Help Bob’s Kids
I met Robert Schimmel by happy happenchance. I was booked to middle for him at the Chicago Improv, and because Robert was a fearless man, the date stuck. I say that because more often than not, when a big name comedian performs, they use an opening act they are familiar with. Sometimes this is done as a kindness to friends; often it’s because they want to make sure the person in front of them is good enough to get a few laughs without showing them up. Robert didn’t play such games. He was confident in his abilities, and knew he could follow anyone in front of him.
Robert was going through some tough times when we met; he had just discovered his wife’s infidelity, she had filed for divorce, and he’d been both arrested and gossiped about on TMZ after his wife filed assault charges (falsely) against him. Robert talked about these problems on stage in front of hundreds of people as easily as if he were having a one-on-one conversation. Unfortunately, at times like that, the stage can be like a drug. For a moment you are the most important thing in the world, but when the show ends the crash comes harshly. People go home with their wives or girlfriends, and you go back to your hotel and stare at the walls, thinking about your problems.
During that weekend in Chicago, Robert and I went out to eat after the Friday performances. Afterward, I drove him back to his hotel. I got out to help him with a bag, and the conversation we had been having continued. Despite all he was going through, Robert was focusing on the positives in life: his children. He spoke of them with warmth in his voice and love shining through in his eyes. Forty minutes later, I realized we had been standing in the parking lot, my car running the whole time. I turned it off, and we went into the lobby. We didn’t part ways until 4:30 a.m.
After that weekend, Robert would call me from time to time, checking in to see if I could work with him here or there. Sometimes I was able to; sadly I had to turn many of the weeks down, as I was already booked. Today, I wish I had spent more time with him.
I was in Iraq when the news hit the wire services: Robert had been in a car accident and was in critical condition. He passed on September 3rd. To have survived cancer and then taken out by a random event seemed too cruel for such a good person.
I recently discovered the charity Help Bob’s Kids, created for his children. When I found the website, I was heartbroken, but not surprised. I knew how much the divorce had cost him, how he had lost work over the assault scandal (which found everything ending in his favor, as he was the furthest thing from an abusive or angry person you could find; Robert was a gentle soul), and how hard he needed to work to remain solvent every month.
Charity and compassion are two of the greatest acts we can bestow upon others. This is trite, but important to point out: anything you can give to another makes a difference. Even if all you have to offer is one dollar, should ten thousand other people offer but a dollar, $10,000 is raised.
Give what you can, for any reason you choose: for karma, in the hope that someday you’ll be helped when in need, or because generosity simply feels good.
One of the most striking things Robert said to me was something you hear from many cancer survivors: “I’m blessed to have had the experience.” Though it left his body ravaged, survival was Robert’s opportunity to celebrate life, and he took nothing for granted.
He will be missed for many years to come.