I Am Grock

I’m sure most of you have heard the story of the man who, desperately ill, goes to an analyst and tells the doctor that he has lost his desire to live and that he is seriously considering suicide. The doctor listens to this tale of melancholia and then tells the patient that what he needs is a good belly laugh. He advises the unhappy man to go to the circus that night and spend the evening laughing at Grock, the world’s funniest clown. The doctor sums it up, ‘After you have seen Grock, I am sure you will be much happier.’ The patient rises to his feet, looks sadly at the doctor, turns and ambles to the door. As he starts to leave, the doctor says, ‘By the way what is your name?’ The man turns and regards the analyst with sorrowful eyes. ‘I am Grock.'”

—Groucho Marx

The Worst Thing in Life

About a month ago I started watching World’s Greatest Dad with Robin Williams, but I stopped in the middle because the story was so cringe-inducing. So tonight I watched the rest of the movie. Near the end, Robin has a great line.

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

It’s true, isn’t it? You can be surrounded by people and feel horribly alone. Especially when those people become less human by developing a reflexive disdain for anything weird.

This is why I was so fond of Robin Williams. He consistently and gloriously embraced being weird and—at the same time—he related to people in a way that acknowledged their fundamental human dignity. That combination was the antidote he carried around, inoculating people against the forces of dehumanization with the glint in his eye.

In the movie, after his epiphany about people who make you feel alone, Robin runs down the hall, eyes alight, grinning and stripping his clothes off to “Under Pressure” and jumps into a swimming pool. Then he befriends his departed son’s one actual friend, and together they go to a strange and wonderful neighbor’s apartment, and watch Night of The Living Dead, a movie about surviving zombies with aplomb.

Terribly Sad

I thought back to handing you a “Ross Perot for President” coffee mug. “Ah” you said, “The first Ferengi to ever run for president.”

And I saw myself as a young man, lying on the floor listening to A Night at the Met—the final bits about your son, which ended so poignantly and perfectly. At the time I was estranged from my own father, and it made me laugh and cry over and over again.

I thought of you alone in that big house, sitting there in the stillness. Deciding. You’re not afraid are ya?

On Inside the Actor’s Studio, there was a woman who couldn’t stop laughing. This is “a gift” you said. But really, you were the gift. More than a comedian. Or maybe just perfect, and other comedians something less.

How right it feels to have you stir so many thoughts at once.

Back in high school, when I performed standup, drunk and stoned, my friends would try to help me get laid by telling girls in the audience I was your son. Some of them believed it—but they were quick to tell me I wasn’t as funny. That was sobering.

I remember you crying when Christopher Reeve rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair at the Academy Awards. I imagine you’re together now. Roommates again. Putting on a show in the clouds. Secretly placing a whoopee cushion on God’s chair.

You once told Jon Stewart, “You’re doing the work that needs to be done.” But you were always doing the work that needed to be done, too. I remember standing backstage, watching you hold a bottle of water between your legs, spraying the audience like a cat. “Mine! Mine!” You marked us, and we were yours.

When I was a boy, a child of a single mother, I saw The World According to Garp, and wept when you said, “I never needed a father.”

What does T.S stand for again? Oh yeah. Terribly Sad. Too Smart. Thoroughly Shocking. Terrifically Sacrilegious. Torrentially Slaphappy. Torturously Sober. Truthfully Sentimental. Transformatively Sensational.