The king of improvised comedy is dead; Long live the king.
The first time, I got to know about Robin Williams was from TV. He had shot to fame as the wacky alien, Mork in Mork and Mindy (1978 – 1982) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQx4–L0TdY. I remember looking forward to the weekly antics of the alien who made me laugh after a hard day’s work, with by now a nonsensical catchphrase ‘nanu nanu’. Situation comedy with its canned laughter was in its heyday and his brand of over-the-top humor, something I enjoyed very much, having already been a fan of Jonathan Winters, a great American comedian whom Robin Williams claimed was the reason why he, himself became a comedian.
At that time, he was just a comedy act that I enjoyed very much.
But the small screen was too small for him. His genius was made for the world of the large screen. Williams made The World According to Garp (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGT-rY5Y06g) in 1982. His understated and subdued performance of the sensitive character brought John Irving’s tale of the socially rebellious Jenny Fields, a nurse who wanted to have a child but didn’t want a husband, to life and it must have caught the attention of many and confirmed that he was more than just a small screen comedian. Although Irving possibly meant the book to lampoon the feminist movement, it became an emblem of an alternative lifestyle, reinforcing the hope that the choice of a road less travelled may not be as catastrophic as many envisage it to be. In the book and subsequently the movie, we are introduced to the transgender, Roberta Muldoon who is protected by Jenny who had started a home for the rejects of society, many of whom are lesbians and people with non-conformist sexuality. In the movie, Roberta was played by John Lithgow, resulting in the image of a strong giant of a transgender woman, who could take many men down in tackles.
In 1987, he made the movie Good Morning, Vietnam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Erf2iFHG44M. I must have watched the movie more than 5 times. In it, he showed that his wackiness can be found in the real world through the character of Adrian Cronauer who entered the Vietnam War by being the radio DJ at the Armed Forces Radio Service. His open and controversially dangerous anti-establishment style gets him into trouble and the movie succeeds in marrying the comedy of Williams with the tragedy of the Vietnam War. Although it ends in tragedy, our hearts went out to the Cronauer who represented the suppression of the free voice although we are fully aware that in times of war, freedom of speech would not be the best course of action.
Two more films that brought our attention to situational choices not quite in tandem with societal norms were Mrs Doubtfire (1993) and The Birdcage (1996). Who can forget Mrs Doubtfire (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYyNDWjIivo&hl=en-GB&gl=SG) where an estranged husband cross-dresses as a nanny, this time with Williams in drag, to win back his wife and children? In The Birdcage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FzlFVZqyMo), Williams played Armand Goldman, the more masculine partner of the same sex relationship with the queenie half played by the hilarious Nathan Lane as a drag queen of a cabaret show. In both, all’s well that ends well and no matter how deviant the choices are to society, it is the ones who dare to choose differently who finally emerge victorious.
I was looking forward to watching his latest movie, Boulevard (2014) http://www.robin-williams.net/filmography/boulevard.php about a middle aged married man, Nolan Mack, who comes to term with his sexuality after picking up a trouble youth. Unfortunately, before the movie could come this way, the tragic news of Williams’ suicide reached our ears. This project would be his last and closest to the hearts of the gay man because unlike the musical comedy, The Birdcage, it was a true-to-life drama of a gay man.
Although, he wasn’t gay and neither did he overtly support the gay rights movement in America, over the years of his career on the big screen, he had worked himself into the gay psyche and landscape. To me, that’s enough to make him an honorary supporter of the community.
As the world mourns his loss, the LGBT community should too.
Look out for a tribute to Robin Williams coming out in a couple of days’ time.