TIME remembrance

Robin Williams: Comic Jen Kirkman Says He ‘Wasn’t Jaded’

Robin Williams Death
Paul Drinkwater—NBC/Getty Images; Reed Saxon—AP

"He just really wanted to see what young people were doing and laughing at," she says

Robin Williams, who died Monday at age 63, won an Academy Award in 1998 for his role in Good Will Hunting. But Jen Kirkman, a stand-up comic, author and longtime Chelsea Lately panelist, saw firsthand how winning acting’s highest dramatic honor did nothing to curb Williams’ humility or his love for comedy. She remembers the late actor as supportive of young talent:

“He was coming to UCB in LA a lot to watch any kind of comedy show he could — stand-up, improv, whatever. Robin was the first truly famous person I’d ever encountered who walked backstage, assumed everybody was a comic, treated them as such, and acted like, ‘Is it OK that I’m here? Don’t make a big deal, I’m not trying to get in the way.’ He would watch the show, then come backstage and compliment you specifically on stuff he saw. I remember chatting with him about [how] he was about to go on this big Australian tour, and he was just excited and nervous. He just really wanted to see what young people were doing and laughing at.

He was so warm and nice, and a genuine feeling of, he’s not taking himself too seriously. He won an Oscar for dramatic acting, and you would never know it. He was humble and graceful and polite. He was just nothing but excited to be around this new energy. He wasn’t jaded, or, ‘Lemme tell you kids how it used to be.’ I really liked being in his presence. I found it very fascinating — like, that’s how you wanna be.”

TIME remembrance

Bill Maher: ‘You Could Just Tell There Was a Humanity in Robin Williams’

Robin Williams Death
Mireya Acierto—Getty Images; Jeffrey Mayer—WireImage/Getty Images

Williams "only let you see so much," Maher says

Robin Williams, who died Monday at 63, knew the secret to being a good television-show guest: adapting to the program without losing yourself. Not everyone can do that, says Real Time host Bill Maher, but Williams could do it as well as, if not better than, anybody on his show.

Here, Maher remembers Williams’ shape-shifting comedy:

“Robin and I had a nice friendly relationship. I can’t claim I knew him well, but honestly, I don’t know how many people did. He seemed like the kind of guy who didn’t open up to a lot of people. That is not unusual in this business. I know a number of people I would count the same way, and some of these people I know a lot better than Robin, comics I’ve known for 35 years and spent tons of hours with, and I still don’t really know them, because they only let you see so much, and they speak through their art.

The thing about Robin that I loved the most — and again, with limited experience — is that when he did my show, he was so great at it, because he was able to achieve something that eludes a lot of comedians who have tried to do Real Time. It’s not an easy show to do, because you have to be very smart about politics. We don’t use a lot of show business people on the panel. I can name the show business people who can do it on a couple of hands — Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Kerry Washington — people who are very politically aware and involved, and that is their passion. But mostly, show people don’t do it — we have them on, but in one-on-one settings in the mid-show. But Robin did the panel, and he was able to both modulate his normal manic persona down to what was appropriate for the show he was doing, and also, completely still be Robin Williams. That is not an easy trajectory to find, and he did, and I always loved him for it. First of all, it means you’re humble — that you understand that you have to shape-shift a little to the show you’re doing. Some people don’t do that. Some people just refuse to do that. They wanna be exactly who they are, on whatever show they’re doing. I don’t agree with that. I think when you’re the guest, you have to bend a little. He did that. He was still Robin Williams, but he was exactly right for the show he was doing.

His style, when it came on the scene, looked completely new to people, and in many ways it was. He was fast and furious, and I think there’s something else that’s behind there that you can’t really quantify or define, but you could just tell there was a humanity in Robin Williams. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, like a good person who cares and tries to give back to the community. Some people, you get the impression that they’re putting on an act all the time. I didn’t get that impression with Robin Williams. I didn’t know him well, but I always thought, there’s a very decent person there.”

TIME remembrance

Joan Rivers: Why Robin Williams Was a Great Red Carpet Interview

Robin Williams Death
Bruce Glikas—FilmMagic/Getty Images

"You popped the champagne cork when you said hello to him," she says

Joan Rivers, who died on September 4 at the age of 81 after complications from throat surgery, reflected on Robin Williams the month before her death.

