Sandy Roberts, a sophomore majoring in cinema-television production, died Saturday night following a car accident. He was 21.
The Hollywood, Fla., native loved making people laugh and had a passion for filmmaking, but friends said they will remember Roberts most for his kindness.
“He has some of those qualities that I feel like most people lose when they leave childhood — the ability to just walk up to someone and introduce himself or tell someone flat out that he wants to be friends with them or to make dates with people to hang out,” said Hayley Huntley, a junior majoring in creative writing.
Roberts came to USC from the University School of Nova Southeastern University, a private high school in Florida, to study cinema. After spending his childhood creating sets out of construction paper and Scotch tape and making videos for various groups in high school, he decided he wanted to edit film.
Although Roberts was accepted to many top film schools, including New York University, his father, Scott Roberts, said he fell in love with USC.
“With everything that’s going on there with cinema, no place touches USC,” Scott Roberts said. “Sandy was so proud to be a part of it.”
Roberts quickly found a place for his creativity on campus, working with the teams that won the “Best Comedy” award at the Campus Movie Fest at USC both his freshman and sophomore years. The film he worked on this year went on to win an award at the regional competition in San Francisco and will be shown at the upcoming international competition.
“He was a very funny guy, and I would say that he particularly had an understanding of situational comedy and the timing of things and the juxtaposition of certain points,” said Brian Rodysill, a sophomore majoring in environmental studies who lived with Roberts since their freshman year. “That really played into his editing because that’s how you create those moments in film. He was very good at it.”
This creativity was also apparent in Roberts’ humor. Roberts was a member of Child’s Play, a nationally known children’s improv troupe based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and performed with The Merry Men, an 11-member improv group at USC, since last spring.
“He was always funny,” said Joe DeSoto, director of The Merry Men. “If he was doing great, it was funny and you were laughing with him, and if he wasn’t, you still were, if only because he was laughing too.”
“He lit up a room,” his mother, Mimi Roberts, said. “He made everything fun and happy and joyous.”
Those who performed with Roberts said he had a dynamic stage presence — he was always singing and rhyming, making bold, “outlandish” choices in the name of comedy. Even though The Merry Men is technically a British improv troupe, his fellow comedians said Roberts preferred his trademark character, an Italian baker.
“He always challenged himself. He knew he got in way over his head and he knew it and relished it. That was why he was so beneficial to our troupe because you can’t have — there’s no other Sandy Roberts,” said Mark Jacobson, a junior majoring in theatre who met Roberts through The Merry Men.
“There’s 10 of us now, but we’re always going to be 11-deep. Before a performance, we always put a foot in the middle of a circle and talk — we’re always going to be 11 feet deep,” he said.
Friends said the unique thing about Roberts’ humor was that, like Roberts himself, it was never mean-spirited.
“He’s very, very funny in a way that makes you wonder why anyone makes mean jokes or racial jokes or sexist jokes because he never needs to make any of those to be very funny,” Huntley said.
Scott Roberts credited his son’s good nature to his mother.
“He was a gentleman,” Scott Roberts said. “He got that quality because his mother taught him very good manners and very specific lessons about how to treat people.”
Roberts also learned a lot from his younger brother, Zack. The two were best friends and worked together on a variety of projects, from performing comedy routines at family gatherings to writing and producing films, listing “Roberts Brothers Productions” at the end.
“We were a team our whole life,” Zack Roberts, who is a year and a half younger than Sandy, said. “We had an unspoken way that we could work perfectly with each other. We could finish each other’s sentences and know what each other were thinking. It’s the type of thing that we would fill in the gaps for each other.”
Friendship was also important to Roberts, who formed a group of close-knit friends from the beginning of his time at USC.
“Sandy could also have this completely serious side, not where he wasn’t happy but where he would stop joking, and that’s really when you could see how passionate he was about the things he did in his life,” said Evan Moore, a sophomore majoring in theatre. “One thing he never joked about was friendship.”
“As funny as he was he also had the capability to be there when you need it,” said Katie Longawa, a sophomore majoring in critical studies who met Roberts the first week of freshman year.
Those who knew Roberts said they couldn’t think of him without thinking of Nicole Deane, his girlfriend, whom he dated for more than a year.
“When people think about Sandy, Nicole is synonymous with that and it’s vice versa. You think of Nicole, you think of Sandy,” Longawa said.
“Sandy changed her,” said Natasha Deane, Nicole’s mother. “Their relationship was as close as the joining of two people into one. She was in him and he was in her.”
Roberts was passionate about everything in his life, friends said.
“Sandy was one of the most passionate people that I knew,” Rodysill said. “He knew his interests and something could snag him and he would be very interested in it, but he would be 100 percent committed, whether it was his films or undertaking the task of doing his laundry.”
Though family and friends said they would remember Roberts for his dedication, his greatest attribute, they said, was his sincerity.
“Film was what he did, Nicole was who he was with and The Merry Men was where he did improv,” Jacobson said. “You knew that when he was with you, he was loving every minute of it, committed to every minute of it and loving where he was.”
“Although he was extremely busy, active and sought after, and involved in a tremendous amount of organizations and clubs, when you were lucky enough to snag time with him, you were his entire focus,” Mimi Roberts said. “He blocked out everything and you were his world.”