A character like Christine O’Donnell presents a unique problem for a humorist. Few elaborations are called for since the caricature is self-embodied. All that is needed is a dead-pan Jack Benny look. You know, the one where he just stares blankly at the audience without saying a word and eventually someone titters and before you know it the whole place is in hysterics? Her very existence as a major party candidate for US Senate is the kind of comedy which arrives ready-written and would only be spoiled by embellishment. I mean, what can you add to rabidantimasturbationtarianism, rats with fully-functioning human brains and her famous Witches of Eastwick campaign ad that looks like it was produced by Tim Burton? I had fully intended to leave Ms. O’Donnell to the other comedians and the pundits who were wearing her out on cable TV. But then came the most recent revelation that she has claimed that her father was Bozo the Clown. Here I had to break my silence, not in the name of humor, but in the cause of veracity. This is a subject I happen to know something about.
Long ago, for one magic season, I was related by marriage to Bozo the Clown. I’m not making this up. My father was a semi-notorious lothario in the television and advertising business. Sometime after he turned 50, he married the 17 year-old daughter of one of his professional colleagues, Larry Harmon, the guy who owned the franchise to Bozo, the Most Famous Clown in the World. He was Bozo Primero, not one of the many FauxZos who were franchised in every major media market. I was much closer to the power center of the Bozo world than Ms. O’Donnell ever dreamed of being. It gave me an intimate glimpse into the backstage life of clowns. I knew little of the inside workings of the clown business in those days. Like a naive child, I had assumed that, you know, Bozo was Bozo. It never occurred to me that there was a school, like a Bozo boot-camp, where imposters went to learn how to walk like a Bozo and talk like a Bozo and draw the red rictus of a smile on their faces with greasepaint. It was like learning a dirty family secret and it was a big disappointment. When you go to see Bozo, you want it to really be Bozo, not some guy dressed up in a Bozo costume.
I hadn’t thought about my brief inclusion in greasepaint royalty for years until Ms. O’D surfaced with her claims of actually being a blood relative of Bozo the Clown. The marriage between my father and Princess Bozo, which was chronologically challenged to begin with, barely outlasted the honeymoon. They had about as much in common as Christine would have in common with the 99 other US Senators. Suddenly the whole subject bubbled from my subconscious and made me wonder about franchises and politicians and the authenticity of clowns.
Since John Quincy Adams carried forth his father’s political legacy, American politicians have campaigned on the richness of their family’s past public service. Roosevelt and Kennedy and Bush all represent minor dynasties and it is entirely in keeping with this tradition for Ms. O’D to claim descent from Bozo. Clowning is as present in the current of American politics as populism, liberalism or conservatism. But in light of Ms. O’D’s penchant for resume enhancement, she fibbed about her college career and has downplayed her wiccan studies, her claims to clownly ancestry are also suspect. While she seems like a natural and can certainly get a laugh and works well in the side-shows, one has to wonder if she is really ready for the Big Top, the center ring.
The US Senate is the Big League of Buffoonery. Even pros like Colbert have trouble hanging there. It’s a tough room. Notice that Al Franken, even with all his years of practical comic experience, has been keeping mum in deference to the mime-masters of the Senate. These clowns can juggle, ride unicycles, do pratfalls and get shot from cannons, all with the perfect dead-pan of their painted-on media faces. They are consummate clowns adept with all the tricks, the seltzer bottle, the pie-in-the-face, the filibuster. I don’t want to get all Stephen King on you but these aren’t nice clowns. Ms. O’D should think twice before she alienates her witch constituency, she may need some strong juju to avoid the dunking stool. They’ll make her the senator-punk-clown. Every troupe of clowns has one, the smallest clown, bottom of the pecking order, the one who all the other clowns slap and when there is no smaller clown for her to slap, she turns to the audience with her out-turned palms and pitiful Emmett Kelly frown and says, “I am you.”
Two of the greatest Senatorial Clowns, Lloyd Bentson and Dan Quayle, in their famous vice-presidential debate in 1988 demonstrated the type of cut-throat comedy these jokers are capable of. When Quayle set the joke up by comparing his inexperience to the inexperience of Jack Kennedy, Bentson spiked it with this punch-line, “Senator,” he said, “I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”
The Poet’s Eye would like to say to Christine O’Donnell in this same spirit, “Ms. O’Donnell, you say your father is Bozo. Well, I knew Bozo. Bozo was briefly my step-grand-father-in-law. Christine, your father was no Bozo.”
Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you,
and I’m wondering what it is I should do.
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face.
Losing control yeah I’m all over the place.
Clowns to the left of me!
Jokers to the right!
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.
—Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty