I’ve been holding off on writing about Robin Williams because I needed time to process. As it happens, this morning I had a conversation about him with my Mom, and she pointed out something that I had been thinking, but hadn’t wanted to admit to myself.
She observed that one of the reasons Williams was so gosh-darn funny was that so much his humor was a reflection of deep pain and hostility. And the greater the underlying demon, the larger was the resultant laugh.
It wasn’t always thus. In his early days, as that good looking young man on Mork and Mindy, the humor was relatively benign. But by the mid 1980’s, when his one man shows first started being rebroadcast on HBO, things had turned decidedly darker.
For the last thirty years, Williams has been largely in the business of connecting us to our uncontrollable id — the deep primitive part of us that we cannot turn off, that relentless engine of anger and pain and lust which lies within every human breast.
We generally go a good job of repressing that part of ourselves, so that we can function in the day to day world. But every once in a while a shaman arises — somebody who can give us access to that deeper and more problematic level of the human condition. Robin Williams was such a shaman.
I think we loved him so much precisely because he took our powerful collective id unto himself, then showed it to us in all its terrible immediacy and said “See, our demons are not so scary. In fact, if you drag them out into the light of day, they’re kind of funny.”
The man was dealing with important stuff. And important stuff is always dangerous — sometimes too dangerous. Eventually, perhaps, it was too much for him.
Some will say it was only comedy, but they are missing the point. What Robin Williams did for us was real, and it was important. We were right to feel so much love for him — and to be grateful for his gift.