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Clowns Complete

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The picture I have been working on of the clowns of Sing Sad Songs is now finished.

These are the clowns;

  • Mr. Dickens (Boz) the clown of character
  • Mr. Shakespeare (the Bard) the clown of creativity
  • Mr. Disney (Diz) the clown of comedy
  • Mr. Poe (with his pet raven Nevermore) the clown of consequences

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The Secret Life of Clowns

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The clowns of Sing Sad Songs; Mr. Dickens, Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Disney, and Mr. Poe

The truth is, clowns are rarely happy people under the greasepaint and the manic grin.  An underlying feature of every funnyman is a background of hardship, suffering, and sadness.  There is a reason why Robin Williams committed suicide and Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose.  If you listen to the comedy of George Carlin in his last few years, he became a horribly bitter and cynical man.

The reason for all this wearing of clown masks and underlying sadness is really based on a very simple equation.   Living a hard life, but dealing with it with the power a sense of humor gives you, yields wisdom.  And how do you best deliver wisdom to all the people out there?  A sugar-coated candy shell is just the thing.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine to go down, to plagiarize Mary Poppins.  Say your wise words like a wise guy and say it with a smile.

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So why am I so clown-happy and therefore clown-posty today?  Well, I have used clowns in a very metaphorical way in the novel I am now finishing, Sing Sad Songs.  Clowns are definitely on my mind.  And I have a sneaking suspicion creeping up on me that maybe… just maybe… I am myself a clown.

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For the Love of Sad Clowns

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This is my latest clown picture, inspired by my newest fascination with Puddles’ Pity Party on YouTube.  Like all my clown pictures, I am fairly sure that my number one son will tell me it’s a creepy clown.  He has never liked clowns.  When he was still small we took him to the pre-show at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus which at that time was Meet the Clowns.  We met the men… and women… and dwarves… in the face paint with the loud personalities and huge red smiles.   I was charmed, as always, but number one son spent most of the time behind my pantleg, peering around for sneak peaks at the clowns.  He was actually shivering most of the time.

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But me, I love clowns.   Always have.  Especially the sad clowns.  The hobo clowns.  Red Skelton playing Freddy the Freeloader, Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp, Marcel Marceau, the peerless mime, and Emmett Kelly Jr. as Weary Willie.  There is something deeply poetic and resonant about a clown who makes you laugh by his outward actions but manifests deep feelings and an underlying sadness on the inside.  It is a metaphor for the whole of life in the human world.

Puddles walked on to the stage of America’s Got Talent and engaged everyone first with his silent-clown mime routine, and then grabbed everyone right by the heart by singing a song about drinking and swinging on the chandelier with such emotion and operatic power that, by the end of the song everyone was standing, everyone loved him.  Singing clowns with a sad song help us keep our own little boats afloat on a vast and stormy ocean of life.  The song buoys us up and makes it bearable to tread water a little longer.  I am at a time and place in my life where I really need that.

I love clowns.  Especially sad clowns.  Particularly when they sing.

I dare you to watch these videos and not fall in love with Puddles.  That’s the point of sad clowns.  They make you laugh at the sad and serious things that tear people apart.  And by doing that, they put Scotch Tape on the tears and put you back together.

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Shakespeare Knows Fools

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The fact that Shakespeare was a master of the art of creating and mocking fools does not really help decide the question of who Shakespeare really was.  A stage actor who owned a theater in Elizabethan times and apparently focused on being the bit player, the butler, the second man on the castle wall in the great plays, would certainly know enough of flim-flam, being a con man, or artfully throwing turds at kings and queens in ways that get rewarded rather than beheaded.  But a nobleman who has unpopular and unwelcome-but-probably-wise insights into the back-stabbing-goings-on of the royal court of England would equally be capable of putting the most memorable of critiques of humanity into the mouth of the fool or the clown in the great stage-play of life.  Even the most depressing and violent of the Shakespearean tragedies is enhanced and made pointed by the presence of the fool and the comic relief.  In some ways everything that Shakespeare wrote was a comedy.

