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A tribute to comedian Robert Schimmel

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Stand-up great Robert Schimmel passed away last Friday, after a tragic car accident earlier in the week.  He is survived by his five children.
  • Stand-up great Robert Schimmel passed away last Friday, after a tragic car accident earlier in the week. He is survived by his five children.

When a person dies unexpectedly we often over-exaggerate their accomplishments, but in November of 2008 Robert Schimmel delivered the most introspective stand-up routine I have ever seen. (And a bunch of great dick jokes).

My strong feeling about Schimmel's performance is a matter of record— not a nostalgic hyperbole. He is the only performer I have ever given 4 1/2 stars, as I am a firm believer in saving a “five star” rating for a performance that changes my life forever—something that makes me one with the world or makes my brain explode. I’m saving myself for an orgasmic five-star performance, like Mandy Moore in “A Walk to Remember.” Don’t ask me why I’ve seen that movie.

That's not to say that it's some kind of amazing accomplishment to overcome the stringent requirements of Andrew Roberts' scoring system to get more than four stars; I have no delusions about my role in the dynamic between performer and reviewer. They are on stage and I am at the keyboard for a good reason. I only mean to say that when I rate something so highly it’s because I was feverishly impacted by its weight; that it was unforgettable and truly rare in its artistic contribution to the world.

Amidst all his filthy jokes and painful self-deprecation, there was a heavy dose of truth and insightful honesty. He was completely naked on stage in a way that only the very best artists have the courage—or the insanity—to be seen. He was the butt of every joke, and his delivery was like that of man who had seen too much of life, and if he didn’t make people laugh about it he would literally die.

I’m not sure if it’s actually ironic or the Alanis Morissette kind of ironic that he is best known for laughing in the face of tragedy and hard luck, and here—after overcoming cancer—his life was cut short by a car accident. It may not be ironic in the literal sense, but it is certainly not coincidental either.

I don’t want to get philosophical or religious in this forum and consider the implications of that, but suffice it to say that Robert Schimmel was a great comedian who made a lot of people laugh, and taught us about what it means to be human in the process—all while contributing the fundamental culture of the art form he devoted his life’s work to. Not a bad bucket list.

But most importantly—I believe this is going on his epitaph— he achieved a coveted 4 ½ star rating from Indianapolis comedy critic Andrew Roberts.


The review from Nov. 14, 2008 at Crackers Broad Ripple:

His words are quietly sharp, and his striking comedic genius is as melancholy as it is vulgar. Robert Schimmel is a professional open book, with shockingly honest commentary on his own life, near-death and the sex in between. He invites you into the most intimate and uncomfortable crevices of his past, and willingly encourages his audience to rummage through his family’s dirty laundry, all with a wink and a nudge to suggest that the family malice is all too funny to hurt. It is rare in the business of stand-up comedy for a patron to exit the showroom feeling something above the giddy buzz of comedic entertainment; but Schimmel accomplished it. His hour on stage was more than insightful or funny or entertaining — all the things that a decent comedian should provide. It was a diagnosis on life itself; a reminder that bad things happen and funny things happen, but resilience and love are laughably tantamount to their weight.

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