Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

He was a giant

Robin Williams

Photo: Ron Henry Photography (Some rights reserved)

1. He was a genius

How do we start. Even start. To get to grips with how important Robin Williams was to my generation. How can I even start to explain how important he was to me?

I don't think it's possible. It's like trying to explain the importance of family. My friends used to make fun of me by pointing out that I have two types of laugh. One is an everyday laugh. The way that I laugh when a colleague tells a joke. A wry, amused laugh. It's real, but it's the light milk of laughs.

Robin Williams always induced the other type of laugh. That deep, intensely personal, belly laugh. The laugh in spite of ourselves. The laugh that children laugh. His genius was that he didn't need to shock or offend. He could, without fail, make us laugh out loud using nothing but family friendly material and celebrity impressions. He was so funny. He was so integral to what we thought of as being genuinely funny that he became the epitome of funny. He became a part of who we are. He is a part of who we are.

Attempting to explain his importance is like trying to explain how important Derek Jeter is to someone who has never seen a game of baseball. Nike nailed it. Watch that video. Please. And then come back.

2. There is no way that I'm going to the movies to see a stupid cartoon

The year was 1992. I was in year 10 (the third last year of school). Some friends of a girl who I was sort of seeing at the time (I had made the whole thing unnecessarily complicated) suggested that we all go to the movies to see Aladdin. Long story short, she was wonderful and I was very very stupid. In my defence, I was only, what, 16, at the time? But that is no excuse. I completely stuffed the whole thing up. If she is reading this, then I really am truly sorry. I only have a few genuine regrets in life and that is one of them.

But anyway. This was before all of that. Her friends suggested, and then insisted with ever-increasing intensity, that we all go to the movies to see Aladdin.

For the youngsters out there, it's important to remember that this was the first. The very first. Animated movie that was funny for both adults and children. I was absolutely convinced that it would be an excruciating waste of time. And even the prospect of going to the movies with this very nice girl was not enough of an incentive to convince me to go.

3. His genius was that he made it look effortless

Boy was I stupid. I never did see Aladdin at the movies, and it is one of the funniest movies that I have ever seen. What makes it so great is that you get the impression that the producer and director put Robin Williams in front of a microphone, and said:

You are the Genie in 1001 Nights. Let's record your dialog, and then we will just build the movie around the recording. We will add the other voices, the animations, and the actual story later. Go!

I mean, he used to go on talk shows, and the host would basically say the name of one celebrity after another, and off he would go. Now perhaps he spent the rest of his life preparing material so that he could be ready for these "be funny - go!" requests. But I don't think so. He was just too quick. And just too immediately and instantly funny. He was obviously doing bits on the spot. Bits that other comedians would spend months preparing and pouring over. Bits that other comedians would kill for.

4. Saying thanks seems like nothing at all

I can't bring myself to link to any of his clips and movies. Well OK, just one. His recent hilarious impression of what a stereotypical French phone (French Siri) might say if you asked it for a restaurant recommendation in France.

You're in France! Walk outside! Walk down a block! Look around you idiot! What are you stupid?! ... Look around you why must you ask a phone? Live your life! Taking pictures with your phone?! Look! Look. And then paint!

So instead I will link to this video of what Keith Olbermann said when David Letterman retired. An ode to another genius comedian:

For all the other days I just stared and laughed at how many times better he was than me or anybody else I'd ever seen. Babe Ruth announced he's retiring today.

Thanks Robin. Just thanks.


This post originally appeared at iainmclaren.com.