Sometimes people need to be cheered up. And sometimes nothing cheers you up like a 6’8” sad clown/performance artist named Puddles nailing “Royals” so hard you can’t hear the real song in your brain anymore. It’s like he did a weird magic trick to me.
Imagine you see an impossibly tall clown in old-fashioned black and white clown makeup, bald head all covered up with white paint, and black lips and eye drops and just a little red paint on his nose, overly expressive, is what it makes him, with white clothes, and three enormous black bobbles in place of buttons on his shirt-front, and black rick-rack at his ruffled white satin sleeves and double neck-ruff, and white gloves on his huge hands, which he uses to mime the driving of imaginary Cadillacs to excellent effect, and a duo of backup singers so composed they look as if they are waiting for the Kronos Quartet to come on, at which point they will contribute 12 bars only and stay at the side for the rest of the time, and a pianist who…is never seen and may well be Satan, don’t ask me but I’ve just got a bad feeling about this guy—and then anyway upright bass, and drums with brushes because it’s MTV-Unplugged time, apparently…right, but Puddles is wearing a crown made of tin painted gold with a P on it and is…is… Man, y’all should watch this video.
I personally, am not afraid of clowns. There’s something humorously American about thinking, “oh, we’re the only one’s afraid of clowns, it’s Stephen King’s fault, etc.” No, fools! Everywhere in the world people wear masks, or face paint, and when they do that, they freak you right out. A tiny Japanese school-girl wearing a fox spirit mask? Scary. Even askew so you can see her real face? SCARY. These guys from Trivandrum in India, when they play the demons [I have been corrected by reader Peter Erwin,who notes that divine heroes also use the blood-red eyes. Having checked, it seems as if this man, with his red lips only, is probably a hero, while if he had similar green makeup with red slashes in it he would be a demon—but an awesome demon], they put a flower petal inside each eye at the bottom, under the lower lid next to the eyeball, to make their eyes blood-red. (I watched them do their make-up one time when I went to see the performance, you could go early.)
Verdict: SCARY. I have a mask from Lombok that’s of the evil Balinese king from a play (all the Balinese kings in all the plays are evil; it’s like having a Grand Vizier; you signed up for evil) and I used to have to go to ridiculous lengths so my kids wouldn’t have to walk past it at night.
Now it’s part of my shrine to evil so that’s OK I guess, though Violet still says “I don’t know how you can sleep like that with him…watching you.” [sotto voce: still scary.]
But this type of classic clown of mime makeup, so derided, so strangely expressive…it’s compelling somehow. Not the foam nose. I saw a real Punch and Judy show when I was a kid, sort of wooden theater and puppets beating the tar out of each other. I went to a one ring circus, too, outside Columbia, South Carolina. Some of those guys who were there in 1980 must have been some old-timey carnival types… Once at the real Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus in Savannah when I was 6 or something there were identical twins who were high-wire walkers and they would walk up these steep ramps of wire on either side and then across on the long flat. My mom took me and my brother. We had good seats, and caramel popcorn, we were right up over the lights when the one twin fell from almost all the way to the top of the platform, into the bank of lighting. He died instantly. I was sure he was dead, but I was willing to believe people lying to me that he wasn’t dead. They sent in for the clowns then, brother, not just a few, but every damn one they had, unicycles and juggling bowling pins and torches and coming up into the stands with pinwheel lollipops, and all that time trying to cover up the broken glass and the lights but get the body at the same time, but not get anybody else hurt, and then smuggle him out of the ring when the beautiful ladies in the spangled costumes came in standing on the horses. The other brother got down safely. I’m still not afraid of clowns, though.