The Clown Joke
Once there was a young boy, just 8 years of age. He lived in a small rural community, and there wasn't much to do when he wasn't at school. His nearest neighbours lived several miles away, so early on he learned to make his own fun, and be his own best friend. He may not have had a very exciting life as defined by an outsider, but he liked it, and was happy.
Because of the dearth of activities, when something came up it was an awfully big deal. Now every so often, a travelling circus would make its way to the local fairground and set up for a few weeks in the summer. This was the most hotly anticipated social event in the township's memory, and all the little boy ever heard about since he was old enough to remember.
One hot July day, a few weeks after his 8th birthday, the boy saw the first poster for the famous circus in the window of Greely's Soda Shoppe. It was coming! In just 7 days! He could hardly contain his excitement. He ran all the way home and told his mother, hwo started calling all her friends. Anyone who has lived in a small town will understand - it is physically impossible to exceed the speed of gossip. Soon, the whole town was abuzz with excitement and anticipation.
The little boy had been saving up all his allowance, birthday and Christmas money for two years, and had a nice wad of cash to spend at the circus. After long negotiations, he got his parents to agree that he could go about on his own, and spend his money how ever he liked. The night before the circus was due to open he was unable to sleep at all, just waiting for what wonders lay around the corner.
In the morning, he jumped out of bed, got cleaned and dressed, wolfed down his scrambled eggs and bacon, and hurried off to visit the circus.
Nothing he had heard or read prepared him for the sensory experience of a real, live circus. The pungent smell of sawdust, animals, sugar and sweat; the flashing lights of the midway; the voices of the barkers extolling the virtues of their wares. He bathed in it. He took a culinary tour of the carnival, sampling the cotton candy, the toffee apples, the hot dogs and the funnel cakes. He played a few games, tossing rings at bottles and dipping for ducks. He rode on the Tilt-A-Whirl seven times in a row and was nearly sick, loving every minute. And he toured the freak shows, seeing the dog-faced boy, the human tadpole, and the amazing headless woman. As the evening drew in everyone started heading for the big top, where preparations for the main show of the evening were starting. The boy joined the crowds and found a seat right near the front so he could see all the action.
The ringmaster came out to the main ring in his brilliant red coat, shiny black boots and crushed velvet top hat, and said "Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages! I now present to you the most amazing sights you will ever see!" And he was not idly boasting. The boy watched acrobats and fire-eaters, jugglers and animal trainers, dancers and strongmen, and he drank it in like fine wine.
Finally, near the end of the show, the lights went down low and a small dumpy clown in a tiny green hat waddled out to the centre ring. He proclaimed loudly, "Ladies and gentlemen, I need a volunteer!" The audience went mad, screaming, hollering, and trying to make themselves seen. The boy joined in the brouhaha, hoping against hope that he would be picked to come into the centre ring.
A spotlight came on with a loud "thud" and began to swing over the crowd. Back and forth, back and forth, in a slowly decreasing circles, until it stopped - right on the shining face of the little boy. With the boundless energy of youth he hurtled over the barrier, and raced to join the clown's side.
The clown looked down at the boy and with a broad grin asked him, "Young man, tell me - are you a donkey?"
The boy furrowed his brow. "No," he replied.
"Are you a mule?"
"Well then you must be an ass! Aaaaahahahahahaaa!" The clown roared vicious laughter at the young boy, and the whole audience joined him. The boy stood in shock as wave after wave of derisive laughter enveloped him. The room started to spin, and the depth of his humiliation grew and grew. Finally he broke down sobbing, and ran out of the tent into the night.
He ran and ran, until he got home and threw himself on his bed. Wracked with sobs, he seemed to go on crying forever. The scorn! The mortification! Finally, the sobs dried up, and the boy sat upright in his bed. If anyone had seen him, they might have wondered at the glint of hardness in his eye that had not been there before. He straightened his shoulders, looked at himself in his mirror, and spoke in a steely voice that was quite out of character for one so young.
"I'm going to get that clown if it is the last thing I do."
The next day the boy went to town and visited the library. He started reading the joke books in the library, and systematically memorising them. He did this every day, until he had exhausted every book the library had. He practiced these jokes every chance he could, with his parents, with his friends, and immediately dropped anything that did not work. His aim was laughs, and he started to get them. Soon, he was ordering books through the inter-library loan program, and building up an immense storehouse of riddles, puns and knock-knock jokes. His parents were dumbfounded by his uncharacteristic drive, but stood back and let him pursue his passion in the hopes it would make him happy. They never asked what happened to him at the circus, but both knew something had, and it had changed their boy in some fundamental way.
