I’ve been a movie fan all my life. I’ve recently, say in the last 5 years, become a pretty big comedy fan too, since discovering comedy podcasts like Marc Maron’s WTF, Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies, and Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang!
Generally, those worlds are pretty separate. I mean sure, there are plenty of comedy performers who work in movies, and even a few that make the full evolution from sketch and improv to full blown movie stardom - John Belushi, Mike Meyers, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis (often by way of SNL).
Every now and then there are also those performers with a sketch/improv background who prove they can cut it in darker, dramatic character roles - Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell.
Even rarer and more precious are those actors who come from a classic dramatic background but find themselves equally comfortable in comedy - Jon Hamm, John C Reilly, Don Cheadle, Jeff Daniels.
But the rarest of all was always a stand up comic who could act. In fact, I can really only think of one.
Yes, stand ups do get movies. They generally are hired to play themselves. George Carlin, Richard Prior, Bill Cosby, Zach Galifianakis, Louis CK… Patton Oswalt is a pretty good actor. So is Steve Martin.
But none of them went to Julliard. None of them won an Oscar. None of them could go from broad blockbuster family comedy to indie drama in the same year and flawlessly pull off both.
Robin Williams wasn’t a comic that could act. He wasn’t a “movie star comedian.” He wasn’t a sketch performer who was discovered by Lorne or SCTV.
He was a real life stand up comic, who is still considered a comic and a contemporary to Carlin, Prior, Sam Kinison… AND he was a deliberate, trained, accomplished dramatic actor, who proved himself capable of understated dramatic work as well as voice work and broad comedy.
We really have lost a unique performer, and a much loved comedian and star. Yes, I grew up watching him. I also have seen his standup and recently re-listened to this wonderful episode of WTF, talking a lot about those days.
His tragic (and I don’t use that word lightly) death has affected the movie fans and the hard core comedy fans. And I honestly can’t think of anyone with that sort of reach and range.
63, suicide - it’s too young, too sad, for someone so special. This one hurts.