Joan Rivers is an authority on red carpet interviews — and the veteran comedian says Williams was one of the best celebrities to chat with, both for his candor and his zany humor. Below, Rivers reflects on his more serious roles:

“Robin was one of the great interviews. You’d see him coming down that red carpet and you knew, OK, now we’re gonna have fun. We’re not gonna hear the usual, ‘Yes, we all love each other on the set.’ The one I remember most is, I had this incredible dress, I think it was Dior, with great big gold feathers on the top, absolutely beautiful. I was looking so snappy, I thought. And he came up and did five minutes on looking for eggs in my top, because I looked like a chicken. It was fabulously insane. He made like a chicken, and was clucking, and looking for eggs. Hilarious.

He was very wild. The only one you could compare him with in terms of style was Jonathan Winters. Both of them crazy mad, going into characterizations, in and out, in and out. Such ADD. It’s like you open the capsule and everything came out, all the air came rushing out. You popped the champagne cork when you said hello to him.

He was an incredible actor. [His comedy bits] were all acting bits. They may have been funny, but he became the crazy man, he became the duck. You forget, for all the things he did, he also did Waiting for Godot on Broadway, he did Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. I was waiting for him to do King Lear. I think he would have been great. He came from Juilliard with Patty Lupone and Christopher Reeve. That was a big class he came from. He also had a really formal upbringing. He came from an upper middle class family, very educated, very well-read, very knowledgable about everything, about literature. The references would be so amazing. Even to do Dead Poets Society, he knew what he was talking about when he was talking about the poetry. He was incredible. Everyone’s talking about the comedy, but I’m talking about The Fisher King, What Dreams May Come, Awakenings. Everyone forgets all the serious, wonderful things he did, not just Mrs. Doubtfire.

We all flew into New York to do a Richard Pryor roast, and everybody was on the dais — Don Rickles, David Brenner, Garry Shandling, All of comedy was on the dais at the Waldorf Astoria. Next to last was Robin, and he blew everybody out of the ballpark. He was so above all of us. He was incredible. Very special.”

TIME remembrance

Gilbert Gottfried on Robin Williams: “It Was Such a Workout Playing Off Someone Like That”

Robin Williams Death
Dave Kotinsky—Getty Images; Vera Anderson—WireImage/Getty Images

Williams was "the same onstage and off," Gottfried says

It wasn’t easy keeping up with Robin Williams, who died Monday at age 63. Comedian and friend Gilbert Gottfried described joking around with the late actor as dizzying. Here, Gottfried remembers the first time he met Williams:

“We would run into each other at comedy clubs when he’d be on stage, and we’d riff off each other. That was always very invigorating, because with someone like him you had to keep on your toes every second. I don’t really remember much about the times we were on stage because it was so strenuous. It was such a workout playing off someone like that, that when I got offstage, I was pretty much dizzy afterwards.

He worshipped Jonathan Winters, and you definitely could see the similarities. One big one is that they were the same onstage and off. Every now and then he would talk seriously, but more often than not, he was that guy. Every now and then, another part of him would pop up that was quiet.

The first time I met him, he showed up at the Improv. I was supposed to go on next, and they told him he would go on next, and he said, ‘Let Gilbert go on, because there are some people in the audience and I want them to see him.’ Then, when I got off stage, I was very pleased that he was laughing and rubbing his eyes. He went, ‘Oh, you really baked my cookies.’ I wasn’t quite sure whether to take it as a compliment.”

TIME remembrance

Lewis Black Remembers Robin Williams: He Was “On Another Level”

Robin Williams Death
Kevin Winter—Getty Images Lewis Black and Robin Williams

Williams was as smart as he was funny, the comic says

Contrary to popular belief, Robin Williams, who died Monday at the age of 63, wasn’t “always on” and going a mile a minute. But comedian Lewis Black says Williams’ ability to jump from one topic to another was unparalleled among his peers. Here, Black remembers Williams as an endlessly giving and energetic person:

“I had met him before, but I really got to know him when we went on two USO [United Service Organization] tours together [in the late 2000s], and spent time with him on the film Man of the Year.

The first thing was: I got on a plane with him, and he was reading a book which was a history of Iraq. He sat there and talked about it for 35 minutes, going through the history of Iraq with us. That’s astonishing. I thought, this guy is kind of brilliant. He was a really bright guy who may have had a photographic memory.

[Trying to figure out how he does what he does] is like standing in front of a hurricane and going, gee, I wonder how that happened.

He wasn’t someone who was always on. It’s very much a misconception.

There were jokes of his that made me laugh hard, but it was the going from one thing to another, making those connections. It’s like how you watch an improv group take suggestions. It was like Robin had the most brilliant audience inside his head throwing out suggestions, because he would put combinations together that were just crazy. And how he could work out of the moment. That working out of the moment is a gift, but he did it on another level.

