We’ll never be “over” losing Robin. It’s almost a year since he died and we’re all processing how to feel about it. I’m not sure if we’ll ever be at peace, everyone who’s been affected by him will continue to miss him, and virtually everyone was touched by his immense reach. A number of artists have paid tribute: illustrations and podcasts and words, all expressing gut-wrenching gratitude and grief.
Singer Cee Lo Green, of Goodie Mobb, Gnarls Barkeley, and holding a cat on television, turned his grief to song with “Robin Williams” released in time for the late comic’s birthday, accompanied by an interactive music video that feels like a screenshare party, you know, like, when you’re a teenager and stay up all night Googling shit. The song opens with Bobby McFerrin inspired mouth-rhythms, laments what it feels like when the laughter dies, advocates for empathy for “what the next man’s going through”, and encourages people to “laugh the pain away” over pop synths and clap-along beats.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I really like it, not only because Cee Lo is an incredible vocalist, or because it’s a catchy song or because I believe in the sentiment—life is hard, laughter helps—but because it might be the first time somebody shouts out Phil Hartman and Chris Farley on a Top 40 radio single. It feels like such an anomaly to do so. Despite the overall appeal and proclaimed necessity of comedy, ubiquitousness of stand-up, sketch, improv, live performance, etc., and billions of dollars generated by comedy in the entertainment industry, comics aren’t spoken about in such reverence, let alone sung about with any sense of sincerity. I’ve celebrated, championed and mourned Mitch Hedberg for over a decade, but I’ve never picked up a guitar to do so. ??Mitch Hedberg can you hear me!???
It would be too corny. Even in the camaraderie of stand-up—or acting, or whatever—where your peers share the most intimate of values/interests/passion/purpose, expressed farewells, while somber, often have a strong of sense of levity to respect the deceased’s dedication to liveliness, or silliness, or “fuck you”. It wouldn’t be a true tribute to a funny person if it isn’t funny, right?
That might be changing. People are growing to recognize, understand and appreciate the less popular of those two theater masks, they’re becoming hip to mental health issues underlying, or overwhelming, our favorite celebrities, more accepting of the Pagliacci clown (and suggesting they go get some therapy).
The irony is, when Robin Williams passed, Cee Lo Green really could of used a laugh. In August 2014, Green pleaded no contest to furnishing ecstasy to a woman claiming she didn’t remember sleeping with him (nanu-no-no), an accusation that led to severing ties with The Voice, several defensive tweets (later redacted), and canceled shows. There isn’t a cut and dry conclusion for the scandal: prosecutors stated there wasn’t enough evidence for a trial (boooo), and despite mandatory probation and counseling, the jury is still out in the court of public opinion. It’s kind of poetic that the person asking what what will happen when we run out of heroes, was forced to find redemption, his cries to humanize the struggles of Robin Williams strongly contextualized by personal strife.
I’m not sure if we’ll get more artists like Cee Lo paying respect to the fallen funny—can I get a Gilda Radner theme goddamnit!—but I admire the expression and acknowledge the sadness.