I'm not supposed to get sad when celebrities die. Actually, I'm not supposed to get sad at all, because I'm cold and German and efficient with my emotions.
And besides, getting sad about celebrities is the cliche thing to do. But I'm a little sad right now, because sometimes being a goddamn human being wins out over my stupid writerly need to objectively distance myself and analyze everything from afar. You know, for Meaning.
Celebrity deaths are exciting, in a way. They're a good excuse to jump on Facebook and to fire up ye old Google Images, or the YouTubes, and suss out that iconic moment or image from the deceased icon's career. Or, the rare quote or soundbite or clip that shows the true depth of your fandom. After all, we don't want to post what everyone else is posting. When Joan Cusack dies*, amid all the clips of "Coffee? Tea? Me?" and "Is EVERBODY GAAAYYYY?!?!" and Jessie the Cowgirl talking about friendship, I will post an outtake clip from the little-seen film The Last Shot where Boss Joan asks her assistant to bring her her back brace and her banjo. Because my Joan Cusack fandom runs super deep, you guys.
I've generally avoided public grieving over celebrities, mostly because I've felt awkward mourning someone I've never met or talked to or know anything about other than their artistic output. Hell, I feel awkward enough mourning people I know. But two recent celebrity deaths have stung a little. Turns out, I am not immune to Feeling All the Feels (copyright 2011) over the deaths of the rich and famous.
Elaine Stritch's recent passing was sad, very sad, but not wholly unexpected given her age and decline. However, her death felt strangely permanent, like she was taking an entire Broadway era--and an entire way of being a broad--with her. It was an extinction of sorts. Even though I came to discover her in my 20s and thus can't claim to be a lifelong fan, she still represented a sort of unicorn fearlessness that helped me make sense of my own inability to assimilate into the artistic community I operate within. She had distinction, bravery, sass, crassness and gave absolutely zero fucks, and I couldn't help but feel a kinship with her. An imagined friendship. Like, if I had been alive in another era, she would've liked me. And we would've performed together. And we would've been friends. And had cosmos and laughed and traded barbs and figured out how to get through it all together. It's silly, I know. A sort of childish fantasy projected onto someone who, for all I know, could've been a huge bitch to me and hated my guts if she ever met me. But, I guess that's just the definition of being a fan.
And then there's Robin. I'm using his first name like I know him, but I don't. I know people who have met him, even performed with him, and all say he was a spectacularly nice person. What I do know is that he was a huge chunk of my childhood, and one of the few people who's talents seemed truly beyond reach of us mortals, sort of like comedy's version of Michael Phelps or Whitney Houston or Vermeer or John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Maybe I'm a bit sadder right now than I usually am after a celebrity death because of all the movies of my childhood he starred in, or the fact he committed suicide like my own father did and like my father took on all of life's pain so others around him wouldn't have to feel it. Or perhaps it was all the ways he helped shape and inspire my sense of comedy. Robin, along with Kids in the Hall, South Park and the Christopher Guest players (specifically Sheila and Ron's windsuits in Waiting For Guffman), had more influence on me than anyone else. And I didn't really realize it until later in my career, when I stepped on stage to play my umpteenth variation of Euphegenia Doubtfire.
Again, I never met him. Perhaps that's why I always feel awkward espousing about a celebrity after they died. It feels like I'm claiming the person some way, as if they touched my life in completely special way that no one else can understand. And that's not true at all. Countless gay men were inspired and delighted by Elaine. Countless comedians were inspired and delighted by Robin. I'm not different.
Still, if nothing else, his death is reminder that brilliant people die too. They die just as much as dull people and tall people and one-armed people and people who try one improv class but quit because it's too terrifying. We all sleep, we all poop, we all die.
And we all, hopefully, leave something behind. And one of the countless intangible things Elaine and Robin left behind are an extra strand of confidence and inspiration somewhere inside in a overly large, bearded gay man doing sketch comedy in Chicago.
I didn't know them at all, but I'm sad nonetheless. Because they helped me, without even knowing it.
Oh, fuck it. Let's end this thing on a poignant music quote, in italics for added effect.
So here's to the girls on the go--
Look into their eyes,
And you'll see what they know:
*Joan Cusack will never die. No, I'm right. Shut up.