“I’m the youngest of nine kids in my family which means the house is always busy, and they still don’t know that I’m gone.” – Will Robson.
It’s funny, in a way, Will Robson has travelled afar, doing all sorts of work and trying to make people laugh while trying to find himself, that now he hopes to settle back in Maple Ridge.
Not ha-ha funny, like the jokes he tells on stage, but in an ironic way, because he’s lived such a varied life in his 30 years.
The youngest child of Gordy and Mary Robson – the founders of much in Maple Ridge – Will, 6’7’’, has been an actor and stand-up comedian, a campaign assistant to Christy Clark and a political researcher for the B.C. Liberal party, a pressure-washer crew member and leader, and now an aspiring assistant director, and writer.
He’s lived in Maple Ridge and Toronto and back, to Victoria, Edmonton and Dubai. This past summer he went to Munich for the third time, and at the end of August returned to Maple Ridge, with his fiancée, Yasmin Shakarami.
They met in Vancouver just over a year ago (while Yasmin was vacationing while finishing her masters degree in philosophy)
Will and Yasmin plan to make Maple Ridge their home, for now.
Will grew up on the Robson family farm, Heather Hills, in Webster’s Corners, east Maple Ridge. The rural property on 117th Avenue is surrounded by trees, features a hazelnut grove and sheep, and a golf course.
“Growing up on a farm means there’s always work to be done,” he said.
The family first purchased the property in 1950.
Gordy Robson left school and Maple Ridge to join a carnival, eventually becoming head of transportation and logistics. He continued to excel in operations management in various Vancouver businesses, then returned to the family property.
In 1969, he bought a local taxi company, then a local garbage disposal company. He had ownership in several hotels in B.C., as well as some professional sports franchises. After marrying Mary, the couple returned to Maple Ridge and purchased a mall, then the local newspaper. They were partners in construction of the former Best Western hotel site.
They founded Meadowridge Independent School, and the Webster’s Corners Community Association, as well as numerous other events and causes – Alouette River Management Society, Ridge Meadows Home Show, the downtown parking association, the Rotary duck race and Hometown Heroes program.
Gordy was the mayor of Maple Ridge from 2005 to 2008, and is currently a city councillor. Mary runs the Friends in Need Food Bank.
Will is the youngest of nine children. He was born at Ridge Meadows Hospital, delivered by the late Dr. Marco Terwiel.
He went to Meadowridge School, but transferred to Garibaldi secondary for grades 11 and 12.
“At the time, I was taking acting classes with Dot Ralston, who really helped me gain a lot of confidence in acting. So when I walked into Cyndy Lacroix’s theatre at Garibaldi and saw how amazing it is, I knew that I wanted to attend there,” Will said.
“I was always involved in local sports and I also wanted to meet more people from my neighbourhood, so transferring was just one big way I could step into an uncomfortable setting and challenge myself.”
Friends he met there he remains close to today.
“Garibaldi turned out to be a great decision,” he said. “I met many wonderful people that I still stay in contact with and I was able to get my feet into the theatre to perform, in not only the plays, but also the Psycho Session talent shows.”
Will and his friends highjacked the talent show with comedy sketches reworked from SNL and MadTV, and ones they wrote themselves.
“I always knew that I wanted to be involved in film and television, but I never saw myself as a leading performer. Instead, I idolized producers like Lorne Michaels and always tried to put the show above my own desires for attention.”
In Grade 12, he convinced his teacher to let him put on his own comedy sketch show with friends, much in the style of Kids In The Hall.
“In a month, we wrote over an hour of material and put on a show that somehow worked. We couldn’t have done it without the help of about a douzen friends who helped fill in roles, manage the sounds, lights, stage and curtain pulls. This was a defining moment for me, because I thought if I could pull that off, then I should chase my childhood dream.”
He did, all the way to Toronto.
But after graduation in 2005, on the day he moved, one his best friends, Kaalia Willett – along with her boyfriend, Jesse Herman – died a car crash.
“Kaalia always believed in me since I met her at 16 and anyone who knew her knows that she had the light of love within her.”
He started at Humber College, in business administration. But he couldn’t focus on school as he battled depression.
