Look up and look out: remembering Robin Williams

Like many people, I bought into the idea that Robin Williams’ death was some kind of elaborate, internet trolling hoax—in part, because it could have been, but mostly because I wanted it to be. How can anyone reconcile the final act of one of our most-loved comedians and make it all make sense. It doesn’t.

And while this isn’t the forum to rattle on about the tragedy of suicide (that’s well covered elsewhere and I doubt anyone could put it better than Russell Brand) it is of relevant interest that one of his last pieces of work was a show about advertising.

The Crazy Ones is a David E Kelley exploration of the challenges facing advertising today. It’s a cliché ridden, chaotic blunder through people, personalities and the power of selling dreams. Originally tabled as ‘the Robin Williams show’, it’s exactly that. Williams bounding between chaos and pathos with a side of duckling husbandry and a sub-plot of ‘Buffy grew up’.

At best it’s average telly. At worst it’s a mirror held up to an industry that can’t self-reflect for fear of revealing the truth of what we do and somehow deflating the balloon.

Don’t get me wrong. I love our industry. I bounce out of bed each morning with a passion for solving problems and making stuff and having fun. But I’m lucky enough to have my black dog on a pretty tight leash. And mostly I love it because of the people.

Our industry is full of ‘crazy ones’. It’s a big part of what makes us who we are. When you boil it down, our only real job is to channel ‘outside the box’ thinking, challenge the status quo and make the market want the next big thing. But even as we’re busy turning the wheels of commerce, it’s well worth taking the time to look out for each other; to stop, to listen, to share.

Just like Hollywood, our industry is pretty good at monetising mania. But depression takes its toll. And people who don’t understand depression, don’t understand depression. It’s not a bad day or a rough week. It’s an illness. When the world goes dark it really isn’t easy to get out of bed, let alone reach up and find the light switch. It’s only those people who are really looking out that can gently light a candle and slowly make a difference.

And maybe that’s the sense of it.

To riff off the gorgeousness of Zelda Williams’ ‘looking up’ tweet, it’s on all of us to look out for each other. There’s a whole bunch of nutters in our industry and we’re all in this together.

Maybe, in the infinite profile and ultimate helplessness of the world’s favourite clown, there’s a lesson in it for advertising – and, for each other.

So do look up. Please look out. And… ‘here’s to the crazy ones.’

Michael Goldthorpe