At the 2008 TED Conference held in California, the BBC's "The World Debate" set up a panel discussion to be broadcast worldwide from the TED stage. When they went live with the show there appeared to be a major technical problem followed by several moments of dead air. As my friend Patrick Newell recalled the incident to me today (Patrick was in the audience that day), someone in the back of the room started heckling and dropping f-bombs, wondering why they can't get the technology to work at a technology conference. At first the audience was stunned but then broke into uproarious laughter once they realized that the "heckler" was Robin Williams. Williams continued his comical rant as he walked down toward the stage (nothing else was happening due to the tech glitch, so why not?) From there Williams ad–libbed for about ten minutes on stage. Fortunately the BBC kept recording and put together about three minutes from William's improvised bit. This seems to be very typical of Robin Williams. This was not just a celebrity taking another chance to be in the limelight. In stead it was a man who used his talents to actually make the situation better. The panel surely benefited from it. Chris Anderson appreciated it. And the audience loved it. This seems to have been done very much in the spirit of contribution. This one was recorded, but from what we hear, Williams did this kind of thing all the time when the camera's were not rolling. Norm Macdonald has a great story that exemplifies the spirt of Robin Williams.
A message to TEDxTokyo
Patrick Newell, co-founder of TEDxTokyo, ran into Robin Williams at that same TED Conference in 2008 and asked him if he would mind saying a few words regarding the first TEDxTokyo to take place the following year. Being the kind man that he was, he said "sure," and proceded to riff for about 45 seconds. He also mentioned the other similar TED event which was called "BOB." Watch below.
Williams was brilliantly funny and a great actor. Obviously. But more importantly he was kind and generous. This came across in his standup performances especially. His authenticity and his vulnerability were visible to all. This was one of the things that made him such a wonderful performer and human being.