Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Great Clown Influence...

When I was a kid, I used to spend a couple of weeks each summer with my friend Gary in Oregon.

It was always exciting. I lived with another family, new crazy rules, they had things like soda in their refrigerator, amazing to me. I thought that was only for families that lived in commercials. The first place I visited, they lived in a place without sidewalks. Wow.

It seemed like a million miles away, they lived in Oregon. Mostly Eugene, later Beaverton, outside Portland. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, going to Oregon was an amazing adventure; it rained in the summer and there were trees everywhere. They had wild berries encroaching every untended area of their lives. The berry situation was so bad, if the highway maintenance guys didn’t cut it back or more likely poison the bejesus out of it, they would grow onto the highway, popping tires enjoying their mischief toward the crazy humans.

We sometimes would pick the berries. That was pretty cool but terribly painful. Blood oozing from thorn holes in my skin.

My grand influence is Bill McAdam. I’ve thought so much of him over the years what a goofy guy he is.

Bill sold toys for a living. It seemed pretty amazing for a kid to know you could sell toys as your job. I know now sales are sales, If there's money to be made, there will be salespeople. At that time, there was a toy market in drug stores, five and dimes. There were no Targets or Walmarts. There was Toys R Us but that was heresy to say that name in their house.

It was a great house, no one cleaned up, there were toy samples all over. They never used the kitchen table, it was piled chest high with mail, bills, old report cards and trash and of course (sigh) toy samples.

This is where I learned to to be goofy, this is where I would laugh and eventually where I learned to juggle. My friend Gary and I went to the same summer camp in Portland. At a talent show, I (of course) dressed in drag walking around like a goof. I had oranges in my bikini top. One of the counselors showed me how to juggle after my spectacle of an appearance.

I spent the next number of weeks in obsession juggling everything and anything. Most of it happened at Bill’s house. They even joked, “I must be preparing for the circus”. Little did they know, little did they know.

Bill loved being a father. My fondest... no greatest kid memory was going for a walk with Gary, myself and Bill. Bill was talking to us, “boys, pay attention, you have to watch yourself in the world” a second after he said that, he hit his head on a low hanging branch.

I busted a gut, I had never seen anything so funny. He was talking about watching out and a tree branch hit him. Man, it was the best.

I recently found out it was a set up. I was probably 40 something years old when he was talking to me and said, he did it on purpose. I so disappointed, I have always thought that was the greatest. I guess that's the key to being a clown, it's the total belief system.

I get asked a lot, why did you become a clown? What’s special about a clown? And the question I ask of myself, of all the types of performing, why clowning, it’s such a niche? It comes back to watching Bill.

When I was quite young, I got to see Bill perform in a melodrama. It was the classic “can’t pay the rent, you must pay the rent” kind of thing. I was all of 9, I don’t remember much of the plot but I had a blast. We could buy peanuts and throw them at the villain.

I am pretty certain Bill played the villain, I don't remember for sure. It was so fun to boo hiss and throw peanuts at our beloved father figure. Another great clown performance. I’m sure the only way to get people to buy the peanuts was to have a great hated villain. You have to be a pretty good clown to play something like that.

I think of people like Bill. When clowning works, there is nothing like it, there is simply nothing comparable to the level of laughter you can get. On occasion, I get people wheezing with laughter, they can’t catch their breath. I am quite pleased and I pay homage to Bill.

Another time, we went fishing in the dead of winter. My mom’s then boyfriend Joe, Gary and his dad Bill. No one could fart like Bill. It was a clown pleasure to be around such heroics.

Bill is kind, funny and a gentle soul. He makes me laugh, sometimes he makes himself laugh so hard he can’t catch his own breath.

I’ve been thinking of Bill a lot. I’ve been doing some of my own soul searching and I realize, I have so much to thank Bill for. Yes, clowns are born and not made but along the way, to become a clown you have to witness other great clowns. Although not really a performer, a great great clown. And that of course, is my highest compliment.

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