But the college he was attending had a diploma program in comedy. While not enrolled, Will sat in on classes.
Toronto also happened to be one of the best places in Canada to dabble in comedy, being home to The Second City, an improve troupe with alumni such as John Candy, Mike Myers and Eugene Levy, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Jane Lynch and Stephen Colbert.
“By the spring I had found my feet again and had finally turned 19, which is the age that you need to be to join the main courses at Second City Improv.”
He was spending a lot of time at comedy clubs, and met some notable comedians.
“The first shot I ever bought anyone at a bar was for Robin Williams,” Will said. “I didn’t know he was trying to stay sober, but I helped convince him to do standup that night and he performed for almost half an hour.”
Will moved to the city with a friend and registered for improv and Ryerson Film School, and was a waiter on the side. His friend Natalie was a few years older than him and introduced Will to friends in the film industry.
But then she was murdered in their apartment by an ex-boyfriend.
“I spent the next year recovering from PTSD and let go of my acting aspirations.”
Then family called.
Will returned to Maple Ridge and began part-time studies at UBC and Langara College, while working a variety of jobs, from painting to waitering. In school, he jumped from political science to accounting, then settled on marketing. He ended up leaving post-secondary to help rescue the Bella Vita restaurant in Maple Ridge. But a bid by one of his brothers, Gord Jr., didn’t go through.
He also started a federal Liberal club at Langara College.
“I was searching for something to excite me as much as acting did and the closest I got to that was the adrenaline of a campaign.”
When Gordon Campbell stepped down as B.C. premier, Will decided to engage in provincial politics for the first time. He attended a Christy Clark campaign rally in Pitt Meadows and was invited to join her youth campaign, of which he became co-chair.
After she was elected premier, Will earned a research officer position at the Legislature in Victoria. He worked there for two years, the latter one as executive assistant to the Minister of Advanced Education, Amrik Virk.
“I planned a rigorous tour for the minister to visit every post-secondary institution over the coming months and I had the opportunity to travel and see many parts of B.C. that I had not yet been to. Visiting the Nisga’s Nation north of Terrace was incredible; the lava run scenery and the First Nations community is breathtakingly incredible.”
But then comedy called.
He left for Edmonton and its thriving comedy scene. He worked on a pressure washing crew during the day, listening to pod casts to improve his stand-up craft, then did open mics in bars around the city including a gay club at night.
In short time, the club, Woody’s, gave him a room to run on Mondays.
After a year, he saved enough to travel to London for a few weeks, then Dubai to visit his brother Derek and his family.
He ended up staying in Dubai for a year. He found a day job producing a fashion event in London with Emirati women’s fashion designers and conferences on Urban Outdoor Lighting, and a paid gig in in the evenings, hosting comedy shows in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“Comedy paid some of the bills, but not all.”
He was also acting. Someone passed his name to a director and Will got the lone role in an Uber commerical. He was also called to join as a background actor in Brad Pitt’s War Machine.
“After two days of filming under the desert sun, I managed to be cut into one scene.”
Will enjoyed Dubai. He was going to move from there to Australia, to pursue comedy further.
But then family called.
His father asked him to return home to help take care of two families of Syrian refugees they were taking in. One lived in the family home. The other in the club house of the former golf course.
He drove them around and helped them with whatever they needed. They have since moved out on their own, and he keeps in touch.
In search of work, Will went to Ridge Film Studios and got some. He’s now an on-set key production assistant. He’s working towards becoming an assistant director.
He’s also getting married in the fall. He and Yasmin will have a reception at the family property next summer.
Meanwhile, they’ll live in Maple Ridge.
He’s currently writing a novel, as well, with Yasmin, a script.
“Somehow in this adventure of constant changes I found an incredible woman who lived half a world away in Munich and we made it work. We are incredibly happy to be returning home together.”
For now, he eyes are set on the film industry, but can see himself considering a future in politics, down the road.
He wants to get settled first, get involved with the community again, volunteer some, and possibly start a family.
“I have spent the last few years of my life changing cities too often to put down roots. Now as I look to start a family over the next few years, I know that it’s always a good thing to volunteer in the community. It’s how we make sure Maple Ridge continues to be a great community.”