TIME Television

Watch David Letterman Pay Tribute to Robin Williams on Late Show

"I had no idea the man was in pain"

+ READ ARTICLE

David Letterman returned to the Late Show on Monday and paid tribute to his friend, the late Robin Williams, who had died while the show was on a summer break.

Letterman had known Williams for 38 years. They met at the the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, where Letterman says he watched Williams’ first set at the club.

During his tribute, Letterman lamented Williams’ passing and his depression. “I had no idea that the man was in pain, that the man was suffering,” he said.

TIME Television

Snooki Who?: The Cool, Edgy, Other MTV You Didn’t Know Existed

Everett

MTV may have stopped airing arty, odd shows on TV a decade ago — but the network's original spirit lives on, online

This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Tucked away underneath an elevated subway line in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, two frat boys named Josh are making butt jokes behind an unmarked steel door. The pair of horny bros with facial hair of dubious origin leans over the blueprint of a yoga studio, plotting how to situate their mats so they’ll be best able to attract women. One Josh points to the map with a Green Apple Dum-Dum sucker; other Josh leans in, eyes wide, and deadpans, “Tell me about these feet rugs!” Moments later, a Josh starts singing the chorus to “Old Man River,” which morphs into a Katy Perry mashup: “Old man river, you’re gonna hear me rooaaaaar.”

Josh and Josh’s entourage — the camera people, the director, the dude holding the boom mic — erupts in laughter. The Joshes are the alter egos of Kate Riley and Fran Gillespie, Upright Citizen’s Brigade regulars who have co-created a short series called, cannily, Two Guys Named Josh. The makeshift soundstage is an apartment near the Hewes Avenue JMZ stop, rented from some arty loft type whose painted brick walls are just rundown enough to be believable as the abode for two best friends whose main goals are boozing, broing and snagging babes. The confluence of UCB and YouTube has been so instrumental in propelling young comedians from the Internet to television or film fame — from Aubrey Plaza and the Lonely Island to Drunk History and Broad City — everybody knows online comedy is the way to score. But the difference is this time, MTV is footing the bill.

MORE: MTV VMAs: The Wildest Moments Ever, Ranked

For 15 years, MTV has been both reviled and applauded for its shift from emphasizing videos and music programs to reality-television shows that some deem exploitative. The annual Video Music Awards still remain a marquee event, but the airing of actual videos has been shoved off onto tentacle, extended-cable choices like MTV Jams and MTV Hits in favor of wildly popular shows like Catfish and 16 and Pregnant. Videos are much lamented, but that wasn’t all MTV cast off in favor of The Hills and Jersey Shore. Viewers also lost creative programming like Liquid Television, the block of animated series in the Nineties that led to successful, groundbreaking shows like Daria and Aeon Flux. (Full disclosure: I have written for Viacom/MTV, but never for the subcompany MTV Other.)

MTV Other was conceived in spring 2013 and launched that summer as a “laboratory for original video content,” according to Garth Bardsley, VP of Original Video for MTV’s Connected Content Group, who had stopped by to check in on the taping of Two Guys Named Josh, now in its second season. “The legacy of MTV was that back in the day, it was a home for creative people to have an outlet, right? It still is,” explains Bardsley. “But if you’re going to put something on TV, you’ve got to typically have an agent who’s going to call an executive. He’s going to get you a meeting. And you’re going to have a lot more meetings. And you’re going to talk through it all. And there’s going to be scripts and yadda yadda. We do some of that, but we’re also just looking across the web for content creators, and we’re able to turn projects around more quickly.”

MORE: 8 TV Shows You Should Be Watching Right Now

MTV Other’s tagline is “short shows, random weirdness,” and it acts as a hub for a resurrected Liquid TV, though roughly half of Other’s shows are live-action comedies and talk shows. Bardsley cites programs like the burger-joint comedy Fast Food Heights, created by Bridesmaids actor Greg Tuculescu, and a sketch called Teacher’s Lounge written by Morgan Evans, who also directs Two Guys, as the type of programming Other leans towards. “We want to find our own version of hits,” he says, sitting on a loveseat on the makeshift set. “A hit for us would be much smaller than what TV needs. But we want to keep looking for hits. Who’s going to break out and people want to see more of? And we want to have more creative people in the building who are feeding into higher things.” MTV Other bookends web oddballs with more established comedians (Eric Andre; Murray Hill) in conversation with musicians like the Beastie Boys and Har Mar Superstar. They even do service journalism, showcasing scenes in cities across America and weed-food tips.

