“We practiced in the back of Dodge Street. They named their calzone after me; Robby Pockets.”
Rob Potylo, the man behind Robby Roadsteamer, was nice enough to respond to my story on his character, Robby. Within minutes of speaking with him, I remembered just how much of a creative and relatable Rob really is.
It’s hard to argue the North Shore is perhaps not the best place for the creative types. Rob was at the helm of a “reality sitcom,” Quiet Desperation. This article from Dig Boston probably describes the show better than I can:
“In its 55 episode, five-year stretch from 2009 to 2014, the homegrown “reality sitcom” was fueled by jokes and raw charisma from in excess of 300 Boston characters, each one eons more unique than the deepest personalities on modern network television.”
In one of those moments where I lost track of Rob and he was suddenly doing something else, Quiet Desperation ended up on the local network myTV. He was subsequently offered a legitimate deal with CBS, which he was then completely screwed out of.
We’re definitely making progress on the North Shore when it comes to creativity, but that progress only started within the last few years. Rob really didn’t have time to wait for that. He moved to California in 2015 to live with Joan Laurer. You may know Joan Laurer as Chyna, of WWF/E fame. If you aren’t familiar, Chyna was a huge star in the WWF back in the mid to late ‘90s, also known as the “Attitude Era.” She was billed the “ninth wonder of the world” due to her freakish strength and intimidating demeanor. Chyna accomplished things in the wrestling world that no woman had ever done before.
Rob and Chyna seemed to share a special relationship, and they were in the process of making a documentary about her life together. The documentary was set to be titled the The Reconstruction of Chyna, and would detail her unprecedented career in the WWF, her struggles with her demons, and her redemption. In one of the most tragic and deflating celebrity deaths in recent memory, Chyna was found dead on April 20, 2016, of what appeared to be a drug overdose. She was 46 years old.
“It was Shakespearean, like fucking four hours Prince died,” says Potylo. “She couldn’t get a fucking day for herself, to have people say, ‘Oh my God, Chyna died? Wasn’t that that lady who wrestling and on the cover of TV Guide and Playboy?’ This is gonna sound like ‘Candle in the Wind,’ but even when she on WWE Raw, , they buried her tribute in the second hour of it.”
Regardless of your mental stability, that kind of relationship ending the way it did will definitely take its toll on your mental health. Rob’s candidness concerning his mental health is in fact why I chose to write about him now, years after I last spoke to the guy. The specific Facebook post that caught my eye read:
“I suffer from pretty brutal manic depression… With the ole’ Polycystic Kidney Disease and the awful diet 4 it, losing my besties like Mother, and Chyna, going bald (I know I know it’s okay, Bruce Willis right?), little 2 no family, poor, burned relationships, lack of support system, getting older, people rolling me like dice, unable to facilitate anything viable creatively beyond some kind words from you folks ‘stick with it, oh someday!'”
This post was accompanied by a video that will hit hard for any individual who has ever struggled with a mental illness. Rob speaks on camera both inside his apartment and outside in the the snowy Boston area with light, pleasant background music. He looks to be almost relieved to be talking about his illness. He speaks about how mental illness can’t be measured and how it’s so prevalent among creative types. He states everything in his room “makes sense to him,” but the outside world is maybe “allergic” to him. He expresses he wants to bring some of his creativity into the outside world, to help people better understand the struggling bohemian artist, or as Rob puts it, “help the outside world to catch up with where my head’s at.”
The subject of suicide rears its ugly head. Rob notes he sometimes writes suicide letters. Not because he necessarily considers suicide, but as a creative means of escaping to deal with, as he puts it, “the parameters of reality.” The video really starts to toy with your emotions the more you see how well edited it is, how well the music fits, how Rob splices short clips of him trying to carefully place a cat in front of a nice painted backdrop and looking poking at small toys, the same way Robby Roadsteamer’s home videos would cut to these same silly scenes. It’s such a jarring experience to see Rob’s humor interspersed with talks of severe depression and detachment from reality. And I guess the question of “is he joking” comes up when watching this, but I don’t think it’s that as much as he’s expressing difficult thoughts in a creative way. Creativity is sometimes the only thing that gives someone “permission” to delve into these terrible topics.
It does seem like a bit of a bummer to write such a heavy article on a person right after writing about their hilarious and fairly light-hearted alter ego. But I don’t think Rob’s story is a sad one. He’s still out there making things, he’s still openly talking to people about what he’s done and what he wants to do. Despite numerous setbacks, Rob has never really given up, never really left the bohemian lifestyle he speaks of so often. Yes, he may have gone from “Pee With Your Father” to “I’m in the middle of a battle with CBS,” and yeah, that may not be as exciting or funny to the fanbase Robby created years ago, but I think the spirit of Robby Roadsteamer is still in everything Rob does. Rob is still channeling his anger and his frustration and his sadness and his desperation into whatever creative outlet he can find.
The guy does so much stuff I couldn’t find the time to write about it all. I didn’t delve into his campaign with Vermin Supreme or his appearance on the new Gong Show. Rob came in second place at the 2009 Andy Kaufman Award Competition. Rob may have met the fucking Pope at some point. I have no idea.
Perhaps most importantly is the fact that the emails and social media comments sent to Rob are thanking him for talking about subjects close to their heart, and that his speaking up has helped them with their own issues. As someone else named Rob who constantly speaks of his own mental illnesses in damn near everything I write, I find Rob’s current efforts more heartwarming and important than maybe anything he’s done before.
Note: In part one of this story, I mentioned Robby Roadsteamer as a “regular on WBCN” who would “be thrown out and drink Zimas in the parking lot.” While this is true, Robby was actually a host on WBCN, which I somehow completely forgot. It just goes to show how much this guy has done. Also, big thanks to Rob for the the Facebook conversations, and an even bigger thanks for calling me “The best fucking thing to be created in Lynn since WFNX.”
Rob met the Pope in April of 1995 with the youth group New Directions fronted by Scott Morin. Trip to Rome, Vatican City, Robert was raised Roman Catholic.
He DID meet the Pope! Robby is such a spectacular person.
The World NEEDS More People Like Rob Potylo!