He’s been a presence since the first time I saw him on “Happy Days” (of all places). I couldn’t wait for the premiere of “Mork & Mindy.” He just exploded on the scene. I was a big fan of that show. So much so that when my job (I was working nights at K-Mart while in college) changed my shift to Tuesday nights, when Mork was on, I would slip over to the Appliance Dept. to watch it on the display TVs there. When the show became popular, K-Mart sold rainbow suspenders (for boys) at one point. I bought a pair. Still have them.
We had just been through the great comedy revivals of the 1970s; Chaplin, Keaton, the Marxes, had all gotten their due. Monty Python had come to the states. SNL. Steve Martin. We still had the grand masters performing, the Hopes, Bennys and Berles. Comedy was becoming the new rock & roll. Then this force of nature arrived. This comedic tsunami. This Snarknado. It was grand. I would watch Robin on the Tonight Show and marvel at his power, energy and wit. I envied them. As a comedy fan and a comedy creator, my desire was to develop a “comic persona.” Eventually I had reached the point where I summed it up thusly: I wanted to be a Robin Williams, but I was a Bob Newhart.
I keep wondering why Williams seems a bigger part of my life than he actually was. Things keep coming back to me. The first TV spec I ever wrote was a “Mork & Mindy.” My uncle knew the producer’s brother and got me a chance to submit (It was politely rejected). My college comedy cohort wrote a one-act play with a character that was very much in the Robin mode. Even in college, Williams was worked into more than one cover of our college humor magazine. There was Comic Relief. I loved the book “The World According to Garp” and was stunned to see him in the movie. His little catchphrases crept into my vocabulary; “Reality, what a concept.” “Right arm!” “We’re not going to pick out curtains.” Another friend, a performer at Disney’s Pleasure Island, told me once how Robin came into the comedy club he worked at and did some improvisation with the cast (apparently to his wife’s chagrin). I wrote a character "William Robins" for a comedy troupe as part as a series of black-out running gags.
Once, while in college working on the humor magazine, the staff was contacted by ABC. They were reaching out to college humorists in an effort to catch the youth market. It was a “meet and greet” before I knew what the term was. My colleagues were a bit too cool for network TV, so the meeting was doomed from the start. But as it ended, the executive thanked us for coming, then he threw in a pitch for us to watch “Mork & Mindy” that night; Raquel Welch was guest starring. Then the executive added, “That’s what you called ‘stacked programming.’” As we had no idea what the term meant, we found ourselves merely smiling and nodding politely. Needless to say, we did not get an ABC deal. But Robin Williams always seem to be in the aether.
My kids grew up on “Hook,” “Jumanji,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Aladdin.” We’d go to DisneyWorld and there Robin was in a film with Walter Cronkite for the animation studio or as the robot’s voice in the 360 theater. It always bothered me that he only hosted SNL twice.
On the other hand, I reached a point where I couldn’t always watch him on talk shows. He was always “on.” I would sit there and mutter “Take a breath, please.”
Yes, he was always “on.” But he was always there. And now he’s not.
Bangarang, oh Captain, my Captain. Ain’t never gonna have a friend like you.