Zack Mast's Corner of the Internet

Years ago, I read a book called I’m Dying Up Here, about the L.A. standup scene in the ’70s. There was a passage about Robin Williams that’s always stuck with me. As I recalled, Williams’ mind would naturally go so fast (or maybe he was so coked out) that he’d inadvertently repurpose his friends’ material. When Tom Dreesen confronted him about it, he apologized so profusely and sincerely that Dreesen came to defend Williams against less forgiving comics (like Gallagher) that considered him a joke stealer.

I just went back and found the passage:

Tom Dreesen had a talk with Williams after he heard a line of his come out of Mork’s mouth in the show’s closing voice-over, when the lovable alien always reported his earthly observations back to his home planet. Williams was so apologetic and seemed so genuinely distraught over the “mistake,” that Dreesen believed it truly had been inadvertent. He knew that Robin absorbed influences like a sponge, and given his wild performing style, it seemed entirely plausible that when he got on a roll and was literally spinning onstage, he really didn’t know what he was going to say next.

But now, after Williams’ death, it’s the other part of this passage that resonates more — the part where those other angry comics, envious of Williams’ success, started to push him out:

Williams had everything, all the talent, success, and money the others dreamed of. So, the idea that he would stoop to steal material on top of all that made people’s blood boil. It wasn’t like he was Ollie Joe Prater, who stole material all the time but wasn’t very good, so nobody gave a shit. Ollie Joe didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting on The Tonight Show. But what if Robin blurted out one of your bits while yukking it up on Johnny’s couch? Accident or not, that material would be gone forever: You could never use it again or audiences would think you stole it from him. That’s why Kirchenbauer, Gallagher, and a few others decided they would no longer perform in front of Williams. If he was in the room, they wouldn’t go on.

There’s no way for any of us to understand what Williams dealt with day to day, so I don’t know if this early isolation contributed to Williams’ struggles. But we think of mega-fame as the ultimate goal of entertainment. In this case, way back when Williams was just a dumb kid trying to make people laugh, his fame—and his natural talent—was a reason for his friends to shut him out.

As a comedian, it’s easy to feel envy. I’m always happy for my friends, but feelings of inadequacy and envy inevitably creep in. It’s something that I try to be conscious of and counteract. But re-reading this story about Williams inspires me to go the extra mile. When I see someone as a threat, I can shut them out, or I ask them how they see themselves, and maybe help them feel a little less alone.

This morning I was reading A Feast for Crows and came across a passage in which a strong female character expresses her anxiety at the constant threat of rape. I posted it on social media with the hashtag #YesAllWomen—not as a joke, really. I only meant to point out the passage’s relevance to the current cultural conversation, somewhat in appreciation of the way Martin was tuned into these issues a decade ago.

Rape as depicted in Game of Thrones is much more glaring and sensationalized than the more subtle (and therefore more challenging) elements of rape culture in our society, but I still found it interesting that this little piece of pop culture could flesh out a realistic-sounding experience—especially for a character as nonsexualized as Brienne. (I guess the fact that Brienne is so emphatically nonsexualized is problematic in its own way. But still.)

Anyway, I took the post down because I realized that even though it’s related to #YesAllWomen, it isn’t actually relevant. My post wasn’t meant to be snarky, but just by making the connection to something fictional, it undercuts the entire point of the movement. The point of #YesAllWomen is to open our minds to the reality we continually write off as fiction. Like #NotAllMen or Twitter trolls, the voice of a fictional character—one that lacks the real, exhausting experiences of everyday life—only serves to muddle the discussion. So, I’m sorry.

(I also probably should’ve considered the fact that Martin has deliberately crafted a world in which rape is a constant fear. Does such a world actually shed light on our own, or is it just as troubling that rape is used as a de facto bad-guy vice for our entertainment?)

(Also, I’m a man. That hashtag doesn’t belong to me.)


(trigger warning)

Earlier this year, I was on the radio describing incidents of street harassment. I mentioned that it happened to me more when I was younger, when I appeared more vulnerable, when these predators felt more comfortable trying to violate my body. A part of me felt confident, as if…

Here’s a heartbreaking #YesAllWomen story that hits close to home.

I spent much of my weekend following two particular stories on the Internet:

1. The way much of the Men’s Rights subreddit has tried to distance itself from Elliot Rodger’s worldview. In their trademark weird, twisted brand of cognitive dissonance, many said that he couldn’t possibly have been a misogynist—or rather, a men’s rights activist—because “four out of the six victims were men.”

2. The #YesAllWomen hashtag. I’ve just been reading tweets periodically, staying quiet as a listen, because I don’t really have any personal experiences that can add to the conversation. All I can do is listen and trust that I’m thinking about this issues in a positive way.

At any rate, this isn’t about me. Read Brittany’s post.

While I was reading it, I thought, “Was no one else on that train? What if I was?” and it made me sad to think what kinds of things I could resort to—or fail to resort to—as a bystander, just rolling my eyes at Reddit’s ignorant misogyny and peeking passively at Twitter hashtags, instead of an active ally. But that’s not really the point, is it?

After this weekend, I think I’m just a little more aware.

Happy Tax Day! Here’s a video I helped put together for TurboTax.

I directed this video!

Liam Neeson is St. Patrick in… SNAKEN