John Y. Brown, III: Robin Williams

The life of a comedian is rarely a funny matter.

The deep source of humor for the professional comic almost always seems to be a survival mechanism that just happens to work better than all the other survival mechanisms tried before it that came up wanting.

Sometimes that defense mechanism —that life antidote— stops working, too. And there may be no back-up fortification for when a joke doesn’t work anymore. And that deep source of humor can cruelly transform itself into an all-encompassing darkness that envelops and even suffocates, figuratively or literally, the same person it served so well.

And for a brief moment, like today upon the news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, the world gets a glimpse of that over-sized and heavy heart and sees that you weren’t just a silly boy looking for the next pratfall and a few more well-earned laughs. But that you were working always on something far more complicated, serious and sorrowful than your comedy repertoire ever belied.

How ironic that the man who brought more laughs and lightness to the world over the past four decades —more than probably any single person on our planet—today leaves that same world so deeply saddened and distressed. Then again, the genius of so many great comics is that the flip side of their humor –pain and emptiness–is never too far away from their punch lines. And probably much closer than the audience realizes.

As prodigiously hilarious and zany as he always seemed to be, I believe Robin Williams was, first and last, a very serious and sensitive man. Who we never got to know all that well. But will certainly miss terribly.


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