice.
You’ve developed a crystalized point of view and a through-line that’s on steroids and you’re ready to flex it like a 20-year-old with a well-earned six-pack.
You’re beginning to feel like you don’t just have laughs, you may just have a purpose!
Then you get a booking at a club you’ve worked in previously and the booker drops this bombshell: “I don’t like this new style of comedy you’re doing. I think you should go back to the old you.”
What do you do?
Several comedians have asked me about this over the years. How much do you adjust your act when a booker doesn’t dig your style?
My answer is “That depends.”
In my career as a comedian, I have walked away from gigs, I have fired managers and I’ve made other decisions–both good and bad–that go against the grain of the take-any-gig-that-comes-my-way attitude.
And although I probably would’ve never considered doing that in the early part of my career, when I finally started to feel my voice, to really express myself, to come from a place that meant something to me, that’s when I decided to be my own man, my own artist, my own company.
Basically I made a decision that I’m going to succeed or fail based on my own brand, my own goals and my own business model.
It was both freeing and frightening. But then I got the best advice ever from a surprising source… George Carlin.
When I started out, I emulated a variety comedians. I was studying George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. I was also a big fan of Bill Hicks.
I’ll admit it, I went with the trend at the time and I was very quirky. I was very “Seinfeldian.”
I was booking a lot of feature work. My first audition for Bud Friedman resulted in being booked in Vegas at least 4 times a year and getting a spot on A & E’s “An Evening at the Improv,” my first television spot as a comedian.
It wasn’t until I met George Carlin that I got the best piece of comedy advice ever. He changed my approach and subsequently, my career.
Carlin said, “There’s a line. Cross it.”
At first I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. Then he clarified: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny. You ever watch T.V. or read the news and call bullshit? That’s your comedy. Use that. But make it funny…
Say something that means something to you. Otherwise you’re just one of those cookie-cutter comedians who ain’t sayin’ anything!”
Then he said, “You can mix it up with fluff, if you have quirky and observational stuff, because the audience needs that playful stuff too, but say something that means something.
Don’t just make them laugh, make them think!”
It was that coincidental meeting that changed my entire approach to comedy. I started building an act that came from a real personal perspective. I started taking the stuff that drove me crazy and started to make it funny.
I started watching the news and reading the paper and when I felt myself call ‘bullshit,’ I wrote it down and made it funny, using paradox and irony, word-play and incongruity. I used powerful benign retaliation like Carlin, Bill Hicks and Chris Rock, (a powerful form of payback-style comedy) that you can learn in my eBook, “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”
I became more of a socio-political comedian. I also had my quirky, fun observational stuff, but most of my act was driven by my angst and strong point of view. I blended it when I needed to, dropped certain edgy stuff when I did corporates, but most importantly, I felt like I was me!
Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. The rest is visual and emotional.
Shortly after that tip from Carlin, my act changed. I took it on the road. It was getting a good reception.
Then I played a club in Sacramento. It was a club I had performed in for years as a feature, then a headliner. I went there with my new act; a very powerful socio-political act with kind of an underlying theme of tolerance.
Five nights, seven shows; after the first show, the club owner said, “I don’t like this new Jerry. I like the smart, quirky Jerry better.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was stuck. I liked this guy. He booked me a lot. I liked the club. I liked the people.
The next night I came in and did my quirky act. He was happy. But I wasn’t.
In my hotel room that night, I decided that I was going to take Carlin’s advice rather than some club owner’s in Sacramento. I came to work the next night. Did my socio-political act and pulled out all the stops.
That night I received my first standing ovation. I was beyond surprised.
After the show, the club owner came up to me to congratulate me… or so I thought.
He said he wanted me to finish my week doing my quirky act. and that he already expressed his displeasure with my socio-political act and that if I wasn’t willing to do as he asked, then I wasn’t welcome to work there anymore.
WTF!? Did he not see that standing ovation?
I tried to convince him otherwise, but he wouldn’t budge. I’m not sure why, but I think the issues I was pointing out as ridiculous, he actually believed in.
I finished up that week giving him what he wanted. After all, it is a business and I live by the golden rule, (He who has the gold, makes the rules).
Besides, I had to remember, I’m a guest in his club.
But after my last performance, he cut me my check and I respectfully told him that I’ve made up my mind that the quirky Jerry is no longer true to me and I wanted to evolve–at least in the clubs–and if he didn’t approve, then I wouldn’t be working for him anymore.
