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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams

Robin Williams has died, and the fulsome plaudits are flying.

Williams was hardly a brave comedian. I can recall seeing him mock dumb whites, rednecks, inbred Appalachians, and Republicans. I can't recall ever seeing him take on blacks, or Hispanics, or Jews, or Asians, or liberals, even individually.

One of his favorite targets was the Nazis, those timely sources of topical humor. He resurrected them on a number of occasions in order to roast them; he must have figured this would please his bosses in Hollywood.

(Is there anything less funny than a political correct comedian who picks only on safe targets?)

On top of that, it turns out he was a well known comedy plagiarist. (If he was such a comic genius, why did he have to steal so much material?)

But even the jokes Williams stole didn't seem all that funny. I saw his standup routine several times, and each time I was left thinking, if you took his words and set them down on paper, nobody would laugh. It always seemed that people laughed was because they thought they were supposed to, because of all his onstage histrionics. It was almost as if Williams acted so frenetic to hide the fact that he had nothing really cutting, or cutting edge, to say.

In his movies, he was far more over-actor than actor. He chewed the scenery ravenously and shamelessly tried to steal every scene he was ever in. All the while looking very pleased with himself.

This treacly scene from Patch Adams is a good example.

Or this "heartwarming" trailer, from Jack.

(I always wondered what would have happened if Williams and Jim Carrey had ever been cast together, as both men desperately needed to be the center of attention.)

Williams had "neglected child" written all over him. To his credit, he admitted as much, according to Wikipedia, saying that his upbringing had "left him with an acute fear of abandonment and a condition he described as 'Love Me Syndrome'."

Williams provided trusts for his three children, also to his credit. But he was evidently having financial difficulties, and in 2013 was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. That may have had something to do with his suicide. That, and the fact that he no longer commanded the same attention he once had.


Steven said...

It might be a little bit soon to trash him. He wasn't a bad person and he was obviously in an absolutely dire emotional state when he felt that life was too painful to continue and not worth the struggle any longer. Its pretty clear he was manic depressive and life must have been difficult for him in a way you probably can't imagine. It is tragic that his life ended this way and that somebody can go through so much pain and the no doubt desperate and horrid experience of killing themselves.

I liked him in Good Will Hunting, even though its a bit cheesy. I wish him freedom from his suffering, imperfect though he may have been.

Btw I don't know any white comedian who goes after blacks or Jews. Comedians tend to go after or make fun of their own kind. That's actually pretty standard.

John Craig said...

Steven --
He had this reputation for being a wonderful human being, but I don't buy it. Take a look at that link I included about his plagiarism. The other comedians would actually stop their acts if they saw him in the audience? They must have hated him. And anybody who would take credit for someone else's jokes and then bask in the audience's appreciation of his "genius" is pretty shameless.

And actors who hog every scene are also not popular with their fellow actors, even if audiences like them. Williams wasn't quite as bad as Jim Carrey in that regard, but he was about at the level of Jack Nicholson, another actor who must always dominate.

I wasn't suggesting he go after blacks as blacks, or Jews as Jews. But I can't recall him even making fun of any of them individually. (He probably did at some point, but I can't remember any such instances.) But he was constantly hammering away at the stupidity of white rednecks.

The NY Post ran an article yesterday about Williams' 50 best jokes, and it was fairly representative. A fan renumber of them were relatively benign (and not particularly funny). Two were about Presidents. About Bush, when he left office, Williams said that "King George II is gone, the Reign of Error is over." A little weak, based on a pun, but pointed. About Obama, he made some weak joke about how "Obama" is an old Kenyan word meaning "Kennedy." Toothless.

All sorts of comedians go after anyone who has acted out of line. Leno and Letterman both lean liberal, but neither hesitated to mock Clinton, and both even eventually went after Obama. Howard Stern, though his politics are near-Zionist, doesn't hesitate to make fun of other Jews if they merit mockery, doesn't spare blacks, and certainly doesn't spare other whites. Dave Chapelle mocked both blacks and whites. But Williams stayed determinedly politically correct. (I certainly didn't see all of his standup routines, but I saw a few, and was always dismayed by his essential timidity.)

Yes, he was manic depressive; his stage persona exuded mania. And yes, he must have suffered. But the reason he committed suicide was because of his collapsing career and money woes. He wasn't suicidal back when his career was thriving.

Glen Filthie said...

