There can be no doubt that I love my job. Interviewing celebrities and interesting people is pure joy for me, and there is an abundance of fascinating folks all around us. It seems everyone has great stories to tell, and I love to put the spotlight on them.
I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to chat with an assortment of creative and famous individuals during the Television Critics Association’s press tours. Some interviews produce funny moments, others can be emotional and unexpectedly prophetic. All of that happened last summer when I asked Robin Williams some questions during the interview panel for the new CBS comedy The Crazy Ones.
Robin was rather sedate during the Q&A until I brought up the show’s poignant moments and mentioned there’s nothing more heart-wrenching than a sad clown, like Pagliacci — and I asked him “What makes you happy?”
That’s all the Oscar-winning actor and comic genius needed to break into a sidesplitting riff. He faked crying about the “sad clown you wake up next to and go ‘Oh, my god, what are those big feet doing in the bed?’” Then he explained about balancing the comedy in the show. “You’re funny and then there’s that moment of tenderness. But you have to be very careful that it doesn’t go into too much sentimentality. There’s the sad clown, or the melancholy mime which sits next to the sad clown in a box with a window looking out.”
You had to be there, but if you can imagine the ultimate funnyman getting crazy and making a roomful of mostly grumpy, jaded journalists roar with belly-laughs, that was Robin Williams the great entertainer. But I wanted him to get serious and give me a real answer to my question about what makes him happy. I wanted to know and asked, “Are you in a happy place now? Are you thrilled to be doing this comedy and you don’t have to go on the road? Talk about that.”
“I will. Yes, I will, because I’m a sad clown” Robin said, jumping to his feet, and getting tangled in his microphone wires. That produced more comedy riffing. But I pressed for an answer and repeated, “What’s making you happy these days?”
Robin settled down and said, “What makes me happy? My family, work, and I think, being around and creating. Like, when I’m not doing this show, I get to do something called ‘Set List’ once in a while. It’s like an improv show where you get seven suggestions and you put together an improvised set like a stand-up comedy set. That’s a joy. That’s the happy clown. But the idea of being around, and riding a bike is one of my happiest moments.”
I asked Robin about his kids, and this was our exchange: Margie — “Robin, you’ve got kids?” Robin — “Yes, ma’am, some that I know of.” Margie — “Okay. Do they think you are funny? Do they work with you in any way?” Robin — “My kids. I have three, and I’ve worked with my daughter, who is wonderful. One son is married and he’s in the virtual business right now. He’s working in a startup company in San Francisco. Yeah, they were always the toughest audience of all. They would go, ‘Don’t do that, dad.’ You know, I realize I’ve got years of therapy to deal with this.” He noted that his TV daughter Sarah Michelle Gellar, in terms of her character “is a bit more like a combination of my son and my daughter, understanding but at the same time tough.”
Robin also mentioned to me, “I thought of a line my daughter once said about me being funny. When asked, ‘Do you laugh?’ She said, ‘All the time. Even our pets laugh.’”
Robin and I talked again later at the CBS party and got a picture together. We mostly talked about my sister’s store in New Jersey, AJ’s Bike Shop, where I learned how to fix a flat tire. Robin was impressed and told me he always has his bike tire repair kit when he rides up and down the hills of the San Francisco Bay area on his ten-speed. “It’s just the best. It feels like you’re flying.” There was joy in his eyes, and I saw it. That’s why I love my job.