When I returned home, the check bounced! Eight months later, that club went under.
The club closing had nothing to do with me. It was because the club owner was a bad business man. That wasn’t my point of view, but that of the IRS.
The lesson for me in all of this was clear; Be True To You!
In my collective business model, I know that all work in this business is a collaboration. The club owners are absolutely a part of that collaborative effort and as long as it doesn’t hurt the integrity of my act, I am always willing to make some adjustments to it.
But, once you hit that stage, it’s just you, that crowd and that microphone.
Think about it. Even if I did what he wanted rather than what was true to me, my check still would’ve bounced, that club would’ve still gone out of business, and there still would’ve been a gaping three-week hole in my schedule that I would’ve had to fill anyway.
To round it out, before the end of that year, I started working at the rival to that club in Sac. Many of the same people from the previous club came to see me there.
The rival club owner liked me. He liked that I brought an audience with me.
He liked when the audience gave up a standing ovation and…
He liked to have a comedian that wasn’t afraid to say something that means something.
How often do you find yourself in this situation: You’re introduced to somebody, and literally seconds later, for the life of you, can’t recall their names?
Some people instantly chalk it up to their brains not functioning and go as far as convincing themselves that they have a bad short-memory or they’re simply “bad” with names; going so far as to affirm it, saying things like, “I’m bad with names, I can remember faces. I always forget people.”
Does this sound like you?
If it does sound like you–and I can actually see your head nodding as you read this–then you need to know that this tendency has more far reaching implications than you might think and I can tell you from experience, just read on!
Not remembering a person’s name can interfere with your ability to feel confident in meeting new people, or it can mean the difference between a gig booked or not booked.
Meeting New People
Being a stand-up can be isolating. After all, one of the reasons we do this job is because we don’t have to rely on other people. (I know it’s one of the reasons I got into stand-up). It’s just ourselves and the audience. We can get used to that I don’t need anybody attitude and it can reinforce our inability to remember names of people.
But we must remember that in this business, a high percentage of all work is gained through relationships. And what I mean by a “high percentage” is “almost all.”
In fact, Steven Spielberg said that “Any movie that ever made got made because of a relationship.”
I’m going to say that again, A high percentage of all work is gained through relationships and remembering someone’s name and repeating it out loud back to the person you just met can have a big impact and leave a lasting impression. You’ve probably heard examples of business and political leaders and one of the things people say about them is, he always remembered my name!
That person could’ve invented the printing press or saved the free world from it’s utter demise, that stuff gets recorded in the annals of history, but a person recalls that he remembered my name.
Are you starting to see how important this could be?
A handshake is an introduction, remembering someone’s name is the beginning of a relationship!
Confidence in Meeting New People
Did you know that this “forgetfulness” can sometimes cause people not to want to meet new people. They are so afraid they will embarrass themselves when they don’t remember someone’s name that they don’t put themselves in situations to meet new people.
This can totally impede your momentum in the business world of comedy so you can see that having a lack of confidence in meeting people can completely destroy opportunity.
The difference between remembering a name and not remembering a name is the difference between a stranger and a friend or even a job and no job.
Keep reading and I’ll address simple ways to fix this.
Take a Moment to Solve the Problem
If you’re one of those people who don’t seem to remember names of other people, take some time to think about why. How many of you, (I mean all three of you who read this), have stopped to ask yourselves, what was I thinking about when she was telling me her name?
You’d be amazed at how many people just accept the fact that they can’t remember names. They just think that that’s the way they are and that’s just the way it is.
But taking a simple moment to consider why you can’t remember names will help you target the problem. Once you do that, you can start to find solutions that work.
And the solution can be simple.
Change Your Attitude
If you’re convinced that you can’t remember names, then it’s time to change your attitude about your ability. If you tell yourself that you can’t remember names, you’re just affirming that notion and convincing your brain to do the exact same thing each time. In other words, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!
So start taking charge and stop accepting that you just don’t remember people’s names and start trying.
Stop being embarrassed if you don’t know someone’s name. Take the initiative and ask!
Don’t worry so much if you forget someone’s name. Everybody does it. But when you have the good fortune to meet other people, don’t leave the scene until you have their name. And if you forget their name, use humor!
