Funny Business

Aviano USO Tour

He was like a playful boy on stage. His demeanor implied that he was getting away with something and we were in his ‘little escapade’ together. And, oh, what a ride he gave us!  I was lucky enough to see Robin Williams in the late 70’s at the Greek Theater in LA. He was opening for some musical act whose name I’ve long forgotten but I remembered Robin. Remembered how he walked out onto that big, empty stage, sat down on a huge speaker and just began talking. He was funny, frenetic and ADD in every sense of the word. He made me laugh and think and laugh again.   He also made it look easy; so easy, that a few weeks later, I decided to try out my own funniness at Open Mic night at The Comedy Store. How hard could it be? People had always told me that I was funny.

Well they were WRONG. Do you know what kind of courage it takes to stand alone on a stage and try to make a room full of strangers laugh? To hear your name called and walk out under a hot spotlight to dead silence? To hold nothing in your hands but sweat and to suddenly realize that you can’t remember what you were going to say because your heart is so LOUD in your chest that you are conscious of nothing else? It was terrifying and humbling and I bombed. Badly.

That night, as the laughs did NOT come, I made one last, desperate plea to my stony, silent crowd: “Well, who would you like me to imitate?” I asked. One man in the back yelled, “The Invisible Woman!” “I can do that,” I replied. I quickly whispered to the lighting technician to, “Turn the lights down.” Then I crouched down on my hands and knees and crawled off the stage. As I fled behind the curtain, I received my first and only smattering of applause.

I get it. I get him. I get all those people who can face millions of strangers but not themselves; the ones who are so thin-skinned they touch us but not thick-skinned enough to protect themselves.  When the rains of Time begin to fall, and the drops slowly start to blur and erase the YOU that you used to know; the one that so defined you. I understand what it feels like to no longer have the strength to open the umbrella. We stood under Robin’s once . . .now he is standing under God’s.



3 weeks ago, I posted, “You Just Never Know,” about two, old friends at our local Starbucks.  At the time, Joe was worried that his pal Bob, “had Alzheimer’s.”  I hadn’t been back since then, so dropped by this morning to say, “Hi.”  Bob was sitting alone outside on the bench.  Joe was nowhere in sight. 

“Hey!  Where’s your sidekick?” I teased. “He won’t be coming,” Bob said sadly.  “He has dementia, that Alzheimer’s thing.  His wife won’t let him come.  She said that they have to run tests to see if he can drive, for insurance reasons.”  When Joe’s family noticed that his memory was slipping, they took him to the doctor.  “They put him on some kind of medication  to slow down the memory loss,”  Bob tells me. Then he exhales heavily and stares out at the parking lot.  I have never seen such a big man look so small and bereft.

 “Can’t his wife bring him?” I ask, “The last thing someone with memory loss needs is taking them away from familiar people and places.  And you guys go all the way back to the 4th grade!”  Bob just shook his head.  “Joe called to tell me all this himself,” he said sadly, “and I could hear in his voice that he was just all choked up about it.”  We both were silent again.  “Well, guess I’ll just have to get a replacement,” he said trying to be light-hearted, yet without a trace of enthusiasm in his voice.  “Maybe you can be my replacement?”  But we both knew it wasn’t a real question.  How do you replace a 65-year friendship?

I hope that his wife will bring him.  There’s an empty seat at Bob’s table now and no matter who sits there, they’ll never fill it like Joe did.  Bob didn’t chat up a single customer today and the whole place was sadder for it; even me.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.