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he shared Mark Twain’s overall assessment of “That damned human race” and often declared all men fools in the eyes of the playwright.  Puck’s observation on humanity is delivered about not only Bottom and the other poor players who carry on their vain attempts at performing Pyramus and Thisbe while Bottom magically wears the head of an ass, but also the easily fooled lovers who mistake their true loves for one another, and even the clueless mortal King Theseus of Athens.

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In the play within a play, Nick Bottom wants to be not only his own role, Pyramus the romantic lead, but argues that he should be Thisbe, the lion, and Pyramus all at once, making a satire of human nature and its overreaching ways that we could only pray Donald Trump will one day watch and magically understand.  In fact, Shakespeare’s entire body of work is an extended investigation of foolishness versus wisdom, and with Shakespeare, the verdict always goes to the fool.

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The plays of William Shakespeare are filled with fools doing foolish things… and fools being accidentally wise. (Think Jacques in As You Like It giving his famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy in which he elucidates the seven ages of man.)  There are fools too who prove to be wise.  (Think of the ironic advice given by the jester Touchstone in As You Like It, or the pithy commentary of King Lear’s fool).  The fools in Shakespeare’s work are not merely the comedy relief, but the main point that Shakespeare makes about humanity.

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Whoever the man was who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, he was someone who had a deep understanding of the basic irony underlying all of human life.  And someone with that vital sense of the bittersweet, a philosophy of life that encompasses the highest heights and lowest depths that a soul can reach, is someone who has suffered as well as known great joy, someone who has experienced loss as often as profit, and has known real love as well as real hatred.  It is the fool that Shakespeare shakes us by the neck with to make us recognize the fool in all of us which makes the plays resonate so deeply within us.  It is watching the path of the fool unfolding that makes us shake our head and say to ourselves, “Yes, that is what life is really like.”

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When You Can’t Laugh at the Clowns

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It is sad that Ringling Brothers, Barnum, & Bailey will be closing for good this coming May.  I have personally gone to the circus and enjoyed the spectacle under the big top (though actually in arenas) about fifteen times, first with my parents and then with my own kids.  I loved the elephants, the wire-walkers, the lion tamers, and I laughed at the clowns.  And now that will no longer be possible.  I have gradually lost more and more of the most important things in my life as I have gotten older.  I lost mobility with arthritis.  I have lost financial security through health problems.  I have lost the ability to do the job I devoted my life to and so deeply loved.  And now I can no longer laugh at the clowns.

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The problem is not that there are no clowns left, even though most of the greatest ones, Emmett Kelly, Bob Keeshan, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and the man who played Bozo, have all passed on.  The problem is not that my kids are afraid of clowns, scared to death of people who aggressively get right up in your face while theirs is covered with grease paint (especially since my kids are now grown and can sock the clown in his painted mush if he gets too close).  The problem isn’t even that the clowns are not funny any more.

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The problem is that the Clown in Chief has killed the laughter.  He has become an agent of instability and chaos.  When he is mocked brilliantly by Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, he has to mount a tweet storm on Twitter and uses his limited twit-wit to angrily denounce and threaten and belittle instead of laughing at the jokes as other politicians like the current President and Vice President have graciously done, even sometimes using self-deprecating humor to get in on the jokes themselves.  Even notoriously humorless political clowns like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin have more grace in ignoring mockery and smiling at insults than this Great Orange Face that we put in charge of the country’s most serious business.

The ability to laugh at oneself is a very serious thing.  When the whole “golden showers” business made it into the national debate, this manic moron did not make it seem mere political hum-buggery by laughing it off.  No, he got deeply offended and defensive, the same way a person who is actually guilty of the accusation would react.  So, if it is not true, the Crybaby in Chief has only bolstered our belief that it is most probably true.  As ridiculous as the accusation sounds, you have to admit that Trump’s behavior in the past makes you at least entertain the possibility that it is a true thing that he has done.

