I didn't know Robin Williams, but I did meet him once. A few years ago, I was hosting a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre in LA and he showed up at 7:45, introduced himself, and asked if he could join me. We hosted four shows together from 8-11PM. And by that I mean I stood on stage--forgetting that I was part of the show--and laughed. What's awesome though, is that he--generously--made sure that even in the kinetic swirl that was him on stage, I wasn't left hanging out to dry. He went out of his way to make me look good.
And even though I didn't know him, I like many people--especially comics--was gut punched on Monday. Sure, I've been upset when celebrities I admire have died in the past but this was different. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't handle it. I still can't.
And even though I didn't know him, I do know suicide. When I was 19, living in San Diego, a girl broke my heart. Big deal, right? Sure, but I think I've always had some of the darkness in me and that night I had had enough. I drove to my dad's house, took his gun out of his lock box--he's retired NYPD--and I drove to the beach. I loaded the gun, pulled the hammer back--it was an old school revolver--and stuck it in my mouth. And that feeling was profound. It felt great--for a moment--to have some sort of power. To know that I could control one thing in my miserable life, just one thing.
Clearly, I did not pull the trigger. Instead, I went into the ocean. It was late, the moon was bright, and in the ocean I had what I always call a, 'perfect life moment.' Where just for a second I felt at peace and the noise in my head just stopped. A moment where I realized, yes, life is hard. For some of us there is this dark undercurrent of pain that is sometimes unbearable to live with. I mean, look around; what the hell is this? What are we all doing? What is the point of anything? But then, every once in awhile there are these perfect moments. And that is enough. It has to be enough.
I also know suicide because in my early twenties--for almost four years--I was a volunteer at a suicide hotline. I listened to a lot of very damaged, sad people going through very hard times. And on the last night of volunteering I talked to a 20-something college student who took her own life while I was on the phone with her. I was the last person she ever spoke with. Not her mom, or her best friend, or some boy who probably had a crush on her but never got to tell her... nope, it was me. For a long time after that I was lost. That phone call changed my life.
Those two stories went on to become part of a dark-comedy solo show of mine, as well as a story that I did for The Moth. And whenever people hear it on the radio, or see me do it live, or even read it in 'The Moth Book: 50 True Stories,' the emails start coming in. People all over the country contact me and tell me their personal stories of sadness, often having to do with a loved one's suicide. On the one hand it's extremely nice that people respond to my show. On the other hand, it's horrifying to know that there is so much despair out there.
What's even more crazy about the success of that show/story is that when I first started to do it, I thought it would never work as a comedy. My director--Adam Swartz--and I were putting it up at the UCBT in NY but we both thought: a comedy theatre might not be the right place to do a show about suicide. We were wrong.
Since I started doing it--ten years ago--so many comedians I didn't know, but admired and respected, have confided in me. A lot of cool, great people--some famous, some not--and a lot of socially awkward, or private, or just plain kinda dicky comics have come up to me, hugged me and then told me about their experience with depression and/or suicide attempts. And most of them have also requested that I don't tell anyone what they said. So, I won't. And I get it. There's shame. Depression is still seen as a taboo and a form of weakness. I don't know, maybe it's denial. Who knows... but it's there.
So now, as people start to say the usual dumb things about suicide/depression- how it's 'selfish' and 'cowardly' - I say be careful. I get that we live in a time when every jackass gets to have an opinion, regardless about what they actually know about any given subject. Great. But be cool. Think about the people you do know and think about what you're saying. Maybe just this once, be human. Be respectful, and see what happens.
And again, I didn't know Robin Williams but I'm affected by his death. I'm saddened by the fact that he is gone because I--selfishly--want more laughter from him.
And even though I didn't know Robin Williams, I'm affected by his suicide. It feels like we all are. We all feel so goddamn sad. And so I say this: If in your life you feel down or lost or in pain... I beg you to call someone. Reach out. Yes, there are a lot of d-bags out there, but there are also good people who want to help. To help you remember that even though life is a pigsty there are--every once in a while--those perfect life moments. And Robin Williams' performances have been so many of those perfect moments for so many of us.
National suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255