|ConstantCommentary® Vol. XIV, No. 198, Jan. 12,
Robin Williams and me
Back in the mid-seventies, my girlfriend was a stand-up comedian named Clair ____. She was pretty damn good and did all right in the business, but her friends did a little better. Friends like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Elayne Boosler, Paul Mooney and Shirley Hemphill.
Yeah, I'm a terrible name dropper, but it's all true so fuck off.
I met all of these comedians through Clair, except for David Letterman. I'll explain why later.
I did meet Leno a few times. In fact, I watched Tom Dreesen's first shot on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jay in the lobby of the Improv on Santa Monica Avenue.
Okay, that's not quite true. I was standing shoulder-to-elbow with Leno. He's tall, I'm short, but I digress.
I met Paul Mooney at an open mic at the Ye Little Club, again through Clair. She and I both performed that night, me on guitar and vocals, Clair on comedy, and after my gig she introduced me and my brother to Mooney. I loved Paul Mooney. So did my brother, Dan. Mooney was a writer on Richard Pryor's TV show at the time, so Dan and I annoyed the shit out of him with questions while he tolerated us white boys as best he could.
Shirley Hemphill, the waitress on a '70s show called "What's Happening!!" became pretty good friends with Clair and me. We even went to one of the show's Hollywood parties and got to meet Rerun. You remember Rerun, right? Big fat guy who wore suspenders and could dance his ass off? No? You don't? Fuckin' toddler.
Clair also introduced me to Elayne Boosler after one of her shows, but we didn't talk for long because I wanted to fuck Elayne Boosler and Clair knew it.
Never did though, dammit.
But I never did meet David Letterman. Why? Because of Clair. You know how every girlfriend of a bad boy has a male friend (usually gay, but not always) who they confide in? Well, Letterman was her confidant. So I avoided Letterman. I did see him live a few times, but I never, ever spoke to him.
And that's pretty much the same reason why I never met Robin Williams. Because by the time he hit the LA scene, I didn't want to meet anybody through Clair anymore.
I think it was the summer of 1977 when Clair came home from a gig at the Comedy Store and told me she saw a fresh new comedian from San Francisco and couldn't wait to tell me about him.
"He's amazing," she said. "He takes a condom on stage and does ten minutes with it. He killed."
"So he's a prop comic?" I asked.
"No, not really. More of a stream-of-conciousness comic. Like Kerouac."
"I don't think Kerouac did comedy."
"No, no, you know what I mean. It's like he's on acid."
"What's his name?" I asked.
"Robert Williams. No... Robin Williams, yeah, it's Robin Williams. You've got to see this guy."
"Sure," I said. Of course, I had no intention of seeing him or hanging around anywhere she was, because I was too busy seeing pussy on the side in preparation for my escape from this dying relationship. But how would she know that?
Yeah, yeah, I'm an insufferable asshole. Tell it to Letterman.
So I never saw Robin Williams live in Los Angeles, which I regretted, especially after I saw him on TV in Mork & Mindy.
Cut to 1983, and Mork & Mindy has just gone off the air. I moved back to Northern California, and so did Robin Williams — I heard he moved to Napa county, while I moved to Sonoma County, Napa's next door neighbor.
One night I got lucky and scored a gig playing guitar and singing cover songs at Jeremiah's Steakhouse in Kenwood, a great-paying gig. I think they paid fifty bucks. In the middle of my first set, Robin Williams walked in. He sat at the video game (because in those days you had to sit at video games) which was about 20 feet away and facing the stage.
Williams was engrossed in the game, but if I played a song he liked he'd look up and nod his head, smile briefly, then go back to the game. Cool, I thought. I'll introduce myself at the break.
But by the time I went on break, he was already downstairs at the basement comedy club. He was trying out new material before going back out on the road. Fine, I thought. I'll go downstairs and see him when I'm finished. But by the time my gig was over, he was gone.
See where this is going yet? Ironically, I never saw Robin Williams perform. But he saw me.
Maybe that's why he killed himself.
* * *
Mike Jasper is a writer and musician living in Austin, Texas.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he claims strong ties to Seattle, St. Petersburg, Florida and North Platte, Nebraska.
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