Actor Charles Robinson, sometimes called Charlie, had a long and eclectic career that spanned decades, and included work on stage, on TV and in movies, and even in TV commercials. Robinson died in mid-July, at the age of 75.
Robinson, a member of the Actors Studio in the 1960s, had such credits as Lou Grant, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere, all in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He frequently popped up as a guest star on TV shows, including on Key and Peele, and in “Come Ye Saints,” probably the best episode of the HBO show Big Love (Robinson may well have been the only Black actor to ever appear on that Utah-set show).
But the role for which Robinson will likely always be most associated was that of Mack Robinson, the Vietnam vet-turned-New York City court clerk on the NBC series Night Court. On a show that had a great deal of cast turnover, Robinson’s character remained on the series from the second season all the way up to the ninth and final one.
While he played the show’s straight man at times, Mack was perhaps the show’s most likable character, often a voice of reason in a crazy world. The cardigan-clad clerk eventually got some more serious plotlines, including his eventual marriage to a woman from Vietnam.
This especially memorable episode has Mac having to decide whether to protect an old Army buddy who once saved his life.
Robinson became notorious in his later years for another sitcom appearance. The actor guest-starred in a single scene of a single episode of How I Met Your Mother, in season 2.
The plot of the episode is that the architectural firm where Ted (Josh Radnor) works is working on a building project that looks especially phallic, something to which the lead architect (a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) was oblivious. Robinson played the client, whose incredulous reaction to the architectural model – “that’s a penis!” — later became a popular gif:
The gif, days after Robinson’s death, was frequently posted in reaction to the Jeff Bezos rocket launch.
Actor Wendell Pierce tweeted that he had been working on a play with Robinson in the weeks before his death: