The funniest man

Post by Katherine Ellis for the Love for Love series.

image courtesy of

No doubt, Robin Williams was one of the funniest entertainers we, as a collective audience, have ever known. He is right up there with Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Laurel & Hardy and Carol Burnett. And if you believe in the afterlife, all but Ms. Burnett are up there too. Do you think they wear their masks up in the sky?

We are mourning. As Russell Brand, in a beautiful piece in The Guardian said: “Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.” The laughter is gone. For now. It will come back, I promise.

But first, talk. A dialogue has begun, and that is nothing but a good thing. In a society where gay marriage is out of the closet and in the center of the room, suicide is a topic that still gets swept under the rug. Why is that? Is it lack of information? Ignorance? Maybe it’s shame?

It could be shame dressed up as discreetness. Like your mom ushering you to the other side of the room.

“Now, dear, you don’t want to ask your cousin about the neighbor boy.”

In 2014, it’s still perceived as more respectable to die of cancer than suicide. If it is suicide, then the reason better be cancer, not distorted perception or mental illness, emotional exhaustion or just straight depression.

On Facebook, one of my friends, as many of our friends, started a dialogue immediately following Williams’ death about suicide, how it’s the ultimate expression of depression and sickness. He also said anyone who says it’s selfish is wrong. I think there is room for both.

If Robin Williams thought he could have climbed his way out of the darkness in order to be with his children, his wife or friends, don’t you think he would have? If he could have taken one long look in the mirror and drank in the love and adoration people the whole world over had for him, wouldn’t he? But he couldn’t. He was so deep in the dark wizardry of self-sabotage, the only voice he could hear in there was the one that said “I hate you.”

You go for a swim off an island, and when you get out far enough and turn around to go back… there is no back. The island is gone. You tread water. It’s exhausting; your lungs burn, and after awhile you want to sink down under.

But you don’t.

If your mental state is strong, you will remind yourself the island was there when you got in the water. There must be some kind of spell going on, nothing more. People will miss you back home, and a whole life is waiting, just as long as you keep your head in the air. But there are those of us who decide sinking down quietly into the night’s dark waters is the easiest choice we have.

I have heard the wizard’s convincing voice; I heard him yet just today. He said, as he often does, the reason it all feels so hard is that I deserve for it to be.

I am the problem.

I have heard that enough and learned thereafter it was wrong, and I was “wrong” to believe it. I’ve cycled through this enough to know that even when the wizard is standing right in front of me, beard, hat and all, he is not real. He is a fucking wizard.

I thank God for that. God and Christopher Burkott.

Christopher was the funniest man I have ever known. For me to be really funny you not only have to have good timing and originality, you need to be great at imitation. Not just with your voice, but with your entire face.

Each and every millimeter of skin must wrinkle and contort into the person whose existence you find entertaining enough to spend bathroom breaks, in the mirror, rehearsing them. What makes you really good is slipping this impression into conversation as if the idea to slip into someone’s skin struck your fancy spontaneously.

Christopher was religious at impersonating people, his voice hitting the ceiling, his mouth stretching open, eyes bugging out… and that was just for one. He is not alone…think of Charlie Chaplin, Carol Burnett, Kristen Wig and Robin Williams.

Malls were big on Christopher’s list. Where else can you find a variety of people like that?

Elbow to one side, he’d rock his arm forwards and back; spread his mouth out wide and his eyes even wider:

“How you doing? How you DOING!!??

They couldn’t help but laugh. And if they didn’t, if their day was so sad nothing could be funny…well then he’d just keep going…and going.

A voice pinched out of the back of his throat, an area remaining five years-old: “What do you mean how am I doing?”

Then he’d wave his tongue back and forth and shake his hands.

He was adamant about them giving in. And give they always would. I would walk along beside him, arm linked in his as I left my man to fend for himself, along with Christopher’s boyfriend.

The mall was not his stage of choice, of course; he dreamed to be in something he could tell his parents to watch back in North Carolina. They weren’t interested in his love life, his emotional ups and downs, though they came as no surprise. Christopher, we found out, had tried many times.

We learned, as well, that he was five years older than we had known. Got the last laugh…he did.

The thing I learned most from my dear friend is killing one’s self is not killing the problem. It is a permanent solution to a temporary one.

Even though he wanted a career in entertainment so badly he could taste its bitter sweetness…even though he had shot his first part in a major movie just before…even though his boyfriend said he would be back tomorrow…and back he was, to find him…there was nothing that could keep Christopher Burkott from stepping onto the wood table that night, after he had lifted up the cushion on his dining room chair to do so.

There was nothing, unfortunately, that could keep him from flying through the air of his own dark dream.

Two weeks after he was gone, we sat in a cold theater in Burbank on a Friday afternoon. The major studio that produced the movie held a screening. We watched, and listened in horror, as the suited-up execs innocently laughed harder for Christopher’s small part than they did for any other actor in the movie.

And why shouldn’t they?

Because even though there were major actors in the picture — Charlie Sheen, Denise Richards…George’s mom from Seinfeld…they laughed for the best impersonator, the funniest man I have ever known.

And he was gone.

He thought he was the problem, so he left in order to fix it. But the problem was he didn’t see past the problem…much like another funny man we all kind of knew.

How well can you know anyone who wears a mask? Next time you go to the bathroom, look for the man practicing in the mirror.

Katherine Ellis is a writer, actress and entrepreneur. She is a native of Los Angeles, where she spent her childhood accumulating numerous acting jobs under her (vintage) belt. When she is not playing dress-up or writing about it on her vintage fashion blog Breakfast at Gemini’s, she is writing her memoir Going on Nine. Needing snacks to munch on while writing is essential, and thus her unique natural toffee company was born. McFaddy Candy Co, as featured in In Style magazine, currently caters large scale special events in Los Angeles and is sold in boutique stores across Southern California. 

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