In a sense, Other is a bit of MTV magic: If YouTube and Vimeo act as incubators for networks like Comedy Central, Other is MTV’s own in-house farm team, a place to groom talent and test out shows until they prove themselves. Or in the event that the reality-show template ever topples, MTV will have ready-made content to replace it, already tested on the Internet. Of course, that’s not Bardsley’s expressed goal (which is adamantly about developing creativity), but it’s a savvy move for a goliath in a climate that increasingly rewards shows and ideas that are agile. There’s certainly enough network crossover: Other has developed animated spin-offs narrated by popular MTV2 hosts Matt Pinfield and Charlemagne the God. But Bardsley insists the creativity comes first. “It’s not like we’re setting out to do a legacy play at all,” he says. “It’s just that there’s a history of doing this at MTV, which is kind of nice. We still basically want to play around and find audiences outside of television. I think if you look there, you will see things that are perhaps on the weird side.”

MORE: 12 TV Shows That Came Back from the Dead

Weird, in fact, is a good word for this shoot of Two Guys Named Josh. Stars Riley and Gillespie both have ample improv experience, so they keep repeating scenes with different lines, each odder, if not funnier, than the last. Their show is wildly hilarious — they portray their frat-dude Joshes quite literally (props include red dixie cups and bikini posters), but there is a tenderness to the characters that could attract both the bros they’re spoofing and the feminists who love to roll their eyes at them. (A high point in Season One, says Riley, was when they were written up by the websites Bro Bible and Jezebel in the same day.) Still in costume in popped-collar Polos, khakis and ridiculous facial hair, Riley describes the duo as a sort of Pinky & the Brain. The duo mines their family and friends’ experiences for inspiration. “I was home for Christmas,” explains Riley, “and I would be like, ‘I’m naming characters! Someone yell out something they call a frat brother!’ And [my brothers] were like, ‘Pootsie! Bowels! Shoes! Chicken Parm! Young Tit! Bozo!’ just all these names. Chicken Parm. You know why? All he ate was chicken parm. Real guy.”

Riley and Gillespie are clearly real talents — even the intro credits, featuring Josh and Josh gesticulating wildly at a curvaceous woman while a ridiculous dubstep beat plays, are a riot — which may be why in their case, MTV Other pursued them, rather than the other way around, through Riley’s agent. The developers, producers and Bardsley are often on-set during filming. “Sometimes when people from a network are there, you kind of feel your butt tighten,” says Gillespie, “but not with these people. And that’s great, because when we’re improvising, you can’t be in a headspace where you’re like, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this.'”

The duo also says it has control over the editing room, with the network censoring only when offensive terms — or brand names — make it to the mix. “This is for the web, so the production value is incredible, that we get to play with [this type of equipment] — it’s like Candyland for the creative department,” Gillespie says. Referring to the scene on set, she adds, “When you’re doing TV, it’s twice as many people and everyone’s staring at you!”

If the great MTV Other experiment finds its groove, there’ll be a whole lot more eyeballs on them soon.

MORE: TV’s Most Heart-stopping Moments

 

TIME Late Night Highlight

Watch: Taylor Swift Nerds Out With Jimmy Fallon

Swift plays a 13-year-old with a Band-Aid collection

+ READ ARTICLE

Taylor Swift went on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday night and did not hold back, unleashing her inner nerd during one of Fallon’s signature sketches.

Fallon plays sassy pre-teen Sara (with no “h”), who hosts the segment “Ew.” Swift plays his guest, 13-year-old Natalie, who has a Band-Aid collection. This was far from Swift’s first time showing off her nerdy side, as evidenced by her music video for “You Belong With Me.”

The music superstar is set to perform at the Video Music Awards on Sunday, Aug. 24.

TIME celebrities

Owner of Iconic New York Comedy Club Remembers Robin Williams

The legendary comedian would show up at the famed New York club to support other performers

+ READ ARTICLE

When Caroline Hirsch, owner of New York City’s renowned stand-up club Carolines on Broadway, came to know Robin Williams, he was just building his name on TV with Mork & Mindy.

But soon enough, in the mid-1980s, Williams became one of the big stars to appear on the stage of the famous Times Square comedy club. In the decades since then, Hirsch said, he would return to support other performers.

“Who’s going to fill that, that of the comedy world?” she told TIME. “Because we really don’t have that kind of unique person. I haven’t seen it. And I don’t know who will come up the ranks to be that guy, who is always there for everybody.”

