Monday Night with Robin Williams

A strange thing has happened at the UCB theater these last couple weeks. See, every Monday night, after the Harold Teams perform their half-hour long-forms, UCB hosts an improv jam. The Jam has a unique audience; they are like jam groupies, who arrive at UCB around 10:45pm and only perform in the jam. It’s a subculture’s subculture. A couple weeks ago, Robin Williams became a jam groupie. Robin rolled into the next-door bar, Birds, and had a couple drinks before joining in on the open improv set at UCB. And he keeps coming back.

This week, I performed with him and a group of about eight other improvisors in a 20 minute set in front of a sold-out house. Rachel also got swept up on stage, and did a few scenes with the Bicentennial Man. It wasn’t intimidating, but certainly surreal. As I was riding around with Jim Woods yesterday, intermittently discussing our new show and lamenting our financial woes, I offered that he and I have had some pretty charmed lives. More than lucky, I think the duality of our lives is unique. Here I am, eating toast for breakfast and panicking about how I’m going to pay rent, and two nights ago I was doing scenes with a millionare. I helped write an article for the LA Times — daily circulation 800,000 — and I can’t get a manager to write me an email. I’m going to be performing on four different Los Angeles stages weekly by the end of August, and I can’t even land a commercial agent. A commercial agent. I don’t even have the opportunity to sell out. After the shows on Monday night, a girl from Northwestern grabbed me and said hi. She remembered me from the Mee-Ow Show, specifically mentioning some scene I’d done as a teletubby some seven years ago. She works for a voice-over school, and suggested that I take some classes and get a demo together. I simply don’t have the money to take the offer. That sort of open door that I can’t enter is really starting to stress me out.

I’ve asked a couple friends this week, “If you walked out the door and it was 1951, would you be more stressed out or relieved?” My answer comes easy: I’d be relieved. I would know what my role was, and could carry it out. I’d be a government paid soothsayer, using my foreknowledge of the next 55 years to help America avoid major catastrophes. Even if I was sequestered to a military base in Colorado, at least I’d know what it was I was supposed to be doing.

That’s the addicitive principle in fiction, I think. Especially the hero’s journey. Sure, Frodo doesn’t enjoy carrying the ring, but he’s not confused as to what his mission is. He can complain about the burden all day long, but when he goes to sleep at night, he knows what he’s doing tomorrow.

I think that specific stress — not knowing what the hell you’re doing — is a very modern (like, as in the last 4,000 years) anxiety. Prior to civilization, you went to bed hungry and knew what you were up against the next day; you had to get some more food. Now, we wake up knowing what we are scheduled to do, but not what we have to do. In fact, the cushions of agriculture and law may mean that we don’t have to do anything.

Am I so spoiled that I lament luxury? Sure, I guess so. But I’d like to think that I’d be Locke when it came time to be Lost. I want a role, and I’m hungry for the stuggle to fill it.

PS. Why doesn’t WordPress have a spell-check?