I am a conservative too and I am indifferent to his passing.
I can take a cheap shot and smile the way you do when your son takes you into the boards. That is in fun and is fair as long as a little love and respect is thrown in.
But I remember Williams ripping on conservatives, gun owners, religious folks - and I remember my progtard mother laughing at him...and it just left me cold. The odd cheap shot is funny - but the humour wears off real fast after the 10th or 15th and the malice doesn't help.

I have no sympathy for Williams, he made a lot of bad life decisions and I think the lefties have it wrong: depression didn't cause the bad life decisions, the bad life decisions caused the depression...but what do I know?

I won't shed tears for him...but I can respect his decision. It may have been the best one for him, who knows.

Steven said...

He has three movies in post production. He has 4 or 5 films listed in 2014 ( and a tv series with 22 episodes in 2013-2014. I don't know how big the parts were in the films but I saw a review that said one of his recent films was his best for years.

Is it accurate to say his career was collapsing? I think we should have some sympathy for what he went through, which must have been bad, whatever caused it, bad enough to take his life. Perhaps he didn't kill himself earlier because he was still trying to struggle on and he finally had enough.

I wont dispute anything you said about plagiarism, the nature and quality of his comedy, or even the kind of guy he was.

I doubt that he was such a bad human being that no sympathy is warranted or no sensitivity or respect is called for in the immediate aftermath of his death.

I just think it was a bit soon to post an article with no sympathy and criticising him. It came across to me as insensitive and bordering on callous.

You wont hear me complain if you criticise a sociopath who really hurt others at a time like this but I think the pain he must have gone through has to tilt you towards a more forgiving attitude.

Or at least wait a while and document what you did if you feel it needs to be said instead of writing an article that by its timing spurns any sympathy for him.

Steven said...

Glen, I don't really see bad life decisions leading to manic depression in anybody...who gets mania from bad choices? Some people just have a fault in them, like obsessive compulsive disorder; its in the gene, and it affects their whole life.

I'm somehow not surprised you aren't sympathetic based on your advocacy of the reinstitution of slavery. That's a truly mind boggling failure of empathy.

Quartermain said...

I don't put much stock if any in professional comedians.

I hear more authenic humor and insight at a blue collar break room or veteran's hospital waiting room.

Anonymous said...

John, Robin Williams never really made me laugh, either. (Nor Jim Carrey, for that matter.) You are so right that he embodied the neglected child syndrome. I read in one of the many articles about his death that he was overweight and largely friendless as a child, and spent a lot of time in his room playing with toy soldiers. His loud, hyper manner reflected the type of speech a child would use thinking he was alone in a room with his toys. Making jokes about "safe" types probably stems from his desire to make friends and not offend anyone. By entertaining us, he was trying to ingratiate himself to us. Sadly true of many comics. Surprising how many are described as quiet or withdrawn in their personal lives. Julie

John Craig said...

Steven --
You're right, I am being insensitive by putting in this criticism of him right after he dies. (I almost put in a line at the end of the post saying, "Okay, go ahead and tell me what a horrible person I am for writing this.") But I was moved to write this post after reading all these fawning obituaries about him which basically described him as both a genius and a saint. I didn't see him as either.

I agree, he wasn't a sociopath; but I didn't say that, and I don't even think I implied it (though, as a guy who had to be the center of attention and who didn't mind plagiarizing, he probably qualified as a narcissist).

I did read in one of the NY Post articles that he was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy in 2013, and that he was still trying to unload his house, and that all he would talk about to people recently was his financial woes. Maybe his current projects would have reversed that; who knows.

I know they say you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but why? Does someone deserve more respect because he died? Anyway, my opinion of him hasn't changed because he's dead, and I've been sort of disgusted by all the recent tributes, so I wanted to give a dissenting obituary.

John Craig said...

Allan --
Couldn't agree more, I've known a lot of people who were funnier than your average professional comedian. And it was in large part because they didn't feel obliged to observe the usual liberal pieties, so their humor could be harder-hitting and more savage. (And savagery is, at heart, what much of the funniest humor is really about.)

John Craig said...

Julie --
My understanding was that Williams was often manic even when he wasn't onstage, always trying to get people to appreciate him. (I've hear Jim Carrey is the same way.) They're always on, everything is always an act, they always have/had to be the center of attention. it's sort of pathetic, and sad. In that Wiki article on Williams it said that he made jokes to his mother from an early age as a way to get her attention. (And it sounded as if his father was distant.)

I've known a few people like this personally, it's always painfully obvious that their parents didn't pay them enough attention when they were growing up, so they will do anything to get attention. Maybe I should be more understanding, but I don't have a lot of tolerance for that.

