It is so easy to say when a comic dies; some of the laughter goes too. Civilians will never understand that phrase, only because they think they can. An audience believes by following a comic from the early days of open mikes to headlining status, they know the comic. But let me tell you this, you’ll never know what a comic is like, because comics don’t know what other comics are like. We have the shared experience of being in the trenches, whether you served in the Pacific, the East or the Punchlines. There is a comfort we feel being around other comics. But that is about it.
Being comic means never needing anything from anyone else to make you laugh. Being a comic means that you’re never enough by yourself. Without the echo of the audience, your life has very little meaning.
Those are true comics. Robert Schimmel was a true comic. I could never call Schimmel a comedian, he was a comic. That’s why his loss has affected me so much.
I met Schimmel once in his living room many years ago when I tried living in L.A. I was there with another comic, who was giving Schimmel a ride to the hospital where his son was receiving Chemo. Schimmel was looking for a form that the hospital needed for some kind of clerical closure.
Tearing up his one-bedroom, Schimmel wasn’t panicked nor pissed; he methodically turned over one pile of clothes in his newly-bachelor-flat, searching for the culprit paperwork, or gently lifts some books or videos, while talking about the Road or what Bud was saying to him about what he should do with his act. You couldn’t tell his kid was in a Life or Death circumstance. Schimmel was taking it all in stride.
The phrase I remember from that day Schimmel saying over and over was, “I know, I know.”
As in, “Bob, we should be going…”
“I know, I know…”
“You told your Ex, you’d be there in thirty…”
“I know, I know.”
“Bob, we should be going, you have a set tonight…”
“I know, I know…”
I didn’t know Robert Schimmel and only met him briefly that one day in his West Hollywood apartment, but I’d have to say like most great comics, he was complicated.
I wasn’t really privy to some of the conversation that my friend the comic and Schimmel were having right in front of me but I could tell a couple of things…
1) He and his Ex-wife still seemed like they were together.
2) He really cared about his family.
3) Schimmel was his own man, with a lot of strings attached.
After that afternoon the closest I would get to Schimmel besides for sharing the stage with his a couple of times at the Improv on Melrose, was through the Howard Stern Show. Then went Howard left this planet, I lost contact with both.
A couple of years ago, I was riding with common-law-brother-in-law who has Sirius Radio and he was listening to Stern.
Schimmel was on the show. Both Robin and Howard were ragging on Schimmel, the way they did for many of his visits. This time they were questioning the legitimacy of whether Schimmel was really sick with a liver disease. Because Schimmel was so low-keyed about the disease, the two radio braintrusts didn’t believe him. How could a guy who was on a waiting list for a liver, when he knew his chances were slim that he’d get one, be so non-plus about the whole affair?
Maybe because Robert Schimmel was a cancer survivor himself and waiting wasn’t anything new? Maybe because at this point his son had passed and learned that many of Life’s decisions aren’t left up to him. Maybe because Schimmel was living with Hep-C that he contracted through an innocent blood-transfusion during his time in the Air Force. (Just like Lenny’s bit; Army, Goyim, Air Force, Jewish.) Maybe because growing up with Holocaust survivor parents, you learn…
You learn it can worse than you think…
I didn’t know Robert Schimmel. But I loved his act. Schimmel is the only comic I know that did Dick Jokes as Observational Humor.
People say that Schimmel was dirty. I never saw it. I did see a guy use scatological and sexually transmitted anxieties as weapon to understand what we’re not supposed to. I imagine to Civilians he was dirty. He was using dirty words, why not? If that’s what you saw, then you didn’t get the joke.
I really don’t know his bits that well other than the ones I heard live. As a comic, I stopped listening to other comics act after Bill Cosby’s ‘Why is There Air?’ Also at that time as a working comic, I figure there would be all the time in the world to hear the other comic’s acts that I liked.
Drake Sather, Dan Bradley, Ken Tsumori, and Warren…and the others, I am sorry guys; I always thought there would be time…
There was a bit Schimmel did that personified his act to me. Maybe because I liked the guy, I might be error on the side of great comedy, but…
He did this bit about having a parrot. So you have the premise that you have a bird that you can train to talk. Many different comics could go in many different directions with that concept. You might say the path they took would be the one that describes their personality the best.
The way Schimmel did the bit was…
He would take some unsuspecting friend (Is there any other kind to a comic?) and leave him alone in his made-up apartment for the bit. In Schimmel World, there is a parrot in the said apartment, which the host, Schimmel, has left alone with the innocent mark.
The parrot starts talking…
“The guy fucks me! The guy fucks me!”
Schimmel does a take as the friend who is over hearing a trained bird that belongs to a comic scream that his owner is having sex with him, the bird.
After a few more times of the bird screaming about avian penetration and the friend feeling perplexed about being caught in a strange situation, the bird gets real…
“I’m not kidding, the minute you’re out the door, BLAM, he’s spreading feathers.” The bird continues…
“You gotta help me, man. He’s sick. He’s fucking birds. I’m lucky I can talk…”
You get the idea. Left in someone else’s hands, it might just be a dick joke, but with Schimmel, there was some insight into the comic and his world.
And here’s the deal with Schimmel. I didn’t know him, but if you read the newspapers, it seemed like he had a really hard life. If you read his bio, he was born into heart-ache and then nurtured it for the rest of his short life. But that’s not what I saw. I heard about his pain from other comics who really knew him, but for me, I remember that day in West Hollywood. I remember a guy who it seemed like his world should be collapsing but him handling it, the best way he could.
When I heard he died from the repercussions of a car accident, at first it didn’t seem right. It wasn’t from the liver disease? That I knew about. But from complications from a car accident? Oh, man, it just doesn’t seem fair.
I didn’t know Robert Schimmel but I knew his kind. I knew there was a breed of comic out there that will always do their act on their terms. They’ll have the security/insecurity to take those infantile thoughts in their head and mature them through the stage. They will walk where few want to tread. They will open places that everyone else said it was dirty in there and you’re not supposed to look, let alone hear and learn about what you were initially afraid of.
Look at it like this.
Imagine you lived a planet that dying. Your only hope was to explore other planets for a new home. Now imagine a world without Astronauts and explorers. Imagine that you are forced to live a failed life because there is no one around you brave enough to explore the unknown.
To me, that’s what it feels like when a great comic is taken from us. We have no idea what we are missing or the worlds that Bob Schimmel would have shown us.
Then I hear, “I know, I know.” And I remember what we had.
I don’t know which is sadder.