Mike Birbiglia on the Impact of Robin Williams' Life and Death


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Robin Williams was, without question, one of the most recognizable and revered comedians in the entertainment industry. With more than 100 movies to his name, three HBO comedy specials and an outrageous number of cameos and appearances, Williams was rarely far from the public eye.

"In a way, he lived the life of someone who lived to be 150," says, comedian Mike Birbiglia when we spoke Tuesday afternoon about his upcoming show September 19 at the Pageant. "He gave so much that it's hard to ask for more. It was a great loss, but at the same time, if you met Robin, you would know that he was living at a pace that was 95 percent more than any human being operates at."

There was an outpouring of responses online from everyday folks and celebrities alike in the wake of Williams' death, including from thePresident of the United States. Birbiglia, who uses social media more as a way to connect and interact with fans than as a tool for self promotion, went with a pure and simple tweet:

The sentiment was retweeted 524 times and received over 1,200 favorites. Birbiglia explained the conciseness during our talk: "With Twitter you can't even get it across, how you feel about it, in under 140 characters."

He went on to share an experience he had working with Williams on a Wounded Warriors show in 2012 along with other great comics and performers including Jon Stewart, Patton Oswalt, Bruce Springsteen and Roger Waters. "The thing that really struck me is, we did the show and then a meet-and-greet, and the rest of us, we'd meet the soldiers and shake hands and hold a conversation. But Robin, he'd put on a show for everyone he met. He'd sort of be the dream-sequence Robin Williams that you hoped he would be. He'd be doing bits and he'd be joking around and improvising and creating things for them. It was just really wild.

"It was not like anything I had ever seen," Birbiglia continued. "It was really inspiring. And I think it was indicative of why there is such an outpouring of support and sadness over his death, because he was such a giving person."

Now confirmed as a suicide, Williams' death, while gruesome, was not entirely unforeseeable. Having been very open about his struggles with addiction and depression, it was unmistakably clear he was suffering. Often, it is from a place of suffering that true comedy is derived.

Hopefulness is a difficult outlook to carry during times of adversity, but there is value in remembering why an individual had such an impact in the first place, regardless of where the drive to entertain comes from. It may be best to let Williams' words speak for themselves:

"Why can't we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor?"


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