At least with Williams he was honest about it, and characterized himself as having the "love me syndrome." The fact that he admitted that was to me the one thing that actually made him sort of lovable. (Too much on the other side of the ledger for me to be a fan though.)

Quartermain said...

OT (maybe);

A post about another comedian:

John Craig said...

Allan --
Not OT at all. Yes, the hypocrisy of the politically correct is nonstop. And good to see Bernard Manning vindicated, even if it's after his death.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed watching many of Robin Williams' movies, thinking that he was a good actor. Personally, it bothers me that his parents (who shouldn't have had kids, in my opinion) ignored and neglected their son, causing him to grow up with a lot of insecurities (that he spent his life trying to cope with and/or overcome). He may have had some annoying qualities about him (who doesn't) but, I think that he was a walking wounded soul (in pain), probably doing the best that he could. I hope that he is at peace, in heaven, finally having what he lacked in life. God bless him.


jova said...

I have trouble believing he was facing bankruptcy , unless his third wife was a spendthrift ....

he was still earning several million per year, and had real estate holdings worth 35 million. He was trying to sell his ranch for 29.5 million, but only had a 5 million dollar mortgage on it. His current home was worth 4 million, and was bought in 2009 for $2.7 million at the bottom of the market.

I assume the bi-polar disorder was the real reason for the suicide, but it must have been harder to deal with as his career was in decline and he no longer was living with his children.

Could be that in the past he used drugs and booze to self medicate his depression, but his last stretch in rehab convinced him that the booze was his main problem. Instead of going back to rehab in July he should have been getting psychiatric treatment and electro-shock treatments

Anonymous said...

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is underrated and should be used more on those who are depressed.

I had a neighbor growing up who was bi-polar. She was a very nice lady, but would get seriously depressed every few years and she swore by ECT, as did her husband.

Her grandson also was bipolar , they put him on prozac when he was 20 and he hung himself soon after turning 21.
He was just 3 years older than me and was raised by his grandparents so I knew him quite well. His grandparents spoiled him, but he never knew his father and his Mother basically abandoned him with her mother and alcoholic father.

I always wish they had given him shock treatment, as his grandmother raved about it. She was a very kind women and lived until the age of 90.

John Craig said...

Anon --
ECT used to be a big thing before 1950, then it was considered too barbaric and they discontinued it, but I know recently it's come back into fashion.

Somehow, intuitively, it does seem as if it would work, disrupting all your brain waves and literally shocking you out of your current state of mind.

My sister tried it, though it didn't do her much good.

Anonymous said...

My parents attended a fund raising dinner for the Michael J Fox foundation, and Robin Williams was the entertainer. Williams included a vicious assault on Republicans, making my parents quite uncomfortable. Does he really think every person in attendance is a Democrat?

Anonymous said...

I felt a bit guilty a few days ago because I just don't find him funny.

Confused because thinking back everyone was laughing at something I couldn't see.

I felt a bit disgusted too as he knew he had an incurable STD and passed the STD onto his girlfriend(very selfish as she wasn't told, but she sued him).

His movies were good though.

Hey John thanks for this blog it's a bit like a gasp of oxygen!?


John Craig said...

Andrew --
Thank YOU. You described my initial reaction to him perfectly: am I missing something? But, soon enough I realized I wasn't, he was just this manic man onstage pretending to be funny when he really wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I don't really know much about Robin Williams, but I watched 'Good Will Hunting' last night because it happened to be on TV. It was quite possibly the most tedious film I've ever watched because hardly anything happens in it. I could have saved two hours by just reading the "plot" on Wikipedia. Williams didn't even play the protagonist. If they thought of showing a film as a tribute to him, surely they could have done better than that.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Honestly, I didn't think the film was horrible, and as much as I despised Robin Williams, I thought it was one of the few instances where he managed to restrain himself and didn't hog all the scenes he was in.

You should check out "Patch Adams" or "Jack" or "Mrs. Doubtfire" if you want to see him at his most Robin Williams-ish.

Steven said...

I never said you said he was a sociopath. I just said that he wasn't, that he was a flawed human who suffered a lot at the end and I felt sorry for him.

I don't think you shouldn't speak ill of the dead and I can understand why you wanted to write your heterodox view of him. I just felt that at least the immediate aftermath of such a horrible death (I can only imagine killing yourself is one of the most horrible and psychologically negative circumstances in which to die) was more a time for humanity than criticism and I would only withhold that courtesy to a sociopath.

