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Robin Williams: ‘A Tortured Soul, But No One Was Kinder’

| August 11, 2014
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post misidentified Bob Ayres. We regret the error.

Friends and fellow performers of Robin Williams, the comedian and actor celebrated for his manic intelligence and high-speed inventiveness, are expressing shock at his passing earlier Monday.

Just one example:

Many in the San Francisco entertainment scene are remembering Williams, too. One of those: Bob Ayres, founder of the long-defunct Other Café in the Haight-Ashbury, one of Williams’ favorite venues. I talked to Ayres shortly after word of Williams’ death became public (audio embedded above). Here’s part of our interview:

Bob Ayres: Robin did come there a lot when we first started comedy; he hadn’t gotten Mork and Mindy yet. Once he got Mork and Mindy everything shifted of course for him, but also for all the comedy clubs because he would come back as a star. He was so popular that when he showed up at one of the clubs, and ours was one of them, it was like God coming home. So he really helped comedy get its foothold in San Francisco in the ’80s for sure.

Cy Musiker: Did you book him before Mork and Mindy as well?

Ayres: We did, but there was no real booking him. Back in the day we would have comedy nights, the Other Cafe happened to be the first comedy club in the city that actually paid comedians. We used to charge a dollar or two dollars on a Wednesday night, so when we were finished with the night we might hand six or eight dollars to each comedian. Among those comedians in the easily days was Robin and Dana [Carvey] and Ellen Degeneres, so it was quite a time as you can imagine.

Musiker: He developed some of his characters on your stage. His great imitations. Doctor Ruth and others. Is there a memory of his performances that stands out to you?

Ayres: I do remember once when he came in, and we had windows around our club so you could be on the street and watch the show, you couldn’t hear it, but you could watch it. So it was late on a Saturday night and he was performing and there were just crowds packed around the windows, and the club was filled. So the police would come by and they’d look in the windows. I remember Robin getting the police to come up on stage, he literally got them to hand him their guns. Which would never happen today. But back in the day he was able to do that and had them in stitches of course.

Musiker: What about your personal relationship?

Ayres: Our personal relationship was only as a club owner. His girlfriend at the time and my girlfriend at the time were best friends. So I remember going to L.A. with him once. And I was just along for the ride as he went to the Comedy Store to the Improv, back to the Comedy Store, back to the Improv, maybe six or seven appearances.

You know he was a tortured soul like most great comedians, but there wasn’t anyone kinder. Especially to fellow comedians — he was so kind to other comedians. That’s really where he was most happy, when he was among his fellow comedians. That’s where he felt at home I think.

Lisa Pickoff-White and Dan Brekke contributed to this post.

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About the Author ()

CY MUSIKER REPORTER Cyrus Musiker likes to tell stories. He co-hosts The Do List and covers arts and politics for KQED News and The California Report. Since he joined KQED in 1995, Cyrus has filled many jobs in the Newsroom, from anchor to  senior editor. His work has been recognized by the Society for Professional Journalists with their Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Journalism. Cyrus came to California from the East Coast for the mountains and the wine, and he still runs the East Bay Hills, hikes the Sierra and covers the wine business when he can. Email Cy: cmusiker@kqed.org Reach Cyrus Musiker at cmusiker@kqed.org.

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