It’s a strange thing to say, but I remember exactly the most exciting text message I’ve ever gotten in my life. It said: ”He’s here. He is sitting with me” - Quickly followed by: ” Come over. It’s just us. I’m freaking out.”
I must have read them fifteen times and minutes later I was inside the faux wood paneled, someones Grandma’s basement, perma-dim of Town Hall Pub on Halsted, sitting at a little round table with my brother and one of our child hood heroes, Robin Williams.
So when my brother Mark, a singer songwriter who was to be the last performer that evening, went early to set up and test sound, it was with little expectation he would find himself alone with the man whom had, time and again, enveloped us from a small TV while we lay on our stomachs on the family room floor in Ohio.
I walked in, and though I’ve never known myself to be particularly nervous around people, was kind of a wreck. He was eagerly polite and was quiet and self contained and he looked not a little uncomfortable. I got up to get a drink almost as soon as I sat down and like a fool, I asked one of the most publicly embattled substance strugglers in pop culture history, if he wanted a drink - christ almighty I’d blown it already. He laughed once loudly, an outburst, and then replied, “I do, I want ten, but I’ll take a coke.” I brought him a coke, he already had one but accepted the second and I felt not so much a bafoon because he was so kind. Soon, mercifully, as the place filled up with Chicago comics and their friends, Jena started the show.
Every major metropolis is a cultural center and has an artistic community, but I think it is the rare combination of storied tradition and a irreverent disregard of such, that creates the environment for an art form to grow. Groundbreaking comedy is one of Chicago’s finest characteristics and it sure doesn’t start in movies like Groundhog Day, it ends up there yes, but it starts at places like Town Hall Pub. I’m not a comic, but like I said, I was proud of everyone.
He was like lightning. Elemental. He rose from the excitement that had been building all evening like a benevolent Poseidon upon a sea of laughter. The Puterbaugh’s had left dozens of props strewn about the stage and he must have used every one of them twice. And when my brother darted past the stage, finally succumbing to nature’s call, he stopped and yelled, “Hey brother! You were fucking awesome!” After that, well I just went batshit (and incidentally, my brother used that quote on the backside of his Album). He crushed, and then re-inflated and crushed again, and we were, all of us, comics, musicians, drunks and misfits, kids rolling on the carpet in the family room, enveloped by Robin Williams.
I realize now, that part of the man’s magic, perhaps his truest magic, was that in that chaos, he made you feel safe. His empathy was palpable, however unlikely, it was mutant, huge. Whatever madness was happening, he wasn’t there to hurt you, he was there with you, to be joyful, awed and amazed, at our miraculous ability as humans, to be silly.
The worry with a story, is that once you tell it, you lose the way it was and remember it the way it was told, and maybe, that moment becomes a victim of exaggerating tendencies, and I’ve heard the phrase man created laughter because he alone endures suffering enough to need it. But I don’t know of Robin Williams suffering, I didn’t know him, and I’m still not convinced I should write any of this down out of fear I’ll corrupt the moment. What I do know, is that I saw him entertain my friends in a tiny bar in my city, and I saw them entertain him. I saw him be big, bigger than I’ve ever seen anyone be and be small and shy moments later. I’m sad he’s gone, really sad, and maybe we have, or will, see the best minds of our generation (or our parents’ or our country’s or whatever) destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked and so on… as far as Robin Williams goes, at least we saw it, and him, hell, if you were there you know, I could never exaggerate him anyway. I could tell you he turned into a Genie and flew us to the moon and back and it really wouldn’t be untrue.
Contributing Writer: Bobby Minelli
Contributing Writer: Bobby Minelli
Bobby is a Chicago artist/performer, frequent attendee and huge Fan of Entertaining Julia.