In 1987, I bought a ticket, which I could barely afford, for NYC’s “Comedy Cellar” because I heard that Robin Williams would be at the 9:00 p.m. show. Back in the day at NYU, those kinds of things happened. On occasion, Williams, or Eddie Murphy, or maybe Bill Murray, would randomly show up unannounced at the Comedy Cellar and do a show. (“Wow, that must have been all over YouTube, Mom”) Actually, kids, there was no YouTube, Twitter, IG, or Facebook back then. In fact, kids, there were no cell phones, and beepers were for surgeons and people who had to make really important “deals” -- we relied on something called word of mouth (that’s where people actually talk to each other without electronics devices).
It was a great show, but Robin Williams was not there and I had spent $30.00 I could not afford, and that meant I would have to drink cafeteria coffee instead of Deli Coffee for about 2 weeks, ugh! Even worse, I forgot my student ID at the club. What a stinker of a night. Using common sense, I knew I had to grab a male student to walk me back over to the club at midnight to find my ID. I asked my friend “Pete,” who was on the NYU Basketball team and the Fencing team, to come with me. When we got to the club, it was crazy crowded. “What’s going on?” asked Pete, ready to grab me and run. “You’re not going to believe this, man, Robin Williams is on stage!” Let’s just say that, while being a pretty NYU girl got you behind the velvet rope at most clubs, this wasn’t one of them. However, being a star basketball player on NYU’s then-championship basketball team, did. Of course, we had about $10.00 between us, but Williams insisted that no one had to pay for the show. There was, of course, the issue of the two-drink minimum. But guess what? Williams paid for everybody’s drinks too. So, OK, technically he didn’t buy ME a drink, he paid so the patrons wouldn’t have to have purchase drinks if they didn’t want to. We opted for one beer each (Varsity athletes back then didn’t get hammered the night before practice -- at least my friend didn’t).
The Comedy Cellar seated, maybe, 100 people back then. At first, it was terrifying, being so close to someone you loved and admired so much. And, of course, live shows at comedy clubs are always terrifying if you don’t want to get “picked on,” but of course, that’s why the comedians do these live shows for 100 when they can pack a stadium -- for the up close and personal audience interaction. I would love to say that Robin Williams interacted with me and made jokes about me and based the whole show on me. In fact, he did not. But he did hone in on my friend “Pete”. Especially when he got wind of the fact that Pete was an African-American fencer. Williams went into character, pretending to be an Olympic Fencing Coache who sees an African-American fencer and keeps insisting that this must be a mixup, that this athlete was supposed to be on the basketball or track team. Honestly, I can’t remember much else beyond that – and the fact that I was half on the floor laughing the whole time. My friend and I laughed so hard we cried, laughed so hard we thought we would need an oxygen tank. And then it was over. And we were stunned. Did that just happen?
We went back to the dorms and we actually TOLD our story to people without the benefit of social media and I WROTE about it for the School Newspaper because there was no Blogging back then. I would love to go back to the NYU Library and find a copy of that article almost 30 years ago.
I was leaving Zumba Class at Gold’s Gym Monday night when I saw the news of Robin Williams’ death on Facebook and I prayed it was one of those hoax articles. It was not. When I got home, Little Michael asked me why I was crying; why Daddy and I were hugging each other so hard. (We haven’t had TV news on in our house since 9/11, so Michael never knows what’s going on, and Christian reads the news online).
“A great man, a great actor, and a man who made a lot of people laugh died today,” I told him.
“Was he your friend?” said Michael. “He was not literally my friend,” I answered carefully, “but he lived his life in a way that Daddy and I felt like we knew him. It feels like we lost a friend.”
“He was the voice of Genie,” offered Christian to his brother.
“Genie died??!!” said Michael, his lip quivering.
“The man who played his voice is gone, yes,” I said. “But we can watch his movies over and over. And we can try to remember his Life and find a way to honor all the good that he did.”
“How do we do that?” asked my sons. I thought of all the Comic Relief shows that Williams did over the years, to benefit the Homeless.
“By doubling how much food we bring to church on Sunday for the Food Pantry, and by choosing a charity for the homeless and supporting it,” I said.
Last Sunday at Mass, there was a particularly stirring homily. Father Ed said, “when I get to the gates of Heaven, I have to answer to God directly, when he asks what I have done to help his people. My parishioners won’t be there to say what a great priest I was; my priest won’t be there to answer for me; my parents and grandparents won’t be there to talk about me. When God says to me, ‘What have you don’t to help my flock?”, I must stand alone and tell Him what I have done to help his people.’ I will tell Him I tried my best and I tried every day. When you stand before the Lord and he asks you what you have done to help his people, the most downtrodden of society, are you OK with that? Can you say, ‘Lord, I did my best every day to help your flock?’ Because your car and your house and your bank account will be irrelevant. You need to be able to say, yes, Lord, I helped your people every day. “
I would like to think that, yes, I can stand before the Pearly Gates and say, I did my best to help people, including the most downtrodden. I am OK with that. And I know in my heart that Robin Williams, when he arrived at the Pearly Gates, after he got done making St. Peter laugh harder than he had in a few thousand years, could stand up straight and proud and say, “Yes, I did my best, everyday, to help the people. I brought them laughter and joy, I worked hard to raise money for charities and help the homeless. I was a good husband and father and I tried just as hard as I could for just as long as I could.” And I like to picture in my mind, St. Peter putting an arm around Robin Williams and welcoming him home, with a little “Nanoo-Nanoo.”
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams, thanks for making this world a better place <3 Mrs. Lo