You could say something like, “I need you tell me your name again… you know, because I’m a good listener…
There’s an old saying, It’s impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh. Besides when you take a moment to ask when you forget, you show the other person that you care enough to ask.
Really listen to a person’s name when they tell you. Imagine the spelling of that name. If you can’t imagine the spelling of that name, then ask them, how do you spell that?
Ask Them to Spell It
Recently, immediately following a screening for my movie, (“STRETCH,” available on iTunes and Amazon October 7th; I know, shameless plug), a female producer came up to me to talk to me. She was a really attractive woman wearing Christian Lou Boutin shoes–about $700–so I knew I would have to stay focused.
She introduced herself and told me her name. She then introduced her boyfriend; “Kuldeep.”
Because the name was one I hadn’t heard before, I almost just let it go. I remembered by mind saying, Aaah! It’s not worth the effort,he’s only the ‘boyfriend.’
But I stopped myself and I put a smile on my face and said, “I’m sorry, would you say that again?” He repeated it and I looked him right in the eyes and said, “What an interesting sounding name. How do you spell that?” He told me and that brief interchange took an extra thirty seconds, but that name was now visually cemented into my brain. I could actually see it.
The producer’s boyfriend’s body language actually changed and he now looked like he felt like he was part of the discussion.
And the producer? Wow! She looked like someone just surprised her with her favorite flowers! That little gesture of really wanting to know her boyfriend’s name seemed to impress her. Either that, or she thought I was hitting on her boyfriend!
It was at that moment I felt the entire conversation shift from less of a formal gotta-meet-everyone-here, to a gotta-get-to-know-this-guy-better, type of thing and that’s when she asked the coveted question most writers want to hear at this type of thing: What else do you have?
This producer actually asked me what else I’ve written so can she read it! For a writer that’s huge. That’s like a booker saying, Send me your stuff, I’d love to have you in my club.”
I took her business card, took a moment to actually read her name on the card to add another layer of memory.
Before they left I shook their hands and said, “A pleasure meeting you, Kuldeep.” Then I shook the producer’s hand and I said, “It was so cool of you to come up and say hello, Nila. I will email the Christmas script so you can read it… I let a beat pass and I said, “Oh, and Nila… amazing shoes!”
Her face lit up, and she did a little pose, rocked her shoe a little bit and let out a genuine, “Oh my God. Thank you!”
Because, really? Nobody wears a seven-hundred dollar pair of shoes and doesn’t want to be complimented on them!
Evaluate and Follow Up
I felt pretty proud of that introduction. It actually went from a “glad-handing” obligation to a real opportunity, in good part to the extra effort of remembering someone’s name.
I took a quick moment to evaluate what I did; I actually took a moment to really listen. It became important to me to really listen and remember their names. Because I knew on a conscious level that I did not want to walk away from that introduction without remembering their names so I did.
Also because I did that, I initiated conversation, (how do you spell that, etc.), it kind of put me in control of that conversation. I felt like I was sort of running the show. It demonstrated a level of confidence we (including myself), don’t always have in initial greetings. I felt like I was on stage and they were looking to me for the answers.
Does that make any sense? Those new acquaintances looked at me differently and their respect level shifted instantly.
I met several other people that night. I had to remind myself consciously to stay engaged and stay cognitive of remembering their names. Really listening. Actively listening.
I also met a pretty famous director that night. He also asked What else do you have? He also liked the Christmas script idea and actually said, “I would love to direct that.”
I’m not really a big fan of those ‘schmooze fests,’ but I have to remind myself that they are part of the game. After all high percentage of all work is gained through relationships, as some guy once said way back at the beginning of this blog post.
So what happened with that producer and that boyfriend? When I got into my car to leave that screening, I immediately keyed the contact info into my smartphone, I sent her an email about what a pleasure it was to meet her and Kuldeep. I also attached the Christmas script she was interested in, (I keep all important docs in my phone!).
In the subject line I put: “[Director’s Name] said he wants to direct this!”
That script was read immediately by that producer with the great shoes, and the process has begun to get it sold. It has a good chance too, I think, because that guy Kuldeep? Turns out he’s a millionaire business mogul who finances films!
So when it comes to remembering names… don’t you think it’s time you make it a priority?
The life and comedy lessons that I learned from the brief encounters I had with Robin Williams came flooding back to me since I got the news of his death.
