I debated using Robin’s last name in the title, but decided it’s going to be a long time before anyone from Marin says “Robin who?” Although fans across the world may have felt a connection to Robin Williams, like us, his heart belonged here in Marin.
I stumbled into the local comedy scene when I covered the 1978 San Francisco International Standup Comedy Competition for the College of Marin Times. It was a semi-final round at the old Gatsby’s in Sausalito that Robin had stopped by to do a guest set while the judges tallied the scores. I had never seen anything like the hairy young fireball who was bouncing around that tiny stage, riffing off of everything and anything. I’d never heard of improv before, but was certain whatever it was Robin was doing on stage wasn’t scripted.
Partially inspired by him, I soon plunged into improvisational comedy myself, throwing in with various improv troupes over the years. Invariably, our paths would cross and — thrill of thrills — I found myself performing with him onstage from time to time.
Robin graduated from Redwood High School just a few years before I began in the 1970s and he preceded me at College of Marin. I also got to hear a little about his childhood first-hand when I met his mother, Laurie, at Robin’s 45th birthday party which I had lucked into as the guest of our mutual friend Rick Overton. I remember her saying that he was always a “quiet boy” and that, at the time, she had no idea what was ever percolating inside his head.
Over the years, though he’d moved to San Francisco, and had homes in Los Angeles, Napa, and New York at various times, Robin kept popping up in Marin. Often it was to go on long bike rides, after which he would drop into various shops and restaurants, which one would only hear about later in awed tones by the staff, “Robin was just here!”
After his second divorce and the death of his mother, Robin decided to make Marin his home base once again. And ten years ago, when Mark Pitta and Friends kicked off a weekly night of comedy at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, Robin was drawn to the show like a moth to a flame. He could drop in as he liked, go on when he wanted, but, more importantly, he’d found a safe place where the comics were old friends and he could feel at home.
The last place I ever saw Robin, was also the last time I got to perform on stage with him at the Throckmorton Theatre. It’s funny, but I realize as I write this, that the first and last times I saw Robin Williams was doing comedy here on a stage in Marin.