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Vancouver comics recall legend's surprise gig

Jeremy Nuttall

By Jeremy Nuttall, 24 hours Vancouver

Comedian Patrick Maliha with Robin Williams in Vancouver. (PHOTO COURTESY PATRICK MALIHA)

Comedian Patrick Maliha with Robin Williams in Vancouver. (PHOTO COURTESY PATRICK MALIHA)

The Guinness family built the Lions Gate Bridge, Rudyard Kipling owned property in the city, Errol Flynn died in a West End apartment and Howard Hughes once spent six bizarre months at the Westin Bayshore.

But Robin Williams made the sides of Kitsilano residents split with laughter.

The beloved 63-year-old comedian died from an apparent suicide at his California home Monday, reportedly suffering from severe depression. Vancouver has many stories of super-celebrities who became regulars and Williams’ relationship with now-defunct pub the Urban Well is one of the most heartwarming.

It all began with a hot dog in 2005.

Standup comedian by night and bank employee by day, Erica Sigurdson was on her lunch break at Burrard and Robson when a man eating a hot dog suddenly looked familiar to her.

“I finally just turned around and said, ‘Hi Robin’ and he looked up and said ‘Hi,’” recalled Sigurdson to 24 hours.

She told Williams about her standup career and, yearning to perform for recreation, he asked where he could possibly wrangle a slot while filming in the city.

Sigurdson told Williams the address for the Urban Well, a little pub in Kitsilano with a comedy night and he said he’d show up for an appearance.

“I told everybody ‘Oh my gosh, I just met Robin Williams and invited him,’” said Sigurdson. “He didn’t show up that night.”

A razzing from fellow comedians followed.

But the next week, as she approached the Urban Well, Sigurdson was confronted with a mob of people stacked together on the deck peering in the windows.

“I asked, ‘What is going on?’ and they said ‘Robin Williams is inside,’” Sigurdson said.

Comedian Patrick Maliha was also at the pub the night Williams stood up for the first time and gave an awestruck Kits crowd a 30-minute show.

“(He) goes on and just destroys the room,” Maliha said. “You could see all the comics kind of thinking, ‘Oh, so that’s what you have to do to be a star — yeah … I don’t do that.’”

After the first show, Williams started showing up every other week.

Comedian Jason Lamb also frequented the venue and said after word got out there was the possibility of a Williams performance, the place was packed for comedy night.

Lamb said Williams was always humble, and made sure his arrival never bumped an up-and-coming comedian.

He frequently signed autographs and shook hands, never appearing to be bothered, even when Lamb’s mother-in-law shrieked in delight when she met Williams.

“Robin Williams just pulled up on his bicycle and my mother-in-law lost her mind,” said Lamb. “He did a little imitation of her ... and gave my mother-in-law a hug and it just made her life.”

So began a series of regular, inspiring and hysterical appearances by Williams at the Urban Well over a number of years.

There will not be another.



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