On Robin

The “sad clown” idea, and how the death of Robin Williams scared me like no other.

Everyone has a celebrity death that hurts the most. Mine was Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was and still is the funniest human being I’ve ever seen. I never saw him with my own eyes live, but his energy is burned into my psyche. I remember when he died, I was living in a house for the summer with two of my closest friends. Our reaction to the shock of him dying? Watching all of his movies. All of them.

There are the first ones I saw – Aladdin, and the surprisingly terrifying Jumanji. The ones I came in contact with later in life – the Mrs. Doubtfires, the Flubbers. The serious movies – Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam. We had to watch them all.

I didn’t know why I hurt so bad when Robin died. It took a while to sort out the feelings, but eventually I landed on this – there is no one I’ve thought I was more like than Robin Williams.


I’ve never been a boring kid.

Growing up I was quiet a lot, sure. A lot of that was because I was sorting out how to fit in. What to say and where to be and how to act. It took a long time before I landed on something I could cling to – I was funny.

Not really class clown funny (I didn’t even get voted funniest in high school) but I was funny. Witty. Able to do impressions and keep people entertained. Classmates, teachers, family members. I could connect with all of them by being funny.

Sometimes it got me in trouble. The first time I ever impersonated someone was when I was four and did a spot-on impression of my Indian doctor. That was the day my mother knew she’d be in trouble with me around.

As I’ve gotten older, being funny is the one thing I never really lose. When I’m angry, I’m still funny. I’m self-depricatingly funny when I’m upset. I will interrupt all serious moments with a very misplaced joke. I can’t help it – funny is my default setting.

I went to funny because it made for a great baseline.


Robin Williams died, and that part hurt because I idolized him. I loved his energy, his smile, his rapid fire delivery. He was who I wanted to be.

Robin Williams died by suicide, and that’s the part that scared me. I had the energy, the smile and all of that. Then I saw what I felt could be my future – making others laugh and while not laughing myself.

Everyone seemed shocked and surprised that a man who could bring joy to literally millions could be feeling sad in his own life. He was undoubtably one of the funniest men on the planet. Yet he was hurting, and hurt so bad that he took his own life.

I wasn’t just making jokes to fit in. I made jokes because I felt sad a lot. Making other people laugh brought a hit of dopamine to my brain. It allowed me to feel important, valuable, and needed. Funny has never been enough though, both in scape and in practice. I’m never funny enough, or I feel I have to act a certain way to fit into serious situations. It can be tiring because I think, at my core, funny is what I really live for.

When there’s nobody to make the jokes to, it can get kind of sad.

When I heard that Robin had died by suicide, it invoked the feelings of the sad clown that we may have heard of before. This narrative that all comedians have pain and make the jokes to hide it or dull it. I saw that my favourite comedian had died by suicide and thought “well, if it happens to Robin, what chance do I have?”


The idea that comedians all have to be coming from a sad place is, frankly, a little crap. It’s an escape clause that a lot of angry people use to make people feel like they don’t “get it.” How can you understand the pain unless you’re one of the comedians? How can you make jokes unless your own life goes to crap? It ties into a history of comedy being a “boys club” of men dealing with problems by having therapy sessions with live audiences instead of a counsellor.

I believed this for a really, really long time. That being funny and making jokes weren’t just my thing, they were my only thing. The only thing I had value from was making jokes, and the only way to make jokes was to be sad. If the comedians I looked up to were sad and turned that into fame and jokes, then I could too.

That logic is broken, on a couple of points.

The first is that there are tons of comedians who aren’t sad. There are loads of funny people I know who are funny and successful. Funny without coming from dark places. Funny and enjoying life. These people exist (think of the Jerry Seinfelds of the world) and they do well. Yes, humour is great in dealing with pain but pain isn’t the only place it comes from, and pain doesn’t need to be a constant state to produce comedy.

Secondly, the laughter doesn’t fill holes. I’ve said on multiple occasions to friends and therapists alike that the feeling I get when on stage telling jokes (or even at a dinner table telling stories to friends) is the best feeling in the world and nothing tops it. It is my favourite feeling, sure. However there are so many other things that can bring that feeling. No person can be sustained on just one thing, especially one thing as fickle and temporary as applause. It’s taken me years to even know that, and it’s going to take me even more years to understand it, but I’m learning. Value isn’t just from applause – value is inherent, and can come from so many sources inside and outside of yourself.

Finally, no stories are the same. Yes, I look up to and idolize Robin. My story isn’t his story, and my trauma isn’t his. I have my own things to deal with, as did he. I wish that someone could have given him the support that I’ve been blessed enough to receive in my own life, but sadly that’s not the case. I know from the outpouring of support that I am not the only one who wished they could have helped him, but mental health challenges are different for everyone. All we can do today is to be kind, supportive, and helpful.

I know now that I am not destined to be like anyone else, even someone I idolize as much as Robin Williams. I can emulate the voices, the energy, and the amount of sunshine he brought into the world. However I am not destined to end up a certain way. I am allowed to have comedy come from joy. I am allowed to write a different story for myself. I am allowed to take the lessons I’ve learned from watching one of the greatest comedians of all time make an impact on the world and put that into my own work.

When I’m sad, I’ll make jokes. It’s what I do. I’ll also talk to a therapist, a friend, a partner, a family member as well. I’ll do other self care activities. I’ll work out. I’ll do all of these things because they can sustain me. They can help.

And when I’m happy, well I’ll probably make more jokes too.

What’s the Funniest Thing in the World to You?

I asked, y’all provided. Here are some of the things you think are the funniest in the world.

