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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin and Richard

I love comedy. Much of life is summed up in the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Robert Redford's character, who cannot swim, refuses to save his skin by jumping off a cliff into a river. Paul Newman's character says "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you," and then they jump together. That's life. We jump every day, enlightened by comedy.

In my mind the two best comedians during my lifetime were Robin Williams and Richard Pryor — not necessarily in that order. Both faced demons, both died in their 60s, and both left remarkable legacies of performance.

Unlike Pryor, Williams was born into a family of financial means. After leaving Julliard he was cast in the very short-lived The Richard Pryor Show. Offhand I don't remember that the two ever worked together again. Can you imagine what filming that show was like?

My favorite memory of Williams was an award event, possibly an Oscar, televised live. Something went wrong with the production, and there was a gap that had to be filled. The producers found Williams in the audience and gave him a microphone. You could see the first few rows of celebrities sliding deep into their chairs because none of them wanted to be his subjects. He did the impromptu gig, and no animals were harmed.

In November 2012 I finally got to see Williams in person along with another long-time favorite of mine, David Steinberg. Williams was brilliant.

This morning my Twitter feed is full of gracious and loving comments from other comedians and actors. Many are calling attention to Williams' gentle manner and professional generosity. I'm sure those accolades are fully deserved; in life, style matters as much as substance. He could also offer a powerful dramatic performance. But personally I will miss Williams and Pryor most for what they could do on a comedy stage. Knock 'em dead in your next gigs, guys.