by Jason Didner, Children’s Entertainer
Jungle Gym Jam
The fast-paced and ferociously funny young Robin Williams first entered my life as Mork when I was about 8 years old; my brother and I used to love watching with our grandparents when we’d stay over in their apartment in New York City. The hints of his greatness were all there as his character learned about human emotions with a childlike vulnerability that stays with me along with the high hilarity.
My lifelong friend Joey and I spent countless hours trading Robin Williams standup comedy lines, especially the little throwaway lines like, “We’re back with sound again!” in the way only Robin could improvise it. Then there were all those iconic film roles. His roles in movies like “Dead Poets Society” remind me to use every moment I have to engage in life and create from it. His “Adrian Cronauer” (I use quotes because he played fast and loose with the real Adrian’s personality on camera) implores us to give of ourselves in an authentic way to those who need it most, not to cave in to those who find our true selves inconvenient to deal with. His “Patch Adams” similarly calls me to acts of compassion for children and to remember it’s never too late to find one’s calling in life.
Here’s my version of “What a Wonderful World” from a key moment in “Good Morning Vietnam!” as a tribute to Robin Williams:
Robin confronted publicly the realities of having drug and alcohol addictions and shared it in a relatable and funny way. “If you dream that you can’t sleep and you’re doing a line and you can’t sleep and you’re doing a line… and you wake up and you’re actually doing coke… WARNING!” What a spectacular victory in the fight against depression it could have been if instead of (likely) having taken his own life, Robin could have cooked up the comedy bit of his life, a funny and relatable bit on depression. Marc Maron does this in his own way, but Robin could have absolutely blown the roof of the stigma and isolation that goes with depression.
Sadly, Robin Williams’ apparent suicide shines the light on depression in another way. It shatters the illusion we dreamers sometimes have that “I’ll be happy when I’m more successful/rich/famous, etc.” If Robin were well he’d have been able to feel the deep satisfaction of the millions of people he touched with his laughter, empathy and generosity of spirit. My sense of the man is that the wealth and money were a) besides the point and possibly b) a dangerous factor that can distort happiness and creativity. His early-found success was certainly fuel on the fire of his drug addiction when he was young. There’s no budget limit, no one to tell you ‘no’ when you want mass quantities of the latest, most exotic toxin. In fact, you may be surrounded by people who would be offended if you didn’t partake.
That leaves us to find that our happiness is in the doing, the creating, the sharing of our craft, the stories we get back about how our work affected others. If our happiness isn’t clicking in, assign no blame, not on yourself or anyone else. Treat it as any physical illness. Seek out a counselor, a therapist, a doctor, anyone who can help you through the “lows” in life. An artist’s life is full of highs and lows, but clinical depression is another animal completely – days and nights mixed up; lack of interest in loved ones, work or your favorite activities; lack of energy or motivation to get out of bed; a sense of dread at going through another day.
Now knowing how life ended for Robin Williams, I get the sense that his high hilarity was him outrunning the darkness as hard as he could for as long as he could. In a perfect world he would have been able to reach back to that well of humor just one more time and delivered another one of his comedic gems that would have helped fellow depression sufferers feel understood.
A key piece of advice for creative people is to “bring into the world what you wish existed.” So, here is my intent. As a children’s entertainer, I want my years of taking in Robin’s larger-than-life humor to come out in my creations and performances in whatever ways are authentic to my own experiences and sensibilities. I also intend to use this humor to help kids who feel sad and isolated to not feel so alone — the way I wish Robin could have done.