‘He Was A Genius’
Manager, Comedian Remember Robin Williams
CHAUTAUQUA — Robin Williams was known as an actor and a comedian. But Williams’ longtime manager David Steinberg and fellow comedian Lewis Black knew they were watching a genius at work.
During Thursday’s morning lecture at Chautauqua Institution, Williams was also described by his friends as an enjoyment pig, a life junkie, a magician, a naughty boy, a lonely child, a natural and a brilliant mind.
Responding to the notion that Williams’s intellect reached the level of genius, Black said bluntly “Well, he was a genius.”
Black and Steinberg, assisted by interviewer Ron Bennington, recalled their own memories of Williams during the discussion at Chautauqua titled, “Managing Genius: 43 Years with Robin Williams.” The lecture was in partnership with the National Comedy Center during the “What’s Funny?” week at Chautauqua.
Williams died Aug. 11, 2014, at the age of 63.
Steinberg, Black and Bennington discussed how Williams’ impact wasn’t exclusive to one field. Some may know him from stand up comedy while others may know him from movies that even include voicing The Genie in the movie “Aladdin.”
Steinberg recalled stories of his friend who he described as “nuts” numerous times, but also an individual was the “most giving.” He served as executive producer for the 2018 HBO documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind”
Once in New Zealand following a devastating earthquake, Williams was supposed to perform. Questions were raised on whether the show should proceed in light of the damage caused by the natural disaster.
Steinberg remembered Williams suggesting the people could use a laugh.
Williams continued to perform for free, electing to donate his earnings back to the impacted population. In total, Williams gave back $400,000.
“He couldn’t give enough,” Steinberg said of his friend who didn’t care about money.
For Steinberg, who spent 43 years waking up and speaking with Williams on a daily basis, even knowing the man was a “gift.”
Black, who toured and worked with Williams, remembered being on a plane en route to the Middle East for one of the many USO Tours when Williams was just finishing a book on the history of Iraq. Speaking to Black, musician Kid Rock and cyclist Lance Armstrong, Williams began quoting the book, leaving the other three dumbfounded. Black said Williams’ ability to recite the book so accurately and quickly was a representation of his genius.
To begin the morning lecture, Black told the audience the one characteristic that stood out the most about his friend was “his brain.”
In addition to comedy, Williams was also an award-winning actor. He starred in movies such as “Good Will Hunting,” “Jumanji,” “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Dead Poets Society.”
“He was an insanely talented actor,” Black told the Chautauqua audience. “He was basically channeling this remarkable ability to act through the mouth of a comedian.”
Williams’ intelligence, his photographic memory, use of characters, his acting abilities and his comedy were all a combination of “true magic.”
Williams received various awards throughout his career including one Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Grammy Awards.
Steinberg told the crowd that even with all of Williams’ talents, the one aspect that made him Robin Williams was his negligence of fear. When asked to do a role for a movie, Steinberg recalled Williams always wanting to do more.
“He was totally fearless,” Williams’ longtime manager said. “Robin spent his total personal life and public life on a tight rope. Nothing in the world scared him.”
Through his imagination, curated while he grew up as a “lonely child,” Steinberg said he would be able to play with ideas others wouldn’t.
The urge to do more was a primary reason Steinberg said Williams was notorious for having long comedy shows searching to conclude on a “big laugh.”
After walking off stage, Williams would often apologize to his team for the long performance and simply say, “I was having so much fun.”