[On the USO tours], the amount of energy he brought when we would get off of a helicopter and walk towards the troops — the amount of energy he gave to them was unbelievable. It was really incredible to be in that kind of giving presence. I was exhausted. We’re going from place to place, he can’t give enough to them, and I’m trying to think, ‘Where can I take a nap?’ It was inspiring. Wherever we’d land, until the point where we would leave, he’d be talking to them — and not just going off, but being straight with them. I adored him. If you look at the outpouring that’s gone on, that someone of his stature would come to see them was kind of amazing to them.

It’s proof again that the good die young, and pricks live forever. He’s gonna be missed. There’s a hole, and it’s gonna take a long time to be filled.”

TIME remembrance

Louie Anderson on Robin Williams: “He Came Through Loud and Clear to Your Heart”

Robin Williams Death
David Becker—WireImage/Getty Images; JB Lacroix—WireImage/Getty Images

"We knew comedy would never be the same," Anderson says

Robin Williams, who died Aug. 11 at age 63, was a tough act for any comedian to follow, says Louie Anderson, who remembers being backstage at comedy clubs listening to Williams perform. Here, Anderson honors the man who made audiences’ hearts “buzz” as well as their heads:

He was a national treasure as a comedian. He made a splash like a meteor on the Earth, and everyone wanted to see it. Whether you were very religious, very conservative — whoever you were, he could transcend all of your defenses and your barriers.

I met him first at the Comedy Store in the early ’80s. He would come in, go on stage and crush, just destroy the room. All of us were in the back room when he was on stage, and we knew comedy would never be the same.

He was pure fun, kind and gentle. He wasn’t just another comedian at the club — he was the comedian at the club. Unfortunately, you wished you were that comedian. There is part of every comedian who watched Robin — and it happened to me — that went, ‘I can’t do that, I wish I could do that. Oh my God, I hope I don’t have to follow him.’

Anybody who was anybody had his first album, [1979’s Reality…What A Concept], because you couldn’t believe he did it, and you wondered how he did it. He was a measuring stick among comedians. People would say [about other comics], ‘He’s no Robin Williams,’ like they used to say, ‘He’s no Richard Pryor,’ or, ‘He’s no Bill Cosby.’

He came through the television, he came through the movie screen — he came through loud and clear to your heart. Anybody can make your head buzz, but when you can make the audience’s head and their heart buzz, and make their heart open up and be completely vulnerable — I call it a Richard Pryor quality. Not too many people had it. The goal of every comedian is to open up everyone in the audience completely, so that you can share the humanity within each other.

His stuff was so fast. It was his presentation that was such a favorite … his characters, his voices, his persona that you were mesmerized by. The jokes were secondary to his bright light.

When he was done performing, the show was over. I felt sorry for the comedian who was going on next. Right now, I feel like the show is over.

TIME remembrance

Margaret Cho Remembers Robin Williams: He Was a ‘Father Figure’

Robin Williams Death
Paul Archuleta—FilmMagic/Getty Images; Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

"He was symbolic of hope for a lot of us," Cho says

Comedian Margaret Cho grew up in San Francisco, a city with such close ties to Robin Williams, who died Aug. 11 at age 63, that its own mayor released a statement about his death. Here, Cho remembers the late actor as a generous and supportive paternal figure in the San Francisco comedy community:

He was the first celebrity I ever met. My parents owned a bookstore in San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s. My father made Robin autograph a copy of The World According to Garp for me. When I started comedy in San Francisco in the ’80s, Robin would hang around the clubs I started doing shows at and grew up next to. He would always come in, and then later, of course, we would always see him in clubs here. He was the patriarch of our little clan of comedians in San Francisco. All of us looked at him, in a way, as a father figure. That’s why this is so upsetting.

He was just very supportive. He was very shy, and possibly a little embarrassed by his fame. Inside, he really was a comic. Naturally, all comics just wanna hang around other comics, so he would come to these little clubs and open mics, and you’d get bumped, and he would go on and you’d have to follow him, which was always really terrifying because he’s so great, and people were so excited to just be in his presence. Also, we were all excited to be around him. He’s the kind of guy, I remember, he would help out comics who needed money. When I was a teenager, my first boyfriend needed money to live, and he loved this guy’s comedy, so he would give people money to survive. It’s a beautiful thing. He was a great guy.

In his presence, you realized that show business was a real, tangible world, because he moved so fluently between them both. When you saw him around, he was a direct link to someone who was actually making it and out there. So he was the first of all those San Francisco comedians to become a star — and not just a star, a megastar. So he was symbolic of hope for a lot of us. He bought my boyfriend’s art. He was a presence in all of our lives, but then also, part of this other world that was so magical, which is making movies and TV. So he was kind of a dreamlike figure in a lot of ways.

