The summer of 1994 I had my first teaching experience. After we had taken a few education classes, we had to go out in the field and observe a teacher for a period of time. Mine happened to fall in the summer for some classes in Rochester which motivated students had signed up for. I had a broad range of teachers and classes I observed, but I was most taken by a comedy class.
The teacher of that class taught about the importance of comedy in our lives and used various funny people from the past century to illustrate that. He would show snippets of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, etc. As we got closer to the end of my time, he asked if I’d like to try my hand at preparing a lesson. This was my first chance to do it, and he told me to focus on modern comedians.
The first person I thought of was Robin Williams. He had recently appeared in Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, but the movie I grabbed off my shelf was Good Morning, Vietnam. This was a movie that had both funny and heart-rending elements. After watching the movie again, I managed to find a school-appropriate segment of Adrian Cronauer (Williams) doing his radio show, much of which was ad-libbed. Needless to say, it was a hit with the students.
While pausing this past week to contemplate the loss of Robin Williams to a supposed depression-induced suicide, this movie swam to the front of my mind again. If you watch it, notice the frightening parallels between his character and what seems to be his actual life.
First, you have the vivacious on-air personality of Adrian Cronauer, who bucks the trend of what he’s supposed to do in delivering the news to the military personnel in Vietnam. Every time I’ve seen the movie, I burst out laughing at these moments. This is the Robin Williams most people think of, the same guy who voiced the Genie in Aladdin, setting up a type of character that is still often seen in animated movies. This is the same actor who dressed as a woman to be able to see his kids in Mrs. Doubtfire, the same person who burst on the scene spouting, “Nanoo, nanoo,” as Mork from Ork.
As the movie progresses, Williams’ character grows more in tune with what’s happening in Vietnam, and he sees some tragic circumstances. His depth of despair at an inability to do much in the field is palpable, and he realizes the only way he can help in this conflict is through his humor.
This seems to be Robin Williams, the man. He was beloved for his humor, even though he earned an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Some people will argue his best work was in that movie and Dead Poet’s Society, movies that were decidedly not comedies.
Still, his stand-up work and those resonating comedies are probably how Williams thought he could be special and help people through laughter, just like the character of Adrian Cronauer. But deep inside, he felt helpless, like that character. Williams is known for having fought the demons of alcohol and cocaine and most recently Parkinson’s disease, though it seems that depression was his ultimate enemy.
I’ve written about depression and anxiety before, having had a few bouts myself and knowing others who have fought them. It’s terrible that such a gifted person was unable to overcome this ultimate battle. So many people are in the same boat, and we often don’t have a clue; he’s not the only one who uses acting to cover up the problem.
Like Williams, I’ve found solace in using humor to mask any insecurities I have, though that’s where the comparison ends since he was infinitely more funny than I could ever hope to be. I’ve also found that I can confide in people close to me, and that’s the key to this fight.
If you have anxiety or depression issues, please find someone with whom you can confide and find the proper help, even if it’s professional. You are special too, even if you might never portray Teddy Roosevelt on the big screen, and every person we lose to depression is tragic, even if you don’t trend on Twitter.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is stroppy, which means bad-tempered or touchy, as in, “The Genie was rather stroppy after being locked inside the lamp for so long.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!