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Robin Williams died yesterday and this will not be a remembrance or tribute. It will be a short and sharp question to you about what you’re making and what it means to you.

I was a big fan. His insanity and exuberance anchored me a bit as a kid. If there was a place for this guy in the world, maybe there’d be one for me as well.

So, last night I find myself going through old videos on YouTube. I stumbled across one that was so confusing and painful and brilliant and terrifying.

I want to walk you through a 10,000 ft view of this live performance and ask you a question the show asked me loud and clear.

I’ll show some screenshots and include the playback bar so you can see where in the video each bit is. Find the video in its entirety below.

Robin at the Roxy

It’s 1978. He’s at the Roxy in LA. Robin has suspenders on. He is hairy.

He walks out onto the stage to great applause, lets the applause die a bit, walks into the audience.

Robin doing crowd work

He did this every filmed special he could. You can see how much he loved the immediacy of the moment, riffing with the crowd, giving people something clearly fresh, unprepared.

Robin on the balcony

He climbs the balconies. His energy is contagious.

The camera shows celebrities in the audience. Tony Danza, Henry Winkler, John Ritter among them. He keep seeing them and exclaiming, “oh god, you’re here!?”

Robin does the blind blues guy

He’s back on stage going through several bits, all the while rolling with each interruption the audience gives him.

The crowd loves him. For me watching 30+ years later I’m missing a good deal of the jokes. It’s electric regardless.

He does so many bits and so much crowd work you can’t tell which is which. Finally, he goes into two really great bits.

Robin shakespeare

1. Shakespeare’s unknown folio about hollywood.

Robin does the subconscious

2. Inside the mind of the comedian eating the big one.

Big laughs at the end of these, the biggest of the whole show. It very much feels like the ending of the show, it was the right time and the right closer.

But he goes into another bit, something completely different: a slow old man at a park feeding the pigeons. It’s him in a future, post-apocalyptic world.

Robin does the future

It’s slow and it takes the audience some time to get the new setting and pace. The jokes are few and far between. The bit teeters, heading into drama… you can sense it. And finally, at the climax of the show, it’s heart-felt, meaningful and sad. He says:

You’re only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that, you’re nothing. Don’t. From me to you. Don’t ever lose that because it keeps you alive. If you lose that, {fart sound}. That’s my only love: crazy. Because there’s no way any government in the world can handle madness.

It is a great ending. The people stand and applaud, moved and surprised by the feelings Robin evokes.

He shuffles off stage in the character of the old man. The people keep applauding. You know the drill. Encore time.

Robin at encore 1

He doesn’t even wait one minute. He’s back on that stage.

A few more bits. Some more crowd work. He leaves again.

And he comes back again. “Right now my manager is saying, ‘get off you idiot!’” He doesn’t get off the stage. Keeps coming back for more.

He has an idea to do some live improv with John Ritter. They do it. Some great moments come out of it.

Robin Ritter improv

And finally, finally, the end of the show, he reluctantly walks off stage, clearly wishing he could stay.

I’ve watched this a few times now, and each go around it gets better. I catch callbacks I missed, I see the thread of the show, how he starts out with “this must be what comedy heaven is like,” and midway through it’s, “I have arrived at comedy hell.”

I’m more and more enamored by the dramatic act he ends the pre-encore section with. Such a ballsy move and performed so well.

But from the first viewing to the last the thing that stands out the most is his craving… for the moment, for that evening with so many friends, everyone laughing hysterically, him right in the center of it… he can’t get off the stage.

Listen, I don’t know if that improv with John Ritter was planned or if he knew he would do all returns to the stage before hand. It seems to me like they were raw and unplanned moments, but I’m easy to fool. It doesn’t matter, the question this poses to me stands regardless.

The question this performance poses to me is this:

What do you crave?

Do you crave the spotlight?

Do you crave notoriety and recognition?

Do you crave going into yourself, discovering the truth and returning with a thing to share — a writing, a performance, a tweet?

Do you crave connection with others?

Do you crave a place in the tribe?

Do you crave numbness, to turn off your head?

Do you crave being a part of the cool kids table?

Do you crave making your friends feel OK?

What do you crave? Do you know? Can you do the work to discover it?

And then ask yourself this:

Is that a Good and True craving? Will that craving be an engine of fulfillment or will it only lead to more craving?

I think our buddhist friends would say something to the tune of, “all cravings will eat you up from the inside out.” Maybe they’re right.

But I have cravings.

There’s a personality test called the Enneagram, which I like a great deal. The Enneagram says that my personality type — a 7 with a 6 wing — is the same type as Robin Williams. We’re called “The Entertainer.”

This performance is like a mirror held up to my own cravings. Again, regardless of whether or not Robin craved this stuff, I’m going on what it looked like to me because I find the question valuable regardless.

I see him sweating and manic and quick and sharp and brilliant and dynamic and feeding, feeding, feeding on the relationship with the audience… and I see a fable about myself, a hole in the center, a vacuum, always on, sucking, searching, hungry… for this moment, laughter, friends, me in the center of it… not wanting the moment to end.

The things I create come from there. That hole, that insecurity is an engine of creation.

With every act of creation we can grow the hole or shrink it, make ourselves more hungry or a little more full.

What does fullness look like? I don’t know. I keep circling words like “centered” and “anchored” and “stillness.”

To me that question — what do you crave? — just became critical because before we can address the hole and the activity of creation towards fullness we must give the hole a name… and also because today, more than other days, I see so clearly what’s at stake.

“With each act of creation we can grow or shrink “the hole,” make ourselves more hungry or more full.”

And here’s that wonderful performance. The VHS tracking lines and bits of other shows the performance is taped over is perfect.

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