TIME Opinion

Why Robin Williams Was a Millennial Hero

MSDHOOK EC005
Robin Williams in Hook in 1991. TriStar Pictures

To the generation of kids who grew up on his movies, Williams was a revelation, a teacher and a lifeline

It might seem ridiculous for a generation to claim a universally loved celebrity as their own, but if there was ever a Millennial hero, it was Robin Williams.

The news that Williams had died, at the age of 63, hit the world like a shockwave yesterday. For many older Millennials, like me, who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, the loss strikes as a particularly hard blow. Williams’ career spanned five decades, but his best films, many of which were for kids, were released when we were kids. As a result, his work became entwined with our childhoods — and how we felt about comedy and art and divorce and growing up — in a way that’s evident now with the overwhelming outpouring of love for him.

I was born in 1984 and, sadly, missed out on the staggeringly popular Mork and Mindy. No matter: my earliest experience with Robin Williams was Aladdin at the age of eight and it was wonderful. I didn’t know enough about Williams at that age to recognize his particular style of comedy at the time; all I knew is that I adored the Genie. It was the first Disney movie I properly loved. My sister and I watched it over and over and quoted it constantly (a particularly annoying Millennial habit, I know). It was my first taste of Robin Williams, but it was only the beginning.

A year later, Mrs. Doubtfire was released, which saw Williams playing a divorced dad who poses as an elderly woman nanny so that he can spend more time with his children. It is insane, but Williams embraces the role so fully, with such sincerity and devotion, that it’s no wonder it’s routinely included amongst his best work. But what made the movie so important to me — and the kids of my generation — was that in spite of how over-the-top the scenario was, Williams didn’t oversell it. Just because it was a children’s movie didn’t mean he wasn’t going to put his best comedy chops into it. Having rewatched it for the first time in years just a few months ago, I can honestly say that it is just as funny now as it was back in 1993.

Beyond the laughs, for kids with divorced parents locked in an ongoing custody battle — kids like me, that is— Mrs. Doubtfire was a real comfort, without being after-school-special cheesey. Don’t get me wrong: there was heart in it. But it was a movie with a message that didn’t look or feel like a movie with a message. It feels almost corny to say this now but at the time I needed reassurance that no matter how ugly the divorce was, my parents had nothing but love for me. Williams, who never panders to his onscreen kids or the kids in the audience, seemed to get it, and that was a rare thing.

Throughout the ’90s, Williams took on roles in kids movies that have stuck in our minds and culture: Peter in Hook; Alan Parrish in Jumanji; Professor Philip Brainard in Flubber; Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man. Williams embraced roles in family movies unlike almost any other actor I can think of and in turn, we embraced his films. To this day my husband— also Millennial, though a British one— still raves about how much he loves Hook. (Not loved. Loves.)

Obviously not all of his films carried the emotional weight that Mrs. Doubtfire did for me, but there was always something that deeply resonated. The 1996 film Jack — wherein Williams plays a 10-year-old boy with a genetic disorder that makes his body age very quickly — was widely panned by critics. Yet it was one of the movies that struck a chord with my best friend, who sobbed so hard while watching the VHS tape that her mother had to turn it off. But it stayed with her. Last night, nearly 20 years after she first saw the movie, my best friend sent me a text in the middle of the night that simply said, “Thinking of the movie Jack.”

But it wasn’t just the kids movies that we Millennials adored. I first saw both 1997’s Good Will Hunting and 1989’s Dead Poets Society around the same time, just when I was about to start high school. I was just entering my angsty, teenage years and the last thing I was susceptible to was an idealist mentor-type, even if it was played by a beloved actor. But Williams’ Dr. Sean Maguire, a counselor who becomes a father-figure to the troubled title character in Good Will Hunting, punctured even my teenage gloom. He wasn’t jokey, he wasn’t zany, he wasn’t any of the things I had come to associate with Robin Williams, but his warmth was wholly recognizable and I was in awe.

And then there’s Dead Poets Society, one of the ultimate teenage movies and Millennials just lucked out that it was available by the time we were coming of age. Though I was only five when Poets hit theaters, the film enjoyed cult status among kids throughout the ’90s. The movie’s plot, which centers on a conservative boys school where a radical teacher works against the system to inspire his students, is hardly original and I knew that even back then. But the zeal and honesty that Williams’ poured into John Keating almost single-handedly elevated the movie from a cliché to an actual inspiration. Like any teenager, I was a bit disillusioned by school in general, but books and learning and truth were still things that could lure me and Williams’ Keating made a great case for them.

