Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings on Wednesday reflected on the time he spent with Robin Williams on Nov. 16, 2011, when both were guests on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Williams’ death this week shocked the nation. Officials say Williams apparently took his own life.
Williams was the lead guest on “The Tonight Show” that evening, and Hastings, a longtime standup comedian, had been booked following his election as mayor.
Although he had been at events where Williams was also present, he had never had a chance to get to know the famous actor and comedian. But prior to “The Tonight Show” taping, they had a conversation in the “green room,” where guests wait before the program.
“What was striking was he struck up a conversation and said, ‘Hey, I just watched your comedy special and I really loved it,’” recalled Hastings.
Hastings’ special, “Irked and Miffed,” was playing on the Comedy Central cable network at the time.
“I thought he was just being nice,” recalled Hastings. “But then he quoted about three lines from different parts of the show, which told me he really had watched it.”
Hastings said he and Williams “really hit it off.”
“The beauty of the standup industry is there’s such a tight fraternity,” said Hastings. “When we get together in a room, the guy who makes $25 million a year is not really any different than the guy who makes $100,000 a year.”
When he learned that Williams was on the show, Hastings said he thought, “Oh great, I’ve got to follow Robin Williams.”
But Hastings said Williams paid him the ultimate compliment by sticking around for his segment, instead of bolting from the studio after his own appearance.
“He didn’t have to stay,” said Hastings. “And then he did me a favor by not stealing focus from me, and he laughed at my jokes.”
The mayor also recalled that at one point in his segment, Leno mentioned that Hastings was a Republican, and Williams “audibly gasped.”
“The assumption is if you’re in show business you’re a liberal,” said Hastings.
After Williams died Monday, Hastings was contacted by Cincinnati media for reaction.
“They kept pushing me to answer, ‘What did America lose in Robin Williams?’ insinuating that he was a national treasure or part of our culture. They wanted me to say something along those lines,” said Hastings.
“I didn’t do that,” said Hastings. “At the end of the day, Robin Williams told jokes. He was an entertainer. I think he would be happy with, ‘He was a great entertainer.’ Not with, ‘He was a national treasure.’ Then what was John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King Jr.?”
Hastings said that during one such interview Tuesday morning, he had just learned that former Hillsboro mayor Sandy Harsha had died.
“One could easily argue that Sandy Harsha gave more to America than Robin Williams did. Sandy Harsha gave years of his life to a city to make it a better place to live,” said Hastings, adding, “Who affected life in this town more? I would argue Sandy Harsha.”
Hastings said the “culture of America” and the media put too much emphasis on celebrity.
“Celebrity is one of the media’s biggest resources,” said Hastings. “If you don’t keep propping up the celebrity culture, they lose their biggest source of news. Celebrity never goes away.”
Hastings said that one day shortly before he decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Hillsboro, he was walking along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I saw all the names on the sidewalk,” said Hastings. “Greta Garbo. Red Skelton. Rudolph Valentino. And I remember thinking, no one under 50 has any idea who they were. Valentino was bigger in his day than Elvis and Michael Jackson combined. No one remembers him now. It hit home to me the trivialness of celebrity.”
Williams was said to have suffered from severe depression, and Hastings agrees with the notion that many comedians turn to comedy because of sadness or tragedy in their personal lives.
“I definitely agree with that,” said Hastings, admitting to his own battles with depression, although not on the scale of that which apparently afflicted Williams, he said.
Hastings said the culture also misleads young people about what’s important in life.
“The message to young people is that they need to be a rap star on an NBA star or a famous comedian. But that’s like hitting the lottery. It’s not really attainable,” said Hastings.
He said Williams’ legacy is secure enough without embellishment.
“He made people laugh,” said Hastings. “That’s what he did, and he did it very well.”