I feel like he was a conduit — that everything he was feeding off of his brilliance was really something he was just channeling. But maybe what allowed him to be so humble and what endeared people to him was that humility, and that he would just turn on that brilliance for you. It was the ultimate form of being present, to channel it. I think that he was very spiritual in a lot of ways.

I think it’s so unique you can’t emulate it. If you look at the way comedy is, and look at its history, you don’t find anybody like him at all, except for maybe Jonathan Winters is the closest, and he also was a very dreamlike figure.

Robin also used a lot of tragedy in his work — he was readily available in every aspect of his emotional being. That’s what people fell in love with. But in his comedy, specifically, he would not be afraid to engage in pathos, too.

I remember the first time I really did a show at a comedy club. He was there, and he went on before me. It’s one of the most terrifying things. Your first few years in comedy are really scary, but it’s even scarier when an icon like that comes in and does a performance, and you have to follow him. I remember going on after him, and doing the joke that everybody does when you’re bumped by him – “I must be doing well when Robin Williams is opening for me.” That was pretty terrible, but it was really great, too, to see the audience get so excited. Just to be in his presence was really a tremendous gift. He was really special.”


TIME Music

Mick Jagger on James Brown: “I Copied All His Moves”

Mick Jagger and James Brown
Redferns/Getty Images (2) Mick Jagger, left, and James Brown

The legendary rocker talks about the soul king's impact on his life and career

Mick Jagger first met James Brown backstage at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem fifty years ago, when the now-legendary British superstar was a 20-year-old music industry rookie. Singer Ronnie Spector, who introduced them, has said that Jagger was so excited to meet the funk icon that she thought he was going to have a heart attack.

With his involvement in bringing the new biopic Get On Up to the screen, Jagger is now helping to introduce Brown’s unique musical brilliance to a new generation. Jagger spoke with TIME about his relationship with the funk/soul superstar, and shared some additional information regarding his work on the film.

TIME: What’s your first memory of hearing or seeing James Brown do his thing?

Mick Jagger: We all had the Live at the Apollo album. That was the big album before [the Rolling Stones] had come to America. He was a big favorite, and a different kind of music than I played at that time, which was mostly Chicago-style blues and rock. In those days, he did a lot of ballads, and also did super-fast stuff like “Night Train.” All these songs were on this huge-selling album, where you kind of lived the James Brown show without actually seeing it, so I was very familiar with it. When I first went to America, I met James at the Apollo, and he let me hang out with him. I was just a kid, really. He was, like, ten years older than me or something, but he’d been doing it for so long, and he had it down so much. He was kind to let me hang out, and I watched the shows. They did, like, four or five shows a day. Not all with the same intensity, obviously. It’s not possible. So I watched him there at the Apollo, we hung out some, and then I met him various times, we crossed paths on tours and so forth. I went on stage with him at the Apollo in the seventies. He called me up on stage with him. It was kind of a cringy moment for me, because English people don’t really…(laughs)…I just wanted to watch the show. I wasn’t there to be called up to dance with James Brown. But of course, you had to. That was the first time I was on stage at the Apollo, funny enough. James was always very nice to me, always giving me advice.

Can you share some of that advice with us?

James talked a lot about business. It’s in the film. The whole thing about the Apollo was, it’s about renting [it], making your own money, doing your own promotion. He wanted to be his own man. He didn’t want to be bossed around. He didn’t want to be put on a salary. In those days, people got very low record royalties, or never got paid royalties at all. James was very aware of all that. He tried to be his own man, and make sure he wasn’t just used.

Were there any of his stage moves that you, either intentionally or unintentionally, made part of your own persona?

Of course. I copied all his moves. I copied everybody’s moves. I used to do [James’] slide across the stage. I couldn’t do the splits, so I didn’t even bother. Everyone did the microphone trick, where you pushed the microphone, then you put your foot on it and it comes back, and then you catch it. James probably did it best. [Soul singer] Joe Tex did it brilliantly. Prince does it really well. I used to try to do it, but in the end, it hit me in the face too many times and I gave it up. So of course I copied his moves. There was one particular one I used to do a lot, but then I gave up and moved on. You just incorporate everything into your act.

Which was the one you used to do a lot?

When you move laterally from one side of the stage to the other, twisting your foot on one leg. I could do that one. But it’s a kind of attitude, too, not just a body move. It’s a kind of an attitude that he had on stage. You copy it. Little Richard was another contemporaneous performer who appears in this movie, because they’re from the same town. Little Richard also taught me a lot of things. It wasn’t so much moves. It’s about presence on stage in relationship to the audience.