To this day, I still can’t resist Williams’ line, “But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Yet even with the years of cinematic evidence, I didn’t quite realize how much of an influence Williams had on my generation until today. When I woke up this morning, every single Facebook status in my News Feed and every single trending topic on Twitter— two clear indicators of Millennial mindsets — were related to Williams. Everyone seemed to have their own personal memory about watching his films growing up. He was the teacher we always wanted, the baby-sitter we would have loved, the best friend who knew exactly how to make us laugh.

It feels like I have always known that Robin Williams was an amazing actor, but I never understood just how amazing. Because looking back on it, I realize that his best roles didn’t define him — they helped define us.

TIME celebrity

Watch Robin Williams’ Funniest Moments From That Time He Was on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The Comedy Awards 2012 - Show
Comedian Robin Williams accepts an award onstage at The Comedy Awards 2012 at Hammerstein Ballroom on April 28, 2012 in New York City. Gilbert Carrasquillo—FilmMagic / Getty Images

He appeared on the improv comedy show back in 2000

Robin Williams, who died yesterday from an apparent suicide at 63, is known for so many incredible movie roles — from the hilarious and erratic to the occasionally more somber and serious. But we’d like to take a moment to appreciate one of the smaller, quieter moments in his impressive, loud career: an appearance on the improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? back in 2000.

The show’s wacky, anything-goes style proved to be the perfect platform to show off Williams’ signature manic comedy. He managed to light up the room without upstaging his fellow performers, helping create a memorable and delightfully entertaining episode. Check out some of his best moments below.

As a party guest who rounds up citizens for committing crimes against fashion:

As a paranoid superhero, an interpretive dancer and Carol Channing:

As a cheerleader, Cruella de Vil and more:

As an emphatic gospel singer:

 

TIME Culture

Why the Funniest People Are Sometimes the Saddest

Robin Williams
Reed Saxon—AP

Robin Williams seemed to struggle with demons, as do so many other comedians

I always feel a more intense sense of loss when a fellow alcoholic or addict commits suicide. Possibly because I have thought about it obsessively for years, and slit my wrists on multiple occasions until being forced into rehab and getting sober a year later at the age of 18.

No one will ever know exactly what Robin Williams was thinking and feeling when he made the decision to end his pain the way he did. But I do know he wasn’t seeing himself the way the rest of us saw him.

I first met Robin in 1998 when he came to the Comedy Cellar in New York City to do a guest spot. Comedians tend to be impossible to impress and love to stress how they’re impossible to impress when bigger, far more famous comedians perform sets.

But on this particular night, I noticed that none of the regular comedians were leaving when they were done. We were all finding excuses to hang around. None of us wanted to admit it, but Robin Williams was performing, and we were genuinely excited.

Now, any other group of performers would have proudly stood outside with streamers and a welcome banner, but comedians are jaded asses who would rather sit in the back of the room with their hearts pounding while folding their arms and feigning disinterest.

What struck me the most about Robin was how important it was to him that the other comedians liked him. He was always gracious to the performer he had bumped off the lineup. That first night, and during his many returns over the years, he would always come upstairs and sit with us at the “comedy table” (made famous on Louie).

He could have easily dominated the conversation; we all knew the difference between who he was and who we were. Robin was one of the few larger-than-life comedians who could have actually gotten a table full of other comics to shut up and listen. But he didn’t. He joked and laughed with us and went out of his way to not tower above us. He probably never knew how much we loved him for that.

By all accounts, Robin struggled with depression and addiction over the years. So many comics I know seem to struggle with the demons of self-hatred and self-destruction. While my physically self-destructive days ended when I got sober, the thought of suicide was always there, an option behind glass that I could break in case of an emergency. I glamorized the idea of constructing my own exit.

And yet on a day like Monday, that idea seemed terrible and unnecessary. Not triumphant or glamorous but sad and empty and incomplete.

The funniest people I know seem to be the ones surrounded by darkness. And that’s probably why they’re the funniest. The deeper the pit, the more humor you need to dig yourself out of it.

Over the years, comedy has gone from happy-go-lucky pie-in-the-face jesters to the stuff of the deeply personal and honest with the coming of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. The public began to see, through brilliant material and public battles with personal demons, that the people who made them laugh the hardest seemed to be enjoying life the least. Maybe all those jokes were hiding something much darker. The cracks in the exterior began to show.

On Jan. 28, 1977, Freddie Prinze ripped the facade down for good when he shot himself.

In the 25 years I’ve been doing stand-up, I’ve personally known at least eight comedians who committed suicide.

