Written by: Cesar Perez, CC2K Staff Writer
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind begins with James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio asking Williams a series of questions audiences pondered for decades. Lipton asks, “How do you explain the mental reflexes that you deploy with such awesome speed? Are you thinking faster than the rest of us? What the hell is going on?” The legendary actor/comedian responds in classic Williams fashion. As if he already has material prepared for this question, he proceeds to monologue at a rapid speed on the functionality of his brain, responding to stimulus and the revelation he had after hearing the laughter of his mother for the first time. Eventually Williams’ monologue comes to a halt, and he tells the audience, “Eventually you have to catch up.” In Come Inside My Mind director Marina Zenovich details Williams’ childhood upbringing, the rise of his career, and the eventual tragic end to his life. Zenovich does not attempt to explain why Williams’ took his own life, rather she provides a look inside the mind of a complex and eccentric man who was truly larger than life.
It’s pretty clear that Robin Williams was of a different breed, driven by something supremely unique inside of him. Williams recalls a time when Jonathan Winters made an appearance on The Tonight Show, and as a young boy Williams marveled at Winters’ ability to make his father laugh, which was no easy task. This great triumph on the part of Winters’ sparked Williams’ desire and lifelong chase for laughter. Needless to say, it was a pivotal moment in his life. The laugh from the audience was a natural high and a rush of endorphins for Williams. “There’s a real incredible rush I think, when you find something new and spontaneous,” Williams said about the sensation he earned on stage from performing. The rush he felt from the audience’s laughter was unlike any other feeling for the comedian. Longtime friend Billy Crystal said “That laugh is a drug. That acceptance, that thrill is really hard to replace with anything else.” Williams spent the rest of his life chasing that thrill.
For many comedians the art of performing and the stage is a place where they find solace. For Williams, it was no different. Lewis Black talks about Williams’ extreme work ethic and recounts a time when Williams’ did multiple shows for troops in the Middle East and then immediately flew to Vancouver to shoot a film. All the while he never lost the intensity and energy that defined his act. In his comedy Williams tackled sobriety, lust, and many other topics he struggled with. Onstage, he appeared better equipped to handle his inner demons, but offstage was a different story. In 1988 Williams collaborated with fellow stand-up comedian Steve Martin for the Broadway play Waiting For Gadot. Martin discussed the vulnerability of the character Williams played onstage and how that was a reflection of him offstage. Martin says, “Onstage he was the master and in charge and funny and quick. And in life, you know he wasn’t onstage anymore.” Martin emphasizes Williams’ vulnerability and says, “I think he was really comfortable onstage.” Martin’s somber tone when talking about his friend sheds some light into just how lost Williams must have felt when he wasn’t in his comfort zone.
For a man who was able to touch so many throughout his career, the documentary’s most surprising revelation is Williams’ apparent lack of a genuine connection with another person. Early collaborator Bennett Tramer tells the story of how Williams’ would introduce Tramer as his “best friend” despite only knowing Tramer for a short period of time. The film dives into some of the friendships Williams developed over the years, including his relationship with Steve Martin, David Letterman and Billy Crystal, whom Williams’ appeared to have the strongest bond with. Crystal describes his early encounters with Williams, the multiple charity events they hosted together and the playful voicemails they would leave for each other. Crystal stated Williams’ “Needed that little extra hug you can only get from strangers.”
Come Inside My Mind paints a portrait of a man who never wanted to lose his creative spark. Onstage he was fearless as he lifted the spirits of millions. Maybe Williams had more in common with the extraterrestrial he played on TV; maybe he was in fact Mork from Ork, a comedy legend sent to us from outer space. All the while we can’t help but to be amazed at his brilliance as we fell in love with his beautiful idiosyncrasies.