And now, he has over-reacted again, this time to the very real concerns raised by Congressman John Lewis, an honest-to-God civil rights hero, with cruel and crusty criticism that lowers my respect for Trump as well as lowering all future expectations.  The man isn’t even sworn in yet, and he has already shown such bilious badness in his character that I truly dread living in this country under his rule.

I am a man who lives to laugh, and laughs to live.  That is how I overcome the things that bother me as well as the things that hurt me.  I use laughter as medicine, not as a weapon.  And I hate to see the viruses in our society that I have always been able to inoculate myself against with humor become totally drug-resistant in that way.

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Clowns (An Edited Re-Post from 2013)

ClownheadWhen 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.

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3508-03052011141710-Dumbo With Clown Faceclown_faceWhy 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.

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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.

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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).

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Playing the Evil Clown Game

One of the biggest dangers of Presidential elections is that one of the fools running for the office has to get elected.  So, how do you decide which of the many evil clowns are acceptable to elect?  It is critical to know what jokes and pranks they are most likely to pull on the American people if given the opportunity to run the show in the Bigtop.

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For instance, Mr. King’s observation here is not a joke.  Senator Cruz is infected with corporate vampirism because his corporate masters are the ancient Nosferatu brothers known as Charles and David Koch.  For years now, these Libertarian vampire overlords have been sucking money out of the middle class and their thirst for more green blood from this country’s financial jugulars is unquenchable.  Cruz is against Obamacare because it puts limits on healthcare-for-profit excesses that prey upon the elderly and the infirm to make their zombie hordes.

But I have spent a lot of time harping on the bad clowns that want to be president.  I haven’t given much time or thought to the good clowns, or the less-evil clowns.  In the Republican field, one has to look for the Stephen-King clowns that have eaten fewer children.  Using “It” as the yardstick, Marco Rubio and John Kasich seem to have cooked fewer kiddies into gingerbread than the majority of the field.  is (3)

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I might also point to Rand Paul, even though he has gingerbread dough on his chin and frosting for hair, except that Wednesday I condemned him as an idiot.  Libertarians do get the concept of what freedom could actually mean if watered and nurtured like a flower.  But unlike his goofy father Ron, Rand uses weed-killer instead of water.

Rubio is a Spanish-speaking Latino from Florida who actually knows what it is like to grow up brown in white America.  He gets it that Hispanics are considered second-class citizens and are to be talked down to as ignorant children that only need to be firmly told what is good for them, and expected to accept the poison pills without complaining about the taste.  He does get that immigrants have needs, and he is willing to help a little with one hand while he builds a wall against Mexico with the other hand.

Kasich actually said some very un-Republican things about illegal immigrants, suggesting they work harder than most people and get less help or benefits than anybody else.  He is for amnesty for hard-working immigrants who are already here, and intends to only wall off the ones who aren’t here yet.   He knows that undocumented workers have bolstered the economy of his home State of Ohio, and he he doesn’t want to get rid of them in Ohio, California, Texas, or anywhere else where they help the profit margin.  He will make them legal and then just pay them far less than they are worth, the way corporate America has been doing to middle-class white folks since the 1980’s.

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If you should choose Alfred E. Newman’s twin brother Scott Walker as your playing piece in this life-or-death Elect a Clown for President game, you should know that I will oppose you to my dying breath.  He has destroyed education in Wisconsin, and he not only destroys teachers’ unions, there is some evidence that he actually eats teachers for breakfast.

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I would like to warn you that I truly believe the only way to win this Evil Clown Game is not to play it with Republicans.  But I know there are enough people in the evil-people/stupid-people coalition to elect a Republican as the next President.  It is my prayer that we are at least smart enough to elect one of the not-so-evil clowns like Rubio or Kasich.  Our planet will be the loser if we elect another flight-suit-wearing rodeo clown like we did a few years back.

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