Grieving SF Comedy Superstars Recall Their Robin Williams Stories
Pretty much every Bay Area comedy or improv personality has a story of ‘that one time Robin Williams came to my show’. They all say he was hilarious, personable. sweet and forever willing to lend a hand to any random two-bit local performer’s event, with no personal financial gain for himself involved or implied. Robin Williams was just a homegrown Bay Area comedian who inspired three generations with his work and legacy, but still relentlessly showed up to support the local comedy and performance scene right up until the day of his tragic and untimely passing.
We asked several Bay Area comedy figures for their Robin Williams stories, and they all all responded with passionately retold encounters within minutes of our request. We pay homage to these Robin Williams stories below, but also invite you to to chime in with your own personal Robin Williams run-ins in the Comments section! Even if you were just a pimply-faced Blockbuster video employee at the old 16th and Geary Blockbuster Video at the time, which our first local comedy legend was….
Hubba Hubba Revue emcee. Kingffish
“20 years ago, [Robin Williams] was a fairly regular customer at the Blockbuster Video I managed,” says Hubba Hubba Revue emcee and impresario Kingfish, who was once a pimply-faced employee at the old 16th and Geary Blockbuster Video . “One night he was standing in line, everybody behind him saw it was him, but the lady in front of him never looked behind her, never saw him there,” Kingfish remembers.
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“When she got to the front I was ringing her up and she said, ‘What’s that movie where Robin Williams has a beard, and he plays the saxophone, I think?’. And Robin Williams, in total deadpan, says, ‘Moscow on the Hudson’.”
“She still never turns around to look, everyone behind her and is snickering and giggling, and she says, ‘Oh, thank you –I’m going to go back and get that.’”
Beth Spotswood is a Bay Area native and who’d see Robin Williams just show up unannounced at stand-up and improv events. “He used to show up at Tuesday Night Comedy at the 142 Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley, which is my hometown,” she recalls.”My family decided to head down after dinner, and both Dana Carvey and Robin Williams were surprise guests. Robin Williams pulled all the young comedians up on stage who’d already performed, without knowing he was in the house, and improv’ed with all of them.”
“Then he totally ripped and riffed on Mill Valley, like really insider stuff, and the entire theater filled with Mill Valley people were crying, they were laughing so hard. He had this whole bit about Mill Avenue that he just made up. He did 5 minutes on the scarf a woman in the 2nd row was wearing. I’ll never forget it, it felt so special.”
Lady Monster, Burlesque Performer
“I will never forget getting to perform at Robin William’s bachelor party in Marin (October 2011),” Lady Monster recalls. “Bobcat Goldthwait was his best man and hired me to perform. Bobcat asked me to do a comedic routine. I had just created a tribute to Peter Sellers – a recreation of his striptease in ‘Pink Panther Strikes Again’. I walked out in a man’s black wig, mustache, black suit and tie.”
“I had no idea who I was performing for, then I turned around. Before me was Robin Williams, Mort Saul and about ten other comedian friends. When Robin saw me in my Peter Sellers get-up, he shouted, ‘Hitler’s going to strip! Mort, cover your eyes! Hitler’s going to strip!’.
“I had to turn around quickly to not drop character, compose myself and get back to the strip,” she remembers. “At the end, I went back to my dressing room. Robin and Bobcat followed me, shook my hand, thanked me profusely and asked me to join them for dinner and dessert. They totally took care of me. I sat down next to Mort Saul and Robin. Mort left after dinner and Robin and I began to talk. He was very interested in my life as an artist and what brought me to that moment with him. Photos were taken and I wish I had one as a momento of the night. He told me how he loved burlesque, used to perform at burlesque clubs, up until about 1980. My routine was the first burlesque he saw since then, and the first time he watched it sober.”
“I’ll always remember how Robin was totally generous in spirit, and incredibly funny,” Ms. Monster says. “My stomach hurt from laughing so much, and wiped away many tears of laughter.”
Barron Scott Levkoff, Character Performer and Puppeteer
“I had the rare privilege of performing my Punch & Judy Show for Robin Williams’ kids on his Napa estate many years ago,” says Mystic Midway inventor Barron Scott Levkoff. “I got their early to set up and waited around for the kids to eat their cake and ice cream before bringing them out to the back lawn to sit down and watch the show. In the meanwhile, Robin Williams was having a field day putting temporary tattoos on the little kids and babies, and giving them all comedic ‘Popeye’ sailor voices. Everyone was in hysterics.”
“After I performed for an audience of around 20 or so kids, I thought everyone had left and was feeling bummed i hadn’t had a chance to talk with him. There I was tearing down the stage and packing all the puppets away inside my stage, not realizing for a bit that Robin was leaning over my puppet playboard watching me.”
