Robin Williams and the Two Turbans

Years ago, I flew through a whirlwind theatrical experience with Robin Williams that left an indelible impression on me. Today, with his tragic passing, I share this story to offer an intimate glimpse into a brilliant and compelling man.

The setting was the Mac World Exposition at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I’m guessing that the year was 1985. I was walking in the spacious foyer with my close friend and comedy partner, Japji, with whom I performed annual standup routines at a large American Sikh meditation retreat in the mountains of New Mexico. Looking across the Mac-crazed crowd, I saw world famous Robin Williams walking with a mutual friend, a Sikh computer icon-of-the-era named Sat Tara Singh (remember Typing Tutor III?). Sat Tara had told me of his close friendship with Robin, and his role in helping Robin choose the latest technology for personal and creative musings. Sat Tara must have whispered something to Robin about the turban-clad comedy duo across the way, because the next thing I saw was this. . .

Robin Williams was running at considerable speed straight at me and Japji! He slid on the carpet floor of the convention center, arriving at our feet, face up, eyes closed, with his tongue drooping out of the corner of his mouth. Scores of onlookers froze in delighted anticipation. The comic superstar had theatrically flung himself at the feet of two young men with beards and turbans. What could be better than this?

I remember the telepathic sensation. Robin Williams was feeding the script, channeling it into me and Japji, along with the clear directive to use our stage voices. It was game on. He was a homeless person, lying inebriated in a gutter on Market Street in San Francisco. We were Sikh saints, marching in a large religious procession. Robin opened his eyes, awakening to the heavenly moment, as we reveled in hysterical banter, each characterizing our polarized disposition: the conspicuously spiritual Sikhs, and the fawning, awakening drunk. Every quip was perfect. Every phrase hit home. Robin projected his psychic energy to us through his sweating forehead, and we could say nothing wrong.

After a few minutes, the circular throng had eclipsed 100 people in a broad diameter affording fine views; theater in the round. The routine evolved (devolved?) to the point where Robin had converted his bent arm into an applause meter to track the sexual arousal rating of the one-liners flinging between us. Three men firing off jokes, starting with the cosmos, the meditation hall, and eventually arriving at the second chakra, the bedroom. The crowd loved it. Imagine that!

Robin’s exit was exquisite. At the moment where there was a hint, a nanosecond of comedic indecision, Robin found a small gap in the human ring. Before anyone could so much as offer praise or ask for an autograph, he was striding on top of the shiny black moving plastic handrail of the long escalator leading from that basement lobby up to the glass street-level revolving doors of the convention center. He was gone, with our mutual friend, Sat Tara, tagging along behind.

I stood there in a state of suspended belief. It took over an hour to come down from the experience, hanging out around the corner at a restaurant called Cadillac’s with a bunch of friends who had all witnessed the event and shared in the awe of the genius of Robin Williams. Today, as I reflect on the content of our spontaneous banter, I can’t help but regard my encounter with Robin Williams as very poignant and powerful.