Send in the clowns ... don't bother, they're everywhere
You wonder what Pinto Colvig would think of Bob Gray.
Colvig, the Jacksonville native whose voice-acting career included Disney’s two-footed dog Goofy (four-footed Pluto didn’t talk) as well as Sleepy and Grumpy from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” is perhaps best remembered for bringing to the life the kid-friendly, warm-hearted and cheerful Bozo the Clown.
Bob Gray, on the other hand, is the man in the white face paint otherwise known as Pennywise — the cold-hearted, child-killing terror from the Stephen King novel “It,” from which the concluding part of the big-screen film adaptation in now in theaters near you scaring the you-know-what out of Losers Club empathizers.
Bozo and Pennywise might be polar opposites, but they are emblematic of the love-hate relationship that we have toward clowns.
King, whose source novel for the “It” films runs 1,138 pages or so, spoke to the duality when the first-part of the film bowed in 2017:
“Clowns are scary. There’s just no way around that. Clowns can be as angry as they want, and that’s their right — they’re clowns! ... I mean, if I were a sick kid and I saw a clown coming (to cheer me up), all the red lines would go off on my gear, because I’d be scared to death! Kids are scared of clowns.”
You’d think kids would be scared to death of being given a 1,138-page book to read ... 44 hours and 49 minutes if you want the audio version ... but that’s a story for another day.
Pennywise will be followed onto movie screens later this fall by the latest incarnation of Arthur Fleck, the criminal artist otherwise known as Batman’s Moriarty in “Joker.”
The Joker — who has been brought memorably to life on-screen by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto and, in the new film, Joaquin Phoenix — isn’t a clown in the traditional sense ... despite the physical appearance, maniacal laugh and a penchant for devious pranks.
Joker is a fractured soul whose comic and tragic masks are worn simultaneously, but whose moral compass has a distorted magnetic needle.
Life hasn’t been kind to clowns on television, either. In the era post-Bozo and Red Skelton’s hobo-clown portrayal of the sad-sack Freddie the Freeloader, prominent depictions of clowns have centered on the melancholy (if not completely skewed) aspects of the archetype.
Damon Wayans’s creation Homey D. Clown on the sketch comedy series “In Living Color” was an ex-con forced to work as a children’s performer (with predictable results).
Child at a party: “Why did you become a clown?”
Homey: “I guess it’s because I’ve got so much love to give ... and it’s part of my prison work release program. I got about five more years of this clown crap.”
On “Baskets,” the dark comedy that ended a four-season run last month, Zach Galifianakis portrayed a one-time professional “cloon” in Europe forced to work the rodeo circuit in Bakersfield, California.
Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofsky, aka Krusty the Clown of “The Simpsons” fame, is a washed-up performer who carries on through inertia, hating every minute he spends in his makeup.
“After 35 years of show business,” he laments, “people already forget who you are — just like what’s his name ... you know, the guy ... he always wore the shirt?”
Chuckles the Clown (“A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants.”) got his biggest laughs on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” by dressing as a peanut for a parade and subsequently being killed when “a rogue elephant tried to shell him.”
It’s not even living, breathing clowns who become targets for punishment. On the long-running procedural “Bones,” FBI agent Seely Booth is suspended and forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after submitting to his irrational fear and shooting a clown — although this one was just the cover of a loud speaker atop an ice cream truck.
Clowns have evolved in the cultural eye from sympathetic, helpful characters into mask-wearing, laughing-gas-projecting bringers of pain that make you squirm in your seat, trying to escape.
In another life, they’d be dentists.
Speaking of excruciating pain ... Jerry Lewis, no stranger to clownish on-screen behavior, memorably tried to evoke a clown as a schizophrenic harbinger of joy and impending doom in “The Day The Clown Cried” — a historically bad film (legend has it that it has actually never been seen once it went through the editing process) about a performer tasked with entertaining children in Nazi concentration camps.
That the same basic storyline was later adapted into the Oscar-winning film “Life Is Beautiful” only re-enforces the notion that how we view the concept of clowns depends upon the way we approach them as a symbol.
Consider the case of Joshua Jack, a New Zealander who worked (until recently) for an advertising company.
Told that the powers that be wanted to talk to him, Jack decided that he needed someone there to be on his side and thus he shelled out $200 and hired Joe, an emotional support clown, to go with him.
As Jack’s supervisors lowered the boom, Joe went about making balloon animals (and was told that the squeaking during the contraction process was too loud). Needless the say, the tactic was a failure ... and Jack was fired.
Joe, though, was still on the clock: As Jack reviewed his termination papers, the clown sat at his side — miming crying expressions.
The chief clown at email@example.com tried the Bozo Spin in the living room once, and knocked the rabbit ears off the TV set.