“When I looked up and saw who it was, I was startled but delighted when he said, ‘’Hello, Professor! Didn’t mean to startle you, I just wanted to take a peek behind the curtain.
SO hows business these days?'(OH! That Gleam in his eye!) He went on,
‘Do you perform down near the wharf much? That’s where i got my start, you know-street performing and busking down near the cable car turnaround.’”
‘I tried my best to remain calm and focus on having a real conversation about the challenges and rewards of performing in the streets, how busker pitches were disappearing the world over and how working the streets really made you hone yer sh*t. It was one of my all time favorite conversations and experiences.”
Eric Cash, Stand-Up Comic
“I met Robin twice, he was a very nice fellow,” Mr. Cash remembers. “The first time I met him was outside Club Deluxe in San Francisco on the showcase night. He was outside, he’d come by to check out the local talent, and of course all the comics had flocked him; he’s pretty universally loved. I wanted a chance to say hello, and tell him how inspiring I found him, but I didn’t want to be one of the throng.”
“So I waited, until he was standing alone leaned up against the outside wall. I walked up and started snapping my fingers as if I were trying to recall a memory, and said ‘Hey, aren’t you that guy? That guy, I’ve seen you!’ He cocked his head to the side, not certain whether to be annoyed or bemused, as I continued, “Yeah, you are! That guy that used to do mime outside of the zoo in New York!’ He laughed. We swapped stories about performing the streets for a while, it was nice. I got to tell him how much I enjoyed his stuff, and really took a fair amount of inspiration from what he’d done. “
Please Leave the Bronx, sketch comedy troupe
“I’ve told the story about Robin Williams grabbing my boobs a million times, but I haven’t told what happened next as often,” recalls improv performer Melinda Bailey. Once Robin Williams dragged her onstage to do some improv at the old Mock Café, and boobs were indeed grabbed.
“As soon as his set was over, he came over to me. Of course, I was hoping he would tell me that my line was marginally funny, so I could add that to my resume. Instead, he looked concerned. He put a hand on my elbow and looked in my eyes, “Was that okay that I did that? [grabbed her boobs during improv]. I caught a look from you and I thought it was okay, so I went for it’.
“Oh, of course.” Ms. Bailey recalls saying “’You’ve seen the guys I do comedy with. I put up with a lot worse’. He nodded. He saw those guys. Then one of them flashed his wife.”
Sketch performer Juan Rapido of Radio Valencia’s Dante’s Hot Tub [Wednesdays 8-10 pm] had some backstage frolics with Robin Williams at those Mock Café shows. “So we’re standing backstage, and you know he was pretty guarded. Like, he doesn’t know who the fuck we are.”
“And for a sec, it’s just me and him.” and I say, ‘Robin, there’s something I always wanted to ask you. You’re a pretty hairy guy, did you have to get waxes for ‘Hook’ or what?”
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, of course, I’m hairy.’ And he’s showing me his arms. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m pretty hairy too and I can’t imagine how painful that is’ and I’m pulling up my shirt showing him my hirsute chest.”
And then I’m like, ‘Hey, what am I doing showing Robin Williams my chest?’ He said it was okay, but who knows? He’s hairier than me, I’ll say that.”
Robin Williams would not only go see your act, he’d remember your material.
“I was doing open mic’s around San Francisco in the early 2000’s,” remembers early 2000s open mic personality Heather Hawkins. “One night, I was doing my set in this tiny, 20-seat room called The Mock Café. At the end of my set, they hand me a paper with a name on it and say, ‘This guy is going on after you.’ Caught offguard, I crack wise about how the next guy’s going to have to change his name if he wants to go anywhere in comedy… and out from the shadows steps Robin Williams.”
“Then next night, I’m in the same theatre with my mother to watch Please Leave the Bronx (a sketch comedy group), and Robin shows up again. He’s about halfway through his set when he sees me in the audience, stops, and says, ‘It’s you! It’s the flaming snatch girl!’ (referencing a joke from my set the previous night). I said, ‘Oh my god, this is my mother!’ embarrassed that he’d called out one of my less mom-appropriate jokes. He turns to my mom and totally deadpans, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Let me just say, your daughter is very talented.’
Shine on, you flaming snatch guy. Remember Robin Williams well.
What’s your Robin Williams Story? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: “Aladdin”, Walt Disney, 1992; “Moscow on the Hudson”, Columbia Pictures; 1984; “Mrs. Doubtfire”, 20th Century Fox, 1993; “Good Morning Vietnam”, Buena Vista Pictures, 1987; “Popeye”, Paramount Pictures, 1980; “Mork and Mindy”, ABC, 1978; “Hook”, TriStar Pictures, 1991