Throughout the better part of 2020 —― if in fact this year― does have a “better” part —― the pandemic-enforced downtime we’ve been living through has provided many people with the opportunity to do things they have been meaning to do for a long time.
Some have found the time to learn a new skill, return to a creative endeavor they placed on hold, remodel their home, or purge closets and junk drawers.
Local stand-up comedian and children’s entertainer Robin Roberts has also used this time to find something: a better understanding of herself.
Having always used material in her personal journals to give audiences a comedic peek into her simultaneously fulfilled and unfulfilled life, Roberts recently did something she has been putting off for years: Reading through all of her old dairies.
“I was a bit squeamish to do it,” said Roberts, a regular at Burbank’s Flappers Comedy Club. “But as I read through the thousands of entries, I became braver about going through them. I actually found a sense of pride in all I was able to cram into a day for so many years. And, of course, I also cringed a bit when I read about all the men I was gaga over, and how stupid I was in my hormone-driven pursuits. I wasted a lot of energy on that, but that’s a part of who we all are when we’re in our 20s.”
Roberts’ journaled memories document the thousands of shows she did at major comedy clubs throughout the U.S and Canada over the years. They chronicle her time as a member of the Housewives —― a comedy trio who sang laughter-inducing songs about domestic life —― that she was invited to join by Hope Schwartz, daughter of legendary television producer Sherwood Schwartz, and Barbara Chase, daughter of actress Florence Henderson.
In her hand-written entries, Roberts relived the times she served as host of the Canadian-American Women of Comedy Tour which raised money for victims of domestic abuse. She recalled starring in her self-produced, long-running club show “Comedy Schmomedy.” She reminisced on her time at the Warner Bros. Sitcom Writers Program, writing and performing on the “CBS Morning Circus” for Premier Radio, and on the internationally syndicated radio program “Rick Dees Weekly Top 40,” where she played a listener-favorite character, Patty the Depressed Clown. She was also reminded of incredible memories that stemmed from doing audience warmups for various television shows and serving as a personal assistant to some big names in the entertainment businesses.
Some of the fondest memories she found were provided by her alter ego, Rockie the Clown, who along with being the official clown of the Dodgers entertained untold thousands at corporate and children’s events. It was her work as Rockie that provided Roberts with hundreds of conversations with kids that she posts weekly on Facebook under the title “Another True Comedy Moment With Rockie the Clown” and intends to publish as a book.
“As I went through each page I realized how much I have accomplished during my life,” said Roberts. “I have actually been astonished of how ambitious I was, which brought me a lot of peace because I have many times had this nagging feeling that I didn’t exhaust every possible opportunity and do enough. Making it in show business is very hard, and just because you give it everything you have doesn’t mean things will work out the way you hope.
“In reading over my dairies I have been able to see just how hard I worked to make my dreams come true — my dreams of performing like the comedians on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ who inspired me when I was a kid.”
Recalling how difficult it was to break into the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy in the 1980s, Roberts said many of the musings she found in her journals have shown her how naive she had been at times.
“As a woman, pursuing a career in comedy was never easy,” she said. “There were so many times I dealt with things that were eye-opening and frustrating. But I just kept going and giving it my all to pursue my dream.”
Roberts said going through her dairies has left her impressed with the resilience, drive and positive spirit she always possessed. “I got knocked down and kept coming back. I remember after reading a few pages that documented a really difficult time, I just sat back and thought: ‘My God! How did I do that?’ That gave me a real sense of pride, and the more I read, the more it became about forgiveness and acceptance. Not of others, or of show business in general, but forgiveness and acceptance of myself.”
By revisiting her younger self through her journals, Roberts said she has found a sense of closure.
“In retrospect, I have seen that while some things in my life didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, they have turned out for the best, and that I was always within what the universe’s plan was for me.”
Having worked with children for many years, Roberts said she has always encouraged them to write down their thoughts, something she said she will now preach with even more fervor since going through her own journals.
“I told kids how important it is to keep a journal, and how much it they will appreciate doing that when they get older,” she said.
Asked if she is still journaling to provide the Robin Roberts of years to come with further appreciation, she enthusiastically answered in the affirmative.
“I’ve never stopped. I do it almost every day. I just write down how I feel, what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, what’s going on around me,” she said. “To me it has always just been a way of life and I’m so grateful I have done it. I think it’s a crime against humanity for people not to do give themselves a record of the lives they have led. Without doing it, so many memories are lost forever.”
Pressed on what she feels is the most important thing she has found by revisiting her past, Roberts said it has been gaining the knowledge that she never let herself down.
“I was never a coward in the pursuit of my career,” she stated proudly. “Over the years I have harbored some anxiety and strife over wishing some things had been different, or that they would have turned out the way I wanted them to instead of the way they did. I have recently come to think it is a noble thing to be able to admit that, and by doing so, have come to peace with things. I’m not totally at peace with everything, but I also don’t think life is over for me. I still have more things I want to accomplish, and I learned not to judge myself by the track that others are on.
“By looking back over all the millions of insane and fun adventures I’ve had, I have no regrets. I found that I really led a fun life. I’ve also found a renewed spark,” she revealed with a twinkle in her eye. “To begin my third act!”
David Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.