All The Crazy Ones
One of the strange things about my life in writing about TV, if by "strange" you mean "eminently predictable by anyone who finished Psych 101," is that my parents allowed me to watch almost no television as a child.
Saturday-morning cartoons, PBS fare like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Mork & Mindy — and until my brother got old enough for an effective double-team, that was it, so I watched M&M dutifully despite not really liking it. It was that TV or no TV, so I soldiered on, but something about the show made me uncomfortable. Not just that foolishness with Jonathan Winters, although that too; kids know things, even when they don't have names for them, and Robin Williams's mania, its relentlessness, the barrage of high-voiced capital-F Fun Or Else in rainbow suspenders, the invisible shadow that it tried to outrun, I suppose we could call "cocaine," with the benefit of hindsight.
Or "Sarah D. Bunting."
I was a strange little kid, a frowning know-it-all, high-strung, afraid of loud noises. In my games I played with my stuffed animals, someone was always about to drown. The accusations that I read the dictionary began early and had merit. After a time, I skipped a grade, at which time I formally did not belong wherever I was instead of merely suspecting that I did not, and in order to distract everyone from my ineptitude, weakness, and certain doom, I learned to tell jokes. I told funny stories and I made funny sounds. I took requests. I wrote customized fairy tales. I did this so I wouldn't be killed. I did this so I could stay. Please let me stay. While you chuckle, I will work on being less wrong, which I don't know how to do but I swear I can learn. I don't even need a chair. Don't make me leave. Don't make me disappear.
This is pretty much every funny person you know, and most of the writers. The actors, too, a lot of them, and the people who sing, and the late-night Al-Anon meeting. What if nobody is laughing or humming along? What if we try even harder? What if I drink this thing, and it still hurts but I don't care as much, so I'll drink and drink and drink it, do something human, and remember: I am a shame. A terrified, frantic, desperate, annoying, ugly, boring shame, unique in my unsuitability for love.
Robin Williams, the lot of us. And we're exhausted, man.
I made fun of Robin Williams a lot. I stand by most of it — I saw Cadillac Man in the theater, and I resent it to this day — on the by-now-familiar grounds of "too much" and "hard to take" and "always on." But when he could go quiet for a few minutes? He has a moment in his guest shot on SVU when Merritt Rook is screaming at Stabler about the death of his (Rook's) wife, and the genuine anguish Williams summons, big enough to turn him inside out, is wonderful, and so sad, and not quite acting. The weariness, the sadness, the rage — that I "enjoyed" those parts of Williams's repertoire is not accurate. The hectic hilarity of the other parts, though…the man spent his life trying to outrun himself wearing a pair of flappy clown shoes, and the thing is, he could go pretty fast. He got pretty far before he caught a toe and went down.
I don't want to speak for everyone else who's done that squeaky sprint and thought, "It's a bottle of seltzer. It's all air! Why is it so heavy! Why are there so many days and pounds! Why is it so quiet! Why am I everything that's bad! I want someone with a sweet voice to come and tell me it's okay to stop. What if no one comes." But I know how tired he must have been. I know how tired I've been with it. I wish this weren't the only way he could find to rest. I hope he does rest; I hope all you other Robin Williamses out there know that someone will come. We'll get to you somehow. Please stay.
(Everyone who's ever come for me: thank you.)
Tags: Jonathan Winters Law & Order: SVU Mork & Mindy Robin Williams TV