When you are small, there is something intimidating about a man in strange clothes and a garish pattern of white and red and blue all over his face. What is he hiding? What does he want? Why does he squeeze off a blast from that ridiculous little horn with the big red squeeze bulb right in your little-boy face? His big floppy shoes suggest monstrous feet. Why does he have such a big mouth with red paint all around it? “The better to eat you with, my dear!”
But clowns have a purpose for those of us who are no longer frightened little boys. They parody our actions and exaggerate everything. They look like us, sound like us, and behave like us if only we are able to look at ourselves times twelve or thirteen. They are essential to our lives and our happiness. Why, you ask? Because, my friend, we should never take ourselves too seriously. If we look at life only through serious eyes, we will never get enough of weeping. When we fill up too many balloons full of air with our face painted on them, balloons of self-importance, as serious adults are wont to do, then we need to find the maniac with the pin. He’s not always a professional with face paint and floppy shoes. Sometimes he is the mailman, the local grocer, or even your deadbeat brother-in-law. But the point is, no matter how scary he sometimes seems, we all depend on the clown. We all need the foolishness of the most foolish among us. It keeps us sane.
Why then did I have to take it upon myself to give the world clowns? After all, that is precisely what I am doing as a writer. I am physically miserable with my six incurable diseases. I have diabetes, arthritis, hyper tension, psoriasis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, and I have a prostate the size of a cantaloupe. I can’t walk without a cane. I can’t breathe while I’m walking. I can’t pee without pain. I can’t draw as much as I’d like. And I have already been forced to retire from teaching… the single greatest thing I ever did with my foolish little life. Oh, and every night while I’m trying to sleep, I itch the top layer of skin off all my most sensitive anatomical parts thanks to the gift of psoriasis. I have every reason to just curl up in a ball and cry. But that’s not what a clown does. A clown picks himself up and dusts off that rusty tin can that he keeps his sense of humor in. He takes a pinch of clown snuff out of the can along with the rusty pin and induces an eye-opening sneeze of monstrous proportions. A clown looks at the world around him with newly enlarged eyes and sees all the really absurd things that are there. He looks at the way high school students act. He sees politicians like Ted Cruz strutting around like a peacock in the U.S. Senate. The clown sees injustice, moronic balloons with Ted Cruz’s face on them getting bigger and bigger and probably presidential, people on Texas roadways turning road rage into performance art, and even the contradictory things the clown’s wife says to him in little cartoon speech balloons that never seem to agree with each other and fight back and forth until they fill up the entire Cartoon Panel of Real Life. The clown sharpens that sense of humor, that crooked little pin, until it is balloon-popping razor sharp. It suddenly becomes time to pop a few balloons.
There are clowns in my writing not just because I like to write humor, but because it is the only way I can truly fight back. I must crack a few jokes. I must take a few metaphors and push them and pull them until they are so out of shape they form a picture of Ted Cruz’s face. I must puncture things and blow things up. I must toss sarcasm-berry pies at Ted Cruz’s face. (Actually, I love Ted Cruz. What wannabe humorist wouldn’t? He’s such an easy target.) I must mock things and ape people. I must sock things and grape people… waitaminnit! Grape people? Is that what a one-eyed, one-horned, giant purple people eater eats? I must do all the funny foolish things that a foolish funny clown can do to make the tears turn to laughter and pain to be ignored. Ted Cruz to be ignored too, if possible.
I have a riff or two to do on the clown heroes who inspire me. Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and even Charlie Chaplin. But maybe that has to wait for another day… another post. As teachers and other clowns must always be aware, the attention span of the audience wears out quickly. If you have read this far, you are getting sleepy… sleepy (Michael Beyer is the funniest writer you ever read and you will not remember that I am the one who told you so).