The joke books soon got repetitive, which inevitably led to more abstract lines of research. He began reading biographies of famous comedians, and watching them on TV. He started taping stand-up comedy on TV every time it was on, and watching the shows over and over, studying the poise, the timing, and the stage presence of each performer. When he could find them, he voraciously devored books on comedy theory, history, and craft. He became the local "expert" on comedy, though many wondered why someone so funny seemed so sad.
Eventually, he went off to clown college to study face painting, juggling, mime, and close-up magic. his instructors often commented on his excellent performances and his dedication to the craft, and the boy (who was quickly becoming a man) just smiled and thanked them. If anyone noticed the hard gleam in his eye as he smiled, no one commented on it.
After graduating top in his class, he started showing up at open-mic nights and talent shows. He introduced new material, and refined it, honed it. He never made much money, just enough to live on, and he worked like a demon. He was driven, you see. In a few years he had made a name for himself as a stand-up comedian (and all-around performer) and crowds loved him. His signature piece, though, was the heckler put-down. Those who saw him on a regular basis (and he had a few hard-core fans) swore up and down, it was the best part of any show. He always put the stooge in their place, and he never used the same line twice. And the few who had seen every show would sometimes mention the fact that there was an air of gritty purpose in everything he did on stage, like his life depended on it. Cynics said that the hecklers were plants, that they had rehearsed the whole thing ahead of time, but the simple truth was that the boy who was now a man had no time for other people, and would never consider bringing in a partner on what he considered his very personal mission.
Finally, on the morning of his 30th birthday, he took a small bag with a change of clothes and a toothbrush, and got in his car. He drove to his parents' old place and stopped in town for a soda at Greely's. He saw the poster, but it was no surprise - he had been tracking it for months.
Opening night at the circus. A good night for vengeance.
He dropped off his things, and walked to the fairground. It was smaller than he remembered, but just as vivid. The smell of sawdust, animals, sugar and sweat; the flashing lights of the midway, the voices of the barkers. He had some cotton candy, and a hot dog. He played a few games, tossing rings at bottles and dipping for ducks. He even took a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. He saw the amazing headless woman smoking a cigarette with the dog-faced boy behind the freak show tents. Through it all, a chilly calm settled over him like a blanket.
As the evening drew in, everyone started heading for the big top for the main show of the evening. The man walked calmly to the tent, and found a seat near the front. He barely registered the fact that it was the same seat he had occupied years ago.
The ringmaster came out to the main ring, in the same brilliant red coat, shiny black boots and crushed velvet top hat, and said "Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages! I now present to you the most amazing sights you will ever see!" Everything was as he remembered it - the acrobats, and fire-eaters, jugglers and animal trainers, dancers and strongmen. For a brief moment, he was lost in the nostalgia, and forgot the real reason he had travelled so long and worked so hard - until it walked into the ring.
The lights went down low, and the same small dumpy clown in the same tiny green hat waddled out to the centre ring. He proclaimed loudly, "Ladies and gentlemen, I need a volunteer!" The audience screamed and cheered, begged and cajoled, but the man simply sat, a small smile on his lips. A smile that never quite reached his eyes.
A spotlight came on with a loud "thud" and began to swing over the crown. Back and forth, back and forth, in a slowly decreasing circles, until it stopped - inevitably - on the face of the man. He registered no surprise. Fate was with him. All his preparation was for this moment. It was time. He calmly joined the clown in the centre ring.
The clown asked him, "Sir, please tell me - are you a donkey?"
"No," he replied.
"Are you a mule?"
"Well then you must be an ass! Aaaaahahahahahaaa!" The clown once again roared his vicious laughter, and the whole audience joined him. The man stood, the expression on his face never changing. The clown sensed the moment slipping away from him as he stared intot hose cold, cold eyes, and the spell over the crowd began to dissipate. The laughter drained away awkwardly, until the entire crowd was deathly silent.
The man looked the clown deep in the eyes, a look of triumph blooming on his face, and exclaimed...
"Fuck you, clown."
[-Seth Hanisek, Fullback, Woo Wallcrawlers (#152, p171 bitches!)]