News of Robin Williams’ death has hit me harder than most celebrity deaths. I was nine when I first saw Robin Williams as Mork on an episode of Happy Days. I was 12 when I got his first comedy album Reality…What a Concept (New York echo: Hello…! Shut the fuck up!). The first movie I saw him star in was as the title character in Robert Altman’s Popeye (double feature with Raiders of the Lost Ark). I owned and wore rainbow suspenders to grade school.
While working at the Improv comedy club in Irvine during the summer of ’96 (I think), Louie Anderson was performing on a Friday night (maybe it was Saturday), and there was a special unannounced guest performing after him… Robin Williams. That night, he showed up at the club early. Since there was no proper green room or backstage for him to wait until it was time for his set, he killed a half hour outside on a side patio. I had the privilege of keeping him company for that half hour or so. Just me, his bodyguard/driver, and Robin Williams. It was thirty minutes that I will never forget.
Robin Williams was very humble and very personable. (And, very short, I remember.) We swapped jokes, and before I knew it we were riffing off one another. I said something funny about Macaulay Culkin and he laughed. He asked if he could use my joke on stage that night. I said yes…if he paid me for it. He said he’d give me $50 after the show. He didn’t. But, that’s okay. I remember that the joke went over pretty well, and it was told by one of my idols. That was payment enough for my first comedy writing gig.