On the CBS Sunday Morning telecast I watched Robin Williams say how happy he was. And he looked happy. He is making his Broadway debut in a new play, "The Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo." Furthermore he has been blessed with a new bill of health after having had an aortic valve in his heart replaced.
"It's a cow's valve," he said, with a smile, therefore, he doesn't like to eat meat so as not to offend his valve.
At 59, Robin looked serene and not at all reminiscent of the Robin Williams who was a student in my class in comedy improvisation with Harvey Lembeck in the late '70s. The Harvey Lembeck Comedy Workshop was an esteemed class that had been led by Lembeck, who was best known for playing Capt. Rocco Barbella in "The Phil Silvers Show" (AKA Sgt. Bilko).
About studying with Harvey, Robin has said, "I looked around the class and said, "I'm home." They can't hurt me now, forget therapy. This is a home. Some place real special. I feel safe. It gave me freedom."
Each Saturday morning Robin would jog into our class and do a routine or two, then watch the class for a while then jog out. Mind you the class also had John Ritter and Marilu Henner during her Taxi heyday as well as Penny and Gary Marshall.
Studying with Harvey was fun, but stressful. Harvey would team up partners, then add situations and ask us to begin conversations. My partner was Barry Blaustein who went on to write for SNL, then wrote "Coming to America" and "The Nutty Professor."
Robin's partner frequently was John Ritter who said about studying with Harvey, "This workshop for me was a support group. A place where I had the freedom to fall on my face."
What a joy to watch these two colossal talents exercise their improvisational skills. Robin, naturally, would run circles around us with his nimble mind and quick wit. During his improvisation, the class would study his performance and maybe learn from the generosity of his showing us how he did it.
In 1976, Robin had just graduated from Julliard and was the successful Mork in "Mork and Mindy." But no matter how successful a good comedian is, one has to exercise the part of the brain that is stimulated in improvisation. Comedy is like playing tennis. It requires practice and working out. Like scales on a piano. A comedian needs to practice rhythm.
This was why Robin came to Harvey's class every Saturday morning in the late '70s. We all loved watching Robin and laughing with him.
Eventually, Robin and I dated briefly and I was surprised at his insecurity.
In 2006, following a stint in a rehab announced by his publicist, Robin has become completely sober, after fighting the grips of alcoholism and drug addiction, and has discovered the gift of serenity and a belief in himself. Watching him on television this morning was as though he was a new person. Success never gave him the glow that sobriety has given him. He has a new life and a new fiancée who seems to delight him.
Returning to Broadway is what he was trained at Julliard to do and is giving him great pleasure. He plays the ghost of a Bengal tiger in an existential drama about the fallout of the war in Iraq. A humanitarian, Robin has performed for the USO for troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and has donated the proceeds of his Weapons of Self Destruction Christchurch performance to help rebuild the New Zealand city.
We now have the opportunity of seeing this winner of an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for "Good Will Hunting," two Emmys, four Golden Globes, two Screen Actor Guild Awards and five Grammy Awards on Broadway.