The website is called it’s all pretty funny, right? So I reached out and asked people: “What is the funniest thing in the world to you?” And now, I will present all of the answers I received with some examples. That way what makes other people laugh can make you laugh as well.

Enjoy!

“In answer to your question, I think babies laughing at weird things (bubbles, dogs, ripping paper) or the TV show taskmaster (which you would love by the way) are the funniest things in the world.”

This kid gives me life.

“The Free Shavacado vine.”

One of the greatest vines of all-time, really.

”The funniest thing to me: people slipping and falling on ice. I am the awful person that stands there laughing rather than helping.”

”I saw your post and I’m a total a-hole and I think people like falling and getting mildly hurt is the funniest…I love shows like Tosh.0 because I laugh the entire time.”

It’s almost like I asked the guy who filmed this video to tell me his favourite thing. Falling on ice – one of those things that’s funny until it happens to you too. Also those were two answers from two different people, but clearly you two should be friends.

“The stupid shit my best friend does on a daily basis is the funniest thing.”

While I don’t have any particular videos of this best friend pair, just imagine it’s these two. That girl really has some trouble with spelling..

”I think the funniest thing in the world is seeing someone get sacked. It can happen in so many different ways, often by surprise, and its hilarious when it’s not you.”

So simple. So pure. My friend might be Homer Simpson.

”Dude, YouTube videos of cats being scared are literally the funniest.”

Well then dude, you’re going to like this one of a guy scaring his cats by being a bigger cat.

”Funniest thing I’ve watched in a while.”

I like this one because the video came attached. I like when no work is required for me.

 

What else do you think is worthy of the title “funniest thing in the world?” I’m intrigued, and frankly, I like laughing so hard that tears run down my face and no sound comes out. So send me your funny things! Comment them below.

Thanks for all the laughs this round. Until next time!

Sunday Stand-up: Dave Chapelle’s For What It’s Worth

Prime Dave Chapelle riffing on the weird things in the world.

Like most teenage millennial boys, I was swept up in The Chapelle Show when it first came on. I could recite all the catchphrases, and even though I didn’t get every joke I thought it was fantastic.

That show was my first exposure to Dave Chapelle, which led me to For What It’s Worth. It is a full hour in San Francisco with Dave riffing on a bunch of topics. It goes from the bizarre, to why white people are better to drink with, to how he tries to avoid commenting on political issues because of what happened to the Dixie Chicks.

His return to standup on Netflix this year was not as well received, but check out him at his best here:

Sunday Standup – Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondants Dinner

Hasan Minhaj gets the first crack at the Trump presidency at the White House Correspondants Dinner.

Ah, the White House Correspondants Dinner – the one time a year that American political big wigs, small wigs, and government officials get together to chat and drink and also get roasted by a comedian.

Stephen Colbert really made a name for himself when he was the comedian in 2006. President Obama was great and poking fun at himself all through his presidency. This year, Daily Show correspondant Hasan Minhaj was the first comedian to get a crack at the Trump presidency. He did not disappoint.

It’s 25 minutes of timely barbs and points that make you think. As you would imagine, President Trump did not attend. Check it out!

Sunday Standup – Katherine Ryan

A Canadian in the U.K. who pulls no punches.

Happy day after Canada Day! Canada is the land of funny people that Americans try to take credit for but they are all ours, so back off.

In the land that provided the comedy world with Jim Carey, John Candy, Norm MacDonald and more, I had ample comedians to choose from for a Canadian-themed standup.

Katherine Ryan is a Canadian comic living in the United Kingdom, mainly to get away from her hometown that she does not hold back on in her special. (Sorry, Sarnia)

Her special In Trouble is hilarious the entire way through. Between talking about her experience as a mother, dating men younger than herself, and how she is “Taylor Swift with a soul,” it is a fantastic special with a lot of audience interaction and a great closer about her sister’s upcoming wedding.

If you’re looking for a good Canadian standup to watch for Canada Day, check out In Trouble on Netflix. If you don’t have Netflix, borrow an account from someone else. Canadians tend to share.

Sunday Standup – Robin Williams Live on Broadway

This might have the most jokes per minute of any standup special ever.

Warning – this set is NSFW. Robin says a lot of things, and a lot of those should not be blasting in your cubicle.

There might not be a comedian I admire more than Robin Williams. Of course I knew his movies – they were fantastic. Mrs. Doubtfire holds up as hilarious today. So does Good Morning Vietnam, Hook, Patch Adams, and the like. He was a ball of energy unlike any comedian before him, and likely any comedian that will come after him.

I never liked Jumanji but that is because the first time I watched it I was like seven and holycrapaboardgamethatcankillyouisalittlemuchnothankyou.

It was seeing him do stand-up, specifically this set in New York City, that made him one of my comedy heroes. He just doesn’t stop moving. A dozen water bottles are needed just to fuel his constant line of jokes and impressions.

Sometimes when I get “on” and am in a zone, I feel a bit like Robin Williams. Never with the same energy, but maybe I’ll get there one day. I wish he was still here to give us more jokes.

For now though, enjoy this inappropriate and wonderful look at the world in Robin Williams – Live on Broadway.

Sunday Standup – George Carlin’s Class Clown

This week’s Sunday Standup – the fourth album by one of the best comedians of all time.

There may be no comedian I appreciate more than George Carlin.

My older brother introduced me to him when I was far too young to listen to all the four letter words that he used. I was also too young to appreciate how good he was at dissecting the words we use and things we do every day.

Lots of people know Carlin in his older years – the angrier, sharper Carlin. Class Clown from 1972 is him as an inquisitive comedian that most anyone can relate to.

If you need a listen, enjoy this album.