Perhaps this is also influenced by the fact that I admittedly found him likeable. I'll also admit I thought he had some gift for comedy, certainly in terms of delivery. I also think he was a good actor who could play subdued characters as well as frenetic ones and was good at conveying wonder and sensitivity.

This isn't bad:

I now think this film is cheesier than I realsied when I was younger but this monologue did bring tears to my eyes as a 16 or 17 year old. I still like it.

Steven said...

I understand what you are saying about Mrs Doubtfire but that's kind of what he was supposed to do in that film and it was entertaining. A lot of people enjoyed that film a lot. He played it well. I don't know if he hogged the scenes but he was good.

What about awakenings with De Niro?

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, when he underplayed it Williams could be a god actor, as he was in Good Will Hunting (which I saw, and thought was okay, not great) and I heard he was in Awakenings, which I never saw. But too often he chewed the scenery even when he wasn't supposed to.

In Mrs. Doubtfire, the comedy was built around his female impersonation, but even given that, he hams it up way more than necessary. I realize I"m of the minority opinion on this, but I always found his overacting off-putting.

When I heard he was a plagiarist, that made me feel justified in writing what I wrote. And when I heard his cast mates all disliked him, that confirmed what I had always felt.

Anonymous said...

wow most of these comments are so venomous and hatefilled it makes me cringe and I bet most of you claim to be coos christians. I'm so ashamed of all of you, try operating thru love and compassion. nobody knows what this person suffered thru and he was far more humanitarian than any of you hatemongers.

John Craig said...

Loving anonymous person --
One person's hatemonger is another person's truth teller.

And, after all, what are you doing here but being judgmental and condemnatory -- and hateful -- yourself?

By the way, I don't call myself a good Christian. I'm somewhere between atheist and agnostic. But it sure sounds to me as if you're "hate mongering" against Christians.

hooter tooter said...

What are 'coos' Christians? Did he mean good Christians, as you assumed?

I run into folks assuming I'm a Christian as well, particularly when I make arguments against abortions on demand. It's always a bit odd, because my reasoning runs along, mainly, libertarian lines. It's always jarring coming across these supposedly scientific, open minded folks and seeing how provincial they really are.

John Craig said...

Hooter --
I think that was just a typo, on the keyboard the "c" isn't far from the "g" and the "s" is net to the "d," and if you move your hand a bit to the left the fingers could land there.

Agreed. The Left always accuses the Right of whatever it is guilty of. (Hate, racism, dishonesty, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I so agree with everything that you said. You saw what I saw. Sorry that he took his own life, but I always saw a man in constant need of attention. I remember an Oprah episode , that poor ignorant attention grabbing thing, Oprah that is, that featured him and 3 other rising comedians. He never let one of them answer her questions because he had to steal the spotlight every time. The curious thing was that the audience laughed along nervously even though he wasn't funny. So did Oprhrass. Most people are like he was, I'm guessing. He was not a comic genius... he pandered to the lowest common denominator, ie people who would laugh at almost anything. He made me nervous with his constant, almost hysterical attempts to make people laugh. They laughed even though most of it was not funny. They laughed anyway. I thought he had a lot of serious problems and am not surprised that he ended his life. No, I am not a horrible person, this is my own observation. Very telling that his new wife slept in a separate bedroom and never checked on him before she left in the morning. So horrible that I should mention this! I am a despicable person!!!
Interesting that she said he had recently been diagnosed with a disease. The message sent is that when you reach 65 and find out you are a little sick... take your own life. What kind of message is that for the little cancer inflicted girl he had recently championed for St. Judes? Kudos for his humanitarian efforts, but not a great example to set for people who have health issues. I am not saying that he did not have talent. He was not my cup of tea, but he made many people laugh. L thought his talent lied in his more serious roles. Strange that he starred in 2 movies that dealt with loved ones who commit suicide yet still chose to take his own life. I have read about what a dark place place he must have been in to take his own life. Let's see, fame, fortune, beautiful healthy kids, and a new young wife. Life is sooo horrible!!!
No sympathy here! Yes, am a horrible person. NOT!!!

John Craig said...

Anon --
Agreed on all counts.

I like your description of "the lowest common denominator -- people who would laugh at almost anything." That was his fan base alright.

Anonymous said...

Robin Williams as troops "Retreat" at Camp Arifja…:

He did quite a few USO tours. Supported our troops. Let this man RIP.

John Craig said...

Anon --
The fact that he entertained the troops was certainly ago his credit, but it doesn't negate anything I said about him.