Years ago, I was told that one of the most important attributes humans don’t have is the ability to see themselves the way others do. This is normally what I think of when people behave like an ass and don’t realize it, or think they’re smarter than they actually are. It’s rare that I think of it in the terms I have been after hearing about Robin.

Robin and I had the same managers for the past decade, and one brought him and Billy Crystal in to watch as a surprise on the night I was doing a Jimmy Kimmel warm-up set at the Comedy Cellar. I was nervous and my set was mediocre, but Robin treated me as if I’d just blown away his Live at the Met special.

When my mother and father met him after an Atlantic City show, Robin made a point to spend a few minutes with them and say great things about me. My ego would love to believe it’s because I’m so terrific, but the reality is that Robin was smart enough to know how much it would mean to my parents to hear him saying such nice things about their son.

And it meant a lot.

There is simply no way Robin could have understood the way the rest of us saw him. And there is simply no way he could have understood how much respect and adoration other performers had for him.

At least I hope he couldn’t have understood.

Because it’s too sad to think that maybe he did understand, and it just wasn’t enough anymore.

Norton is a comedian and New York Times best-selling author and the host of The Jim Norton Show on Vice.com.

TIME Comedy

10 of Robin Williams’ Funniest Moments From Johnny Carson to His USO Tour

U.S. actor Robin Williams posing for photographers during a photo-call in Rome on Nov. 15, 2005.
U.S. actor Robin Williams posing for photographers during a photo-call in Rome on Nov. 15, 2005. Alessia Pierdomenico—Reuters

"Cause you're only given a little spark of madness, and if you lose that, you're nothing"

“Comedy is acting out optimism,” Robin Williams is supposed to have said. That quote may be true or apocryphal, but as a comedian who became an Oscar-winning actor, he would know.

While Williams became better known as an actor, stand-up was his entrée into life on stage. His sets were fierce and fearless and wildly spontaneous, veering away from established routines at the drop of a hat, or the sight of a pocket camera, into new, hilarious territory. His jokes ranged from the oddball (“Do you think God gets stoned? I think so … look at the platypus”) to the quotidian (“The first time I tried organic wheat bread, I thought I was chewing on roofing material”) to the political (“You could talk about same-sex marriage, but people who have been married say ‘It’s the same sex all the time'”) — and he tackled all of them with the same sense of ease.

Here is a small sampling of Williams’ manic-comedic genius and the many ways he had to make people laugh:

The Roast of Richard Pryor (1977)
Back when Williams was just starting out in the comedy circuit, the venerable Richard Pryor hired him for the short-lived The Richard Pryor Show. The show marked its final episode with a roast of Pryor and even though he was new on the scene, Williams stepped up to the challenge — he even managed to get Pryor to laugh.

Weapons of Self-Destruction (2009)
Politics, politicians and more politics were on the menu for this show, but Williams also touched on technology (“Is it rude to Twitter during sex?”) and his struggle with addiction (“I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open”).

At the Roxy (1978):
One of his earliest sets is marked by a brilliant familiarity with his audience (“Oh, no, everyone I’ve ever known! There are people here I’ve slept with twice!”) and a knack for disarming candor and openness (“Cause you’re only given a little spark of madness, and if you lose that, you’re nothing”).

On Johnny Carson (1981 and 1992)
Johnny Carson could barely stop laughing during Williams’ first visit to the venerable stage — and Williams wasn’t even doing a set, he was just a guest on the show.

In 1992, when Carson was about to retire, he invited Williams back for one final set. He did not disappoint:

An Evening With Robin Williams (1982)
While many of Williams’ tried-and-true routines were included in the set, it was his spontaneous riffs that won the day, despite possibly confusing the audience. (“Right now people are going: ‘What the hell is he doing now?!’ Hahaha … catch up!”)

An Evening at the Met (1986)
Williams candidly talked about cocaine in this set, including helpful pointers as to whether or not you have a cocaine problem (“If on your tax forms it says: “50,000 dollars for snacks! MAY DAY!”):

On the USO Tour (2007)
“I’ve never had an entire audience just go, forget you!” said Williams, who was a fixture on the USO circuit, after an unexpected turn of events during a USO tour in Kuwait.

Inside the Actors Studio (2001)
Williams spoke candidly about how the death of his friend John Belushi and the birth of his son led him to quit drugs. “Was it a wake-up call?” he said. “Oh yeah, on a huge level. The grand jury helped too.” Then he turned the staid studio into an improv stage, riffing on a borrowed scarf.

MORE: Robin Williams: His Five Most Memorable Roles

MORE: Robin Williams’ Life in Pictures

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,203 other followers