It was 4:00PM Monday August 11th, and I was sitting at the computer writing jokes; ironically, only nineteen hours after we wrapped an Anti-Suicide Benefit Show at the Hollywood Improv to raise awareness for Depression and Suicide. That’s when I got the call from a friend and fellow comedian.
He simply said: “Robin Williams is Dead.”
There was that long silence that follows that kind of message. Longer than normal. That kind of silence that seems to stretch forever. The kind of silence that would make you really uncomfortable on stage.
I did what I usually do when I hear news that I can’t totally process emotionally; I went to jokes: “Leave it to Robin to do this right after the Anti-Suicide Benefit. Ha! If the benefit didn’t raise awareness, this sure will.”
Then I cried.
I didn’t plan it. I didn’t feel it coming on. It was just one of those things that happened spontaneously, you know?
I didn’t cry when Carlin died. That news seriously bummed me out, but I didn’t cry… and Carlin mentored me.
At first I refused to believe it. Like a lot of comedians, I had worked with Robin several times. I even drove him in a limousine every day for a couple of weeks early in my career, when I was cutting down my road work to try to save my marriage.
I remember Robin said to me, “Save your marriage? F*@k your marriage. Save your life!”
Then in a character voice, almost disgustedly, he said, “You’re a comedian. A chauffeur YOU ARE NOT!”
He said, “Yeah Bitterman, you missed the turn about a half-mile back!” Then he launched into a Dudley Moore laugh from the movie “Arthur.”
It was a good laugh. But, that sunk in deep. And later that week after I dropped him off at his jet, I quit the limo and went right back out on the road for good.
I worked with him a couple of times after that. We weren’t buddies. We didn’t call each other or anything. The time I spent with the man was minuscule in a chronological sense, but his impact is eternal. And each time I bumped into him or had the honor of working with him, he was always, ALWAYS kind.
That’s one of the things he taught me. That in this business, where sometimes people can be so back-stabbing, angry, resentful and use their success to try to diminish you, he was just Robin, all the time.
He taught me that synergy works better than enemy and that being kind to your fellow comedian, your fellow human doesn’t ever hurt your career. It always helps.
Robin Breathed Life Into Comedy
Robin’s career was, in a word, stellar. From the time he was picked up to do “Mork and Mindy,” he was off and running. He was a comedian, but a comedian who had goals beyond just doing stand-up. He started as a comedian in the Bay Area in the seventies, then went off to “study” at the The Julliard School of Drama in New York.
When he went back to the Bay Area, he was a different comedian. He was doing characters on stage. Characters were not new in comedy, Carlin did characters, but it was the way he was doing the characters; BIG, BOLD COMMITTED. He was blowing the doors off the clubs!
He was a pure entertainer. I know, he had a bit of a reputation for stealing jokes. Hell, he stole a couple of mine. But somehow that was different. He was “Robin.” He breathed life into comedy. I could always write new jokes.
He taught me the power of incongruous act-outs in comedy, (a version of solo-sketch comedy), that if you give the audience a clear premise: Like in this video, where he does his version of American soccer and South American soccer, then segues into American Football referees. The set up is clear cut. He sets up the characters, then just brings them to life.
You watch Robin Williams do comedy and you can’t help but feel a bit manic. Because, from the moment he takes the stage, that’s the way he performed and there’s a theory in theater science that the audience is in whatever state the performer is in. When you saw Robin perform, you had no choice but to leave that experience, charged up.
Depression and Suicide
Early reports coming in from the news is that his death was an apparent suicide. Now I think I understand why I cried when my friend called. The sheer dichotomy. In a weird way, Robin, who struggled with addiction and depression and was open about it, represented a certain hope for many.
I have never experienced addiction or depression. The closest I’ve been to that is drunk and tired.
Then it kind of hit me why Robin’s death made me cry when Carlin’s didn’t. Carlin died of so-called natural causes; a heart-related issue. Robin’s death was mired in a more profound tragedy. He died of something seemingly treatable, but obviously misunderstood.
There are close to 15 million people in the U.S. that suffer from depression. And if a man who had the resources to afford and access all the help he needed to deal with it can’t find a way out, what are the other 14 million nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand going to do?
We need you back, Robin.
Today I’m going to Amazon to buy every Robin Williams comedy video I can get my hands on. Maybe Robin can still help play away the pain and give others hope.
Robin Williams affected us all in one way or another. For me, he was partly responsible for where I am today. One marriage down but still making a living doing comedy.