One of four children of Robert and Shirley (Jenkins) Townsend, Robert Townsend was born in Chicago, Illinois, United States, on February 6, 1957. Not long after, Townsend’s father, a construction worker, divorced his mother. With the help of her own mother, she raised the children on her own, working at the post office to support the family. Eager to protect her children from the violence that surrounded them, she kept Townsend and his siblings in their apartment as much as possible. Townsend often mimicked what he heard on different TV programs; he also performed accomplished imitations of popular actors, to his friends’ amusement. At the time, his only goal was to play basketball—he’s a little over six feet tall. But his skills seemed to lie elsewhere, and he remembers spending a lot of time on the bench, cheered by the fact that even if he wasn’t on the court, his friends found him very funny. Townsend’s mother offered great support, reassuring her children that they were capable of anything.