This will be completed by the end of 2019.
Here’s the chapter about my encounter with Robin Williams.
One of the highlights of my week at Cobbs in San Francisco was that it coincided with a free comedy day in Golden Gate Park. Thousands of people gathered came along and, even though I didn’t get to perform, I was in the backstage area where I met many comics of note, including Greg Proops, Will Durst, Kevin Meaney, Bobcat Goldthwait and Margaret Cho.
Midway through the afternoon, just after Brian Regan had finished his set, rumours spread around the backstage area that Robin Williams had just up with Eddie Izzard (who Robin was sponsoring on his first stand up tour of America).
After Robin’s set, I met him briefly and had a picture taken. Back in England, I gave the negative to ‘Boots’ to have it turned into a 8 X 10 print that I could frame.
‘Boots’ lost the negative.
Since I’d paid for their premium service, which included protection against this kind of ineptitude, I ended up dealing with someone at Boots’ head office. Under the circumstances, I thought my insistence that they fly me back to San Francisco and arrange for another photo to be taken with Robin was a reasonable expectation. Instead, they gave me £200.
A year later, I was back at Cobbs, again earning $300 for the week. This time the headliner was Patton Oswalt.
At that time, very few people in England knew who Patton was but he was famous in the US and, as with the Brian Regan week, every show had sold out in advance.
Before the first show, Patton approached me and said, “Hey MC guy, each show, I need you to give me a signal 10 minutes before my time.”
I wasn’t thriiled with this but, every night, at the 35 minutes mark, I would stand by the bar, waving manically at the stage until Patton Oswalt gave me a nod.
One night, however, I forgot and, 50 minutes into his set, Patton said, “Hey Joel, how much time have I done?”
“About 50, I replied.
He shook his head, clearly irritated, finished up two minutes later and headed straight for me.
“What happened to my signal?”
“I gave you a signal. I thought you’d seen it,” I lied.
“No man. Don’t mess up again.”
A few minutes later, he invited me to join him and some local comics for breakfast the next day so I guess I was somewhat forgiven but, top-notch as his sets always were, I can’t say I warmed to him.
As usual, the shows ran from Tuesday to Sunday and on the Thursday night, a few minutes before the end, I was taken aside by the owner.
“Joel, Robin Williams has just walked in. As soon as Patton finishes, bring him up. Don’t give the audience a chance to get up and leave.”
I was over the moon but there was one problem. This was before the age of smart phones and I’d left my camera at the hotel.
Although, I had been annoyed that I was the MC that week, especially now that the role of Patton Oswalt’s timekeeper had been added to my duties, this made it worthwhile.
I had climbed higher up the bill at other US comedy clubs, but Cobbs still only trusted me to do the 15 minutes opening section. This meant I had less stage time than the others, I had to hang around all evening to wave at Patton and I was also responsible for making announcements about the upcoming shows & tipping the bar staff.
But the MC also introduced all the comics to the stage.
I went into the bar area and found the small, casually dressed former Orkan sitting in a booth, facing the wall. He’d picked the most inconspicuous seat he could find, one where his famous face would not be on public display.
‘Excuse me, “ I said, as non-excitably as I could pretend to be.
The most famous face I’d ever seen up close turned around and looked at mine. l was looking into the eyes of Good Morning Vietnam and Good Morning Vietnam was staring back at into mine.
“Oh, hello,” said Mork. His tone immediately struck me as gentle and kind.
“So sorry to trouble you. I’m the MC. Just wanted to check if there’s anything specific you would like me to say?”
“Oh thank you. No, no, nothing special,’ Mrs Doubtfire replied, “Say whatever you like.’
“You should be on in five minutes or so.”
I headed back inside the showroom, glowing from the brief encounter and buzzing with anticipation of the moment to come.
When Patton ended his set, I returned to the stage.
“Usually,’ this would be the end of the show but a local comic has just arrived to do a few minutes so we have a little bonus for you. Please welcome Robin Williams.’
The crowd gasped, looked around in disbelief but twenty seconds later he still wasn’t there. One of the managers ran to the stage and whispered that he was in the toilet. The crowd was beginning to think it might be a hoax. Then I saw the unmistakable Jumanji silhouette at the door and introduced him again.
The whole room stood up and applauded… for what seemed like three minutes. He performed for an hour and left to another standing ovation.
Afterwards, he chatted with me for thirty minutes or so. He was warm, charming and kind.
And humble too… which I couldn’t quite get my head around. How could someone this famous be so humble?
“How do you cope?” I asked, “You’ve got the most famous face in the world. I mean, you’re Robin Williams for Christ’s sake.”
Sheepishly, he looked down and shrugged, awkwardly.
“Yes,” he replied, “I know.”
He hadn’t been onstage in months but had an important set to do the following week which he was anxious about messing up. He’d come to Cobbs to warm up.
Although it was a lost cause, for the rest of the week, I had my camera and video camera with me at all times. The Friday shows came and went without a visitation. Saturday was the same and, before too long, the Sunday show was drawing to a close. After begrudgingly giving Patton his signal for the last time, I went out into the bar area for a glass of water. I was talking to one of the staff when suddenly her eyes glazed over and she seemed flustered.
“Oh hello again,” said the voice behind me.
“The second coming,” I blurted out.
When I turned around, something was different about him. Patch Adams had grown a moustache since Thursday.
Three minutes later, I was back onstage.
“Normally this would be the end but since it’s the last show, I wanted to say what an amazing week I’ve had in your city. Two nights ago, I even got to introduce Robin Williams to this stage. As I’m saying this. I’m realizing it’s probably a mistake because some of you are now wishing you’d been here then instead of now. Sorry about that! Anyway, he’s back again tonight …. “
Another standing ovation, another hour long set and at the end, I got my picture.
I’m not the type to hold a grudge but, for the record, I haven’t entered a branch of ‘Boots’ since 1998.
RIP Robin Williams (1951 to 2014)