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Send out the clowns. August 14, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found clowns, puppets, and marionettes terrifying rather than funny, lovable, or endearing. I can much more easily relate to Alice Cooper’s epic “Can’t Sleep, the Clowns Will Eat Me” and Chucky as horror-movie icon than the idea that these monstrous pseudo-people are supposed to be harmless. I feel the same way about traditional nutcrackers, as in “The Nutcracker Suite,” too, with their huge, clacking jaws and teeth.

I realized as an adult that my fears were actually well-grounded. Clowns across history and throughout cultures—at least until the age of circuses—were originally created to humiliate, mock, and terrify, not to entertain. From the first appearance of clowns in mediaeval cycle-dramas to the Koshare clowns in Southwest pueblo ceremonies, the original role of clowns was to terrify and humiliate fair and festival attendees in order to draw attention to their shortcomings and bring them back to a sense of humility and obligation to their community and to their belief system. Nothing funny about that!

Ditto, in my view, the ghastly-looking puppet-marionettes, from Punch to Howdy Doody. The popularity of Punch, also of mediaeval origin, was twice punctured in modern times, first in the classic “The Wicker Man,” and again in the musical “Scrooge.”  Dressed as a clown with his nightmarish new-moon face, “Punch” is burned alive in the ghastly, shocking denouement of the original “Wicker Man.” (In “Scrooge,” the puppeteer is merely harassed by an oblivious Ebenezer Scrooge during the middle of a “Punch and Judy” performance.)

The topic of clowns and the like comes up every once in awhile, and I’m relieved to say that Alice Cooper and I aren’t the only people who find them frightening. But the puppet/marionette thing almost never comes up, so what brought it all to mind? I confess, it’s our friend Ben’s and my next-door neighbors, Bill, Fran, and Ollie (their beloved cockapoo). For some reason, this reminded me of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, a marionette show from the 20th century. I not only remembered the name, but remembered that one of the three was a dragon. So finally, I checked them out on Wikipedia, only to find to my surprise that their show had run and ended long before I was born and old enough to watch TV. Urk! Then how do I know their names?!

Ditto for Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, a ventriloquist/puppet act of almost unrivalled annoyance. I’d be willing to swear I actually saw this act on TV, somewhere, sometime. And frankly, I can’t blame Shari Lewis for annoying the hell out of me with the sickening ooey-gooey voice she contrived for her sheep puppet. In an era when every cartoon character shrieked at top volume in a falsetto soprano that should have broken the glass of the TV screen, the Lamb Chop voice was probably pretty low-key. But I hated it, and I hated all animation for that reason, and I’ve never managed to overcome that ingrained loathing. To this day, I’d rather eat broken glass than watch any form of animation. And if I see a clown, puppet, or marionette, I’ll still run and hide.

“Send in the clowns,” Judy Collins sings, ironically. No, please, send them out. And let them take their puppets, marionettes, and animation with them. Life is scary enough, and annoying enough, without them.

        ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

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Comments»

1. mr_subjunctive - August 14, 2009

Must be something in the air: I have a post in the works that also addresses, sorta tangentially, the creepiness of clowns and puppets. (Sometime in the next week, is the plan.) Though how anybody could have a problem with Shari Lewis or Lamb Chop is beyond me.

Ha! I’ll look forward to seeing what you have to say, Mr. S.!

2. fairegarden - August 14, 2009

Big clown hater here, but I was definitely part of the peanut gallery for Howdy Doody Time! Oh how I miss Buffalo Bill, not not not not Clarabelle! With the name of Frances, Kookla Fran and Ollie was a cruel joke to me. Also, Ding Dong School with Miss Frances. We won’t even start on Francis the talking mule, at least that was the male spelling. 🙂
Frances

Ha!!! Oh, dear, Frances! I for one would never have connected your name with KF&O. I guess we should all just be grateful we weren’t named Ed!

3. Gail - August 14, 2009

I was never a fan of the circus and never thought the clowns were at all funny! I don’t like mimes either…they annoy the h*** out of me! …and as long as we are talking about annoying voices…I totally dislike the Sesame Street Baby Bear character…that voice is terrible. Grover I like. gail

I hate mimes as well, Gail! Just forgot to mention them. Maybe I’m just too verbal, but I could never get the appeal of, say, Harpo Marx, while I immediately loved Groucho.

4. Daphne Gould - August 14, 2009

I’ve never been in love with clowns, but I love hand puppets. I find them cute and fuzzy just like stuffed animals, but with personality. And I agree with Gail, I love Grover.

I see your point about the hand puppets, Daphne! I too love stuffed animals, and still have two of mine from ca. age two (admittedly, they are in the attic, but still… ). It’s just those horrid voices people insist on giving them.

5. Jen - August 14, 2009

I never did get into Lamb Chop either, Silence. I always thought Mr. Rogers used puppets well in his Land of Make Believe. He had such a gentle way about him – they weren’t terrifying at all.

I missed the whole Mr. Rogers phenom, Jen (also Sesame Street and many another program), so my POV is probably unbalanced! But gentle is always good!

6. Benjamin - August 14, 2009

Oh Shari Lewis yuck yuck yuck. I never have seen the appeal of clowns either. Doesn’t that makeup look demonic? I mean, look at the joker in the movie The Black Knight–that’s a clown, not the forced-upon-us images of birthday parties and the circus. No, clowns are like nursery rhymes and bedtime stories–covert ways of telling us life is terrifying.

Great points, Benjamin, and you’re so right, The Joker is a REAL clown!

7. Curmudgeon - August 16, 2009

Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s helped me learn English, but I hated most of the puppets–except for Oscar the Grouch because he was such a … Curmudgeon! I concur on clowns, puppets, marionettes–the stuff of nightmares. BUT have you seen Les Guignols de l’info? (The original Guignol dates back to late 1700s and was based on the character of Polichinelle (Punch) borrowed from the commedia dell’arte.) You can find Les Guignols de l’info (created in the late 1980s) on youtube. I absolutely love them. I think it’s becuase the witty satire, and linguistic verve are so intense that I forget I’m watching puppets. And Sarkozy has been giving them such a manure pile with which to work that there is no shortage of material. The biting social commentary goes much further than anything else I’ve come across on either side of the pond!

Ha! Les Guignols sound great, Curmudgeon! Gotta check ’em out!!!


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