Robin Williams: Just For Laughs co-founder remembers comedy legend

Just For Laughs co-founder Andy Nulman will always remember Robin Williams as the one that got away.

Williams had to cancel scheduled Just For Laughs appearance, but went the distance to compensate

Andy Nulman described Williams as 'the most popular comedian who never played Just For Laugh.' (REUTERS)

Just For Laughs co-founder Andy Nulman will always remember Robin Williams as the one that got away.

Nulman told CBC News that he had Williams booked to take part in a tribute to comedy legend Jonathan Winters in the mid-1990s, but Williams had to pull out at the last minute for a film he was working on at the time.

“I’ll never forget this, he was so nice. He said he’d do anything for Jon. He said, ‘Come to my house, film me, I’ll put something together.’ That’s the type of guy he was,” Nulman said.

Williams regularly topped a Just For Laughs survey that asked audience members which comedian they would most like to see at the annual international comedy festival.

“[Williams] was perhaps the most popular comedian who never played Just For Laughs,” Nulman said.

'You can’t get much better than that'

Nulman did have his own moment with Williams in Los Angeles while scouting talent for the Montreal festival.

Nulman said he was walking to a comedy club with Canadian comedian Howie Mandell when they ran into Williams on the street.

Williams jumped on a passing tour bus, dragging Nulman and Mandell with him, and took over as tour guide.

“He gave out false information as we drove down Sunset Strip and, when we got to the Comedy Store, we all got off,” Nulman recalled.

“I was 25 or 26 years old and Robin Williams was perhaps the biggest comedy star on the planet. You can’t get much better than that.”

Williams's apparent suicide on Monday at 63 is something that Nulman says he’s seeing all too often in his industry and beyond.

“Depression is a mental health issue," he said.  

"Suicide is the culmination of a mental health issue in most cases. It’s a social phenomenon, not just about show business. If this is confirmed as a suicide, it’s a clarion to the public at large that this is not acceptable.

"People need help. When people who seemingly have it all — fame, fortune — are suffering with demons, where does that put the rest of us? Hopefully, this is a call for help that gets listened to."

Montrealers remember Williams 

In 2012, Traci Williams went to a show at Place des Arts called An Evening of Sit Down with Robin Williams and David Steinberg.

“He was his typical self on stage. Very manic, very hilarious, going from subject to subject at lightning speed, and he really did make light of his addictions,” Williams told CBC Radio Noon host Shawn Apel.

After the show, she had the opportunity to meet Robin Williams backstage.

Traci Williams met Robin Williams backstage after a show at Place des Arts in 2012. (Traci Williams)

“I was surprised to find out how different he was from how he was on stage,” she said. “He was very zen, very laid back, very down-to-earth and very polite to people.”   

Traci, a Montreal-based yoga teacher and translator, told Robin that she was surprised how calm he was.

“I can’t be on all the time,” Robin told Traci.

She said that at the time, he seemed to be in a good place.

“He made an impression on me just from that little conversation,” said Traci.

Williams's 'double'

James is an actor who lives in Beaconsfield and met Robin Williams while working as his body double for the 2004 film Noel.

Williams played two characters — an angel and a cancer patient.  

James spent five hours in makeup, so he could double as Williams for faraway and dark shots.

He told CBC's Radio Noon that when Williams arrived at Mel’s Studio in Montreal, he said, "I want to thank you for the good work you have been doing on this film while I couldn’t be here."

“I was so taken aback by that," said James. "That this incredibly busy megastar would take five minutes of his time to come and thank me.”

James said he remembers Williams as being very giving and honest with other people.

"He was a really good man, and I’m sorry he’s gone," said James.


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