Skip to main content

Robin Williams and the next generation of comics

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 2:14 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Robin Williams' stage and screen antics had a profound effect on the comics who followed him.
Robin Williams' stage and screen antics had a profound effect on the comics who followed him.
  • Young comics share their admiration of Robin Williams
  • The late-night TV hosts all pay tribute to late comedian
  • Chris Rock said he never heard Williams say a harsh word about other comics

(CNN) -- In addition to his unforgettable work as a comedian and actor, Robin Williams leaves behind close friends and family who loved him -- and also a tribe of fellow artists who hope to follow in his footsteps.

As Hollywood and fans mourned the loss of Williams, who committed suicide at his California home Monday, a younger generation of comedic actors expressed their admiration for the legendary performer.

And, like the rest of us, they tried to make sense of it.

In a poignant essay published in The Guardian, actor and comedian Russell Brand gave this assessment of Williams: "Hidden behind his beard and kindness and compliments was a kind of awkwardness, like he was in the wrong context or element, a fallen bird on a hard floor."

Yet there was so much talent.

"Robin Williams was exciting to me because he seemed to be sat upon a geyser of comedy," Brand wrote. "Like he didn't manufacture it laboriously within but had only to open a valve and it would come bursting through in effervescent jets. He was plugged into the mains of comedy."

In some ways, Brand is the ideal person to write about Williams. The pair shared the willingness to shock and be unconventional in their stand-up work. But the British comic is not the only one benefiting from the trails Williams blazed.

On Tuesday, all the late-night hosts -- Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and Conan O'Brien -- took time to honor Williams and share their memories. All expressed their joy in watching him perform and their sadness that he succumbed to his demons.

"I think it's particularly courageous for someone to be that generous of spirit in the face of that kind of depression," O'Brien said.

Chris Rock, who is known for his edgy, political humor, told ABC that Williams was "one of the funniest guys I ever saw in my life."

"I remember the first time I saw 'Mork & Mindy,' " Rock said. "And I know this sounds weird, it was like watching, it was the first time I saw an actual human being be as funny as Bugs Bunny. You know what I mean? Like he wasn't human in a sense. When they (cast) him as an alien it was perfect because he was so from another world."

Hollywood can be competitive, but Rock said Williams was warm and always supportive of his colleagues.

"I never heard that guy trash, you know, comedians sit around and trash each other all day," Rock said. "I never heard Robin Williams say anything remotely bad about any comedian. He has such a respect for the art form in general at all levels."

Like Williams, "Let's Make a Deal" host and comic Wayne Brady enjoys a career built on being the funny, approachable guy. Brady paid homage to the star who -- despite being an Academy Award winner -- took the time to do a duet with him on the improv show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

"Getting to work with him was a life high," Brady tweeted." "U don't get to meet the ppl you look up to very often, and I'm glad to say he never disappointed."

Mindy Kaling, "The Mindy Project" star who has made a career of exploring American culture, shared a special connection with Williams and his place in pop culture.

"I am named after a character from a Robin Williams TV show when my parents still lived in Africa," she tweeted. "He meant so much, to so many, so far away."

"Girls" star and creator Lena Dunham tweeted that she had "(just) shared a moment of silence on the set for Robin Williams, a man who brought so much laughter, joy and healing to so many."

"Moved reading so many reminiscences of Robin Williams, the multitude of things he represented to diverse people of different generations," Dunham also tweeted. "In an age of reality TV and TMZ it's a reminder of what entertainment can do: make us laugh, cry, feel known."

Williams' influence spread around the globe. Artists paid tribute to him at the Edinburgh festival, a major arts and cultural gathering held every summer in Scotland.

American comic and satirist Will Franken told The Guardian that Williams mentored him. Franken said that upon finding out that his son had struck up a friendship with the legendary actor, Franken's father, a Vietnam War veteran, "made sure I conveyed to Robin how much his performance in 'Good Morning Vietnam' meant to him."

"In the short time I knew him, we used to share our experiences of those comedic demons of jealousy and envy," Franken said. "Over coffee one afternoon, he told me that we were lucky we got to do what we did for a living, because a lot of people just had to sit with their own craziness. But we got to show off our insanity on the stage and get it out there."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Robin Williams, who first made America laugh and eventually touched "every element of the human spirit" in a remarkable range of performances, died at age 63.
See our complete coverage as we remember comedian and actor Robin Williams.
Watch and remember the career of Robin Williams by revisiting some of his best moments from stage, film, and television.
updated 10:02 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Click through our gallery of Robin Williams and his memorable roles.
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Robin Williams was sober, but was struggling with depression, anxiety and the early stages of Parkinson's disease when he died, his widow said.
updated 12:34 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease when he died. What is Parkinson's disease?
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Robin Williams gave a lot of advice and his words carry as much power now as they ever did.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Of all the things to say about Robin Williams, the truest may be this: He made people smile.
updated 4:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Robin Williams delighted fans with his off-the-wall, high-energy comedy that took unexpected turn after unexpected turn.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
A collection of some of the beloved comedians' more colorful stand-up moments throughout the years.
updated 6:00 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Before Robin Williams, there was Jonathan Winters.
updated 12:03 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Robin Williams touched more people emotionally than he will ever know.
updated 4:32 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Robin Williams was not only known for bringing laughter to so many throughout his career but for bringing compassion to his philanthropic causes as well.
updated 11:14 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Who was Robin Williams?
updated 4:22 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
There didn't seem to be too much that Robin Williams couldn't do.
updated 12:13 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
There was never a dull moment when Robin Williams sat in the guest's chair. Here are some of the best.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Robin Williams, who died Monday at age 63, was Peter Pan to some, Mrs. Doubtfire to others, and a beloved actor to many.
updated 4:20 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Here's a look back at some of the more than 100 movie characters that actor Robin Williams brought to life.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
If there was any actor who could make the entire family laugh, it was Robin Williams.
updated 2:13 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
As a medical student who used humor to help his patients, Robin Williams' role in "Patch Adams" was touching and memorable.
updated 3:36 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
By tradition, Drama is represented by two masks: the happy face of the comic muse Thalia and her sad counterpart, the tragic muse Melpomene.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Robin Williams and other comedians who were gone too soon.
updated 1:06 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Comedic actor Robin Williams died at his Northern California home. Here's a look at some moments from his acting.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Over the years, Robin Williams entertained nearly 90 thousand troops in 13 different countries with the USO.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
The more people share their experiences with depression, the more others suffering from the condition realize they're not alone, says Kat Kinsman.
updated 1:56 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
He could do 'em all! Check out some of Robin Williams' best impressions.
updated 8:11 PM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
Video: A statement from Robin Williams' wife confirms: "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend."