Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Dear Robin Williams...

Humor reminds us that there's more to life than the simple process of living.

What I would like to write is this:

"Dear Robin Williams:

Are you kidding me?

At first I thought this was some kind of Reichenbach Falls moment straight out of Sherlock Holmes, where you fully believe your beloved character dies but learn he was never dead, only in hiding. Then I thought maybe it was like something out of Mark Twain, where the story of your death was highly exaggerated. Yet I kept hearing the story on the car radio: it was as inescapable as a smashup on the highway and as impossible to ignore. I heard it until it became as real as the passing of someone I knew. It took on the icy, heedless and nasty finality of a real death and the loss felt personal."

But I figured he's getting a lot of mail and messages right now, so I'll just write about him instead of writing to him.

Even better, I'll offer the words of somebody who actually worked with him.

I never met Robin Williams, but I have a friend--a brilliant stand-up comic and terrific writer--who did. Judy Carter is author of The Comedy Bible (Simon & Schuster) and The Message of You (St. Martin's Press); this what she says:

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"When he came to LA in the 70’s, all of us comics had our acts – material that we’d meticulously worked on. Sure, every now and then we would try out new material, but we’d never seen anyone like Robin. He would start with a piece about Shakespeare and then, distracted by someone in the audience, would zoom off in a new direction, bouncing off the lightning of ideas in his brain, firing and never misfiring. At the time I was doing a magic act; the stage was pre-set before I began. Robin went on before I did, picking up my props and improvising with then. My magic act was ruined, but Robin taught me to let go and flow with the moment. I’ve always been grateful to him for that." (Read more about Judy here.)

Judy's gratitude is what I'm holding onto right now, because it's what I feel in abundance even as I feel confused, upset and baffled by Williams' apparent suicide.

Like all truly great humorists, Robin Williams held a mirror up to our lives and showed us the distorted, funhouse version of reality--which we often recognized as, in its essence, more true and valid than any other vision. He would focus on the details but end up making sweeping philosophical statements; comedy and humor are, as Emerson and others have noted, a serious business. 

Creators of comedy and humor remind us that there's more to life than the simple process of living.

I won't send any letters, but--like many others--I send Mr. Willaims my wishes for a bon voyage. I send my applause, my cheers and my gratitude for the sheer extravagance of his extraordinary talent.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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