In addition to James’ renown as a performer, he had a huge impact behind the scenes as well, in the construction of his music. Talk about his role in crafting his legendary songs.

James wasn’t a trained musician. He didn’t write music and he didn’t do arrangements. But he did initiate lots of grooves. He had a style. When he reinvented his music from the Apollo-live-period stuff into the funk period, where he did “Cold Sweat,” which was mostly known as the first groove/funk record, he kind of reinvented this. A lot of credit goes to musicians, but a lot goes to him, because he did something that no one else had done. He was into repeating these riffs which were normally used for the outro of a song, and decided to just use that as the whole song. He stripped away a lot of the melodic themes, and just made it into percussive themes for the vocal and the horn lines. His influence on that is massive, because he and the musicians invented this whole new funk genre of music.

His influence has been felt, though, in all areas of music, including hip-hop and the music of superstars like Michael Jackson and Prince. Would any of it be the same without James’ influence?

He’s been a huge influence on all the people you mentioned. Nearly all hip-hop artists acknowledge his influence on their music. Bruno Mars does a lot of his stage act – he does sections which are very influenced by [James]. And also, on artists like myself. I didn’t do much of that kind of music, really, but it’s influenced all the rock bands I know. [Even if] you don’t sound like James Brown, you know that’s in your repertoire. Not on this last tour, but the tour before, we did a James Brown number. We did “Think.” Even though The Rolling Stones is mainly a rock band, if we wanna do that, we can, because we know it. We learned it so long ago.

How big an influence was he on the Stones’ music?

It’s hard to discern. My point is, it’s all there in the background. Particularly that Live at the Apollo album, and all those early funk records. All these bands, the Stones included, could all play [some of that].

James’ music is generally referred to as funk, soul or R&B, and rarely mentioned as an influence in the classic rock realm. But for bands like yours, or even Led Zeppelin, that influence is in there.

Definitely, it’s there. Dave Grohl will be able to do those songs too. The influence is major.

Brian Grazer says you were instrumental in giving feedback on the script for Get On Up. What was the script like when you first read it, and what changes did you feel needed to be made?

First of all, when you find these scripts that are in turnaround, often the reason they aren’t made is because they’re awful or unworkable or something. I found that the Butterworths (English screenwriting brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, who wrote Get On Up) are very talented, and to them, it was a labor of love. I liked the script very much. I thought it had an incredible amount to offer. It was unlike other biopics, which go in for an extremely small snapshot of a person’s life. But this is more extensive. So I thought it was a very good script, but every script needs [some work]. We did change accentuations of character. We amalgamated some characters, because there were just too many. It was slightly confusing. We made it funnier, we took out a lot of early stuff – we just shaved it around and got it into a workable state. It took a while, but the Butterworths did a rewrite, and also, as we got [the film’s director Tate Taylor] on board, we did dialogue changes, and Tate did a polish.

Were there any specific aspects of James’ life you felt needed to be corrected, or portrayed in a different light?

For myself and for Brian, [this film] is about James Brown wanting to be master of his own fate, against the odds – to be in control of his destiny, coming from a place of extreme poverty where he’s in complete disarray and not in control of his destiny. He wants to be master of his own fate, but while doing this, of course, he often alienates people and becomes a loner, and that’s the price that he pays for wanting this success – for being so extreme in his work ethic. That was one of the things we wanted to show. We wanted to show in this movie how it happened, and how he was ultimately a lonely person.

Why was Chadwick Boseman the right choice to play James?

It was a tough ask, and everyone I spoke to said, “You’ll never get anyone to do it well enough.” And, [there was the question of], were we going for a dancer that could act, or an actor that could dance? And so on. You just have to look at everybody that comes your way. Chad had come off this movie, 42, which was successful in the United States, and he was very confident about his ability to play this part. I was very confident, and so were Brian and Tate, about his acting ability, but he knew he had to work – as anyone would have to work – really hard on the performing part, because he wasn’t a stage performer. Apart from immersing himself totally into the character, that was a load of work. The hours that Chad put into this with the choreographer, he really put in the extra hours to make it work, and it paid off.

So there wasn’t significant apprehension on your part knowing that he wasn’t that sort of performer?

Well, yes. Everyone had apprehension, or whatever word you wanna use. (laughs) You never know ‘til you do the first dance scene how it’s gonna work. That’s the nature of any of these things. I think everyone, including Chad, was a little nervy at the beginning. I’m sure they were. But as it went on, you could see how Chad had really taken on the character and made it his own.

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