[Editor's Note: Exene Cervenka is a writer, visual artist and punk rock pioneer. The OC transplant is the lead singer for X, the Knitters and Original Sinners. Her column, Exene Says…, is her space to basically just write what's on her mind, everything from crazy life stories to political theories and observations about what's going on in this fucked up world of ours. To contact her, send all messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
It's been quite a month for clowns! First, the exciting news that a snippet of behind-the-scenes footage from the unreleased film The Day the Clown Cried has surfaced on YouTube. Made in 1972, the film has been locked in a safe by its director and star, Jerry Lewis, since completion.
Lewis plays the role of Helmut Doork, a clown in World War II-era Germany, who publicly criticizes Hitler and the country's economy.
Overheard by SS officers, he is sent to a concentration camp. With a red nose, hobo-style stubble, a white mouth and a little hat, Mr. Doork soon begins entertaining the children in the camp. I'm going to spoil the ending: Mr. Doork is forced to lead a group of children into the gas chamber and decides to stay with them to die as well.
The concept bears a resemblance to the Oscar-winning film Life Is Beautiful. Nonetheless, Mr. Lewis has stated that the film will never be seen. The production was plagued by financial and artistic problems, and it isn't clear who or what has the rights regarding its release.
In other clown news, there was recently quite the hubbub at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. A rodeo clown (they prefer to be called “bullfighters” for luring bulls away from bucked riders, often getting trampled and gored in the process) donned a President Obama mask, hung a broom out of the back of his baggy trousers and made some comments, including “This bull's gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, Obama!” And the crowd went wild!
Overheard by fair officials, he was banned from future appearances. All rodeo clowns and rodeo participants must now undergo "sensitivity training” before being hired.
The clown in trouble is Tuffy Gessling. However, he was only the voice heard over the loudspeakers! It was another clown, who wishes to remain anonymous, who wore the mask. Mr. Gessling has said the gag was not intended to be racist and that the elder President Bush was once portrayed in a similar way.
A long time ago, court jesters were the only members of society permitted to make fun of the royals. Clowns use pathos, pantomime and slapstick to poke fun at everyday life, society, human failings and, sometimes, our rulers. Much of their art is done in bad taste. They show us the side of human behavior we don't want to see, much like standup comics, who, by the way, never undergo sensitivity training. Clowns are funny, yet they always seem so sad and forlorn. Nothing ever seems to go their way.
It's dangerous work, being a clown.