Earlier today, I commiserated with my brother over the death of Robin Williams, which struck me in a way I never could have anticipated. “I didn’t realize how MAJOR he was to us when we were kids,” I said. “Oh god, I did,” Marshall said, “I’ve always been aware how much Robin Williams was in our house growing up.”
Mrs. Doubtfire was released the year my parents separated and was on constant rotation in our VCR, but it would be sadistic of me to subject anyone to a meditation on what that movie meant to me, viewing after reassuring viewing, gently revealing the humor in all things cruel and unfair. Lord knows we don’t need to hear from some nobody hobby comedian what a generous talent we lost. But as a helpless, unapologetic comedy nerd, I declare solemn thanks to Aladdin's Genie, the first Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen.
Disney introduced me to stand up comedy. Before I ever saw a comedy special, comedians were my favorite part of my favorite movies, especially Bob Newhart and John Candy in The Rescuers Down Under; Bobcat Goldthwait in Hercules; Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg in The Lion King; and Eddie Murphy in Mulan. People say that Disney includes these famous voices for the adults, which is dumb and betrays a lack of confidence in children. I always loved thrill of getting an “adult” joke or the titillation of not getting a dirty joke but knowing it was there. Theirs were the voices my brother, sister, and I imitated and quoted endlessly. For that reason alone, my mom probably would have enjoyed Disney movies much more without them.
But Genie came first and, thankfully, left the biggest impression. While generously aided by visual gags (when he turns into all those other animals are you kidding me, that’s priceless), Genie’s humor was all in the voice, manic and sweeping. The celebrity impressions, accents, puns, the pure silliness, the deep warmth. Sometimes I get too serious about comedy, too academic. Mike Birbiglia’s “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” made me weep and I’ll rewatch parts of John Mulaney’s “New In Town” over and over again, dissecting its perfectness, but the most important thing I learned about being funny came from Genie. Funny is bawdy, loud and quiet, stupid and smart, it’s irreverent, and it’s kind. Funny is between friends, funny trusts you to be smart enough to get it. Funny punches up, not down, because funny is just. I’m so thankful.