May 16, 2015

From the Vaults: Puddles

Right off the bat,  I should point out that I don’t like clowns.  I never have.  I am not sure why I developed a negative reaction to greasepaint,  but I vividly remember when I became aware of it.   My older brother dragged me to the circus set up in the field across from our house when I was around 6  years old.  It was an occasion that ended abruptly when I had a near head on collision with a clown totting helium balloons for sale.  I will just say my choice was to leg it back home rather than spend the afternoon in an enclosed space with more clowns than I could imagine one circus could have!  Sure, the circus sounded like a lot of fun from a distance, but I just couldn’t get over the fact that there were enough clowns there to fill a fleet of clown cars.  Even the pirate sword I was offered as a bribe couldn’t get me to stick around.  Yep, I have never been a clown guy.

In 1999, there was a band formed in Atlanta, GA called Greasepaint and if you haven’t guessed it by now, they were a clown band.  Note the subtle difference between a ‘band of clowns’ and a ‘clown band’.  They were basically a rock band whose members dressed up in clown regalia and their lead singer was a 6’8” giant of a clown named Puddles.  The man behind the Puddles greasepaint was Big Mike Geier who had migrated from his hometown of Richmond, VA with more irons on the fire than most seeking a career in music would dare to juggle.  Besides Greasepaint, Geier has a show band (Kingsized), a dance troupe called the Dames Aflame and a combined project whose handle (Elvis Royale) smacks of Vegas excess both musically and visually.  Just scanning the list of his talents (singer, musician, actor, performance artist, voice-over talent, master of ceremonies, chef, bartender and businessman) tells you that Big Mike is not just clowning around!

Not content to just be really busy, Geier has also developed spin off groups like Bogey and the Viceroy,  the Kingsized Jazz Trio, and a Tiki Bar band called Tongo Hiti just to make sure that he is extremely busy.  His most recent persona as a cabaret clown act called Puddles Pity Party is easily his most visible gig outside of Atlanta, but more on that a little later.

Geier and his wife Shannon (who does a continuing character in some of his productions named MonkeyZuma replete with her monkey mask and a bunch of bananas) obviously needed more business opportunities, so they made connections with folks at the Cartoon Network and found themselves contributing music for (and sometimes acting in) ‘Adult Swim’ programs like ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ and ‘Squidbillies’.   After landing an invitation to take part in the ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force Live’ show in New Orleans, Big Mike and Shannon had to figure out exactly what they would do.  The Puddles schtick was reworked to fit into the show and the Puddles Pity Party segment of Big Mike’s career kind of took off from there.

For the New Orleans show,  Big Mike (as Puddles) took a page from Mark Twain and came out on stage,  said nothing for as long as he dared, and then picked up his guitar.   His song progressed and he eventually waded into and over the seats, sending chairs and astonished audience members in all directions.  He spontaneously ended up planting a large, wet kiss (a ‘Daffy Duck’ kiss he called it) on the face of one unsuspecting fellow, generating a crowd reaction that lead Big Mike/Puddles to the conclusion that he was on to something.  A quick check of his website at www.puddlespityparty.com shows that Big Mike and MonkeyZuma are now extremely busy and really well known outside of their southern stronghold.  A vexing problem for Geier as he is not a big fan of flying.  An opening slot on a European tour by the band Eels took the Pity Party world wide (presumably by air and not slow boat).

Enter the viral video that turned Puddles Pity Party into a juggernaut.  There is a whole side story that will need to be told about the band featured in this video (Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox project  (www.postmodernjukebox.com ) (spoiler alert: sequel coming!)) , but it was a Puddles collaboration with PMJ on Lorde’s hit Royals that sent the Pity Party into overdrive.  I hadn’t seen the clip at the time I read about a Puddles Pity Party show scheduled in Milwaukee in the spring of 2015, so naturally, I had to check it out.  I hadn’t actually heard Lorde’s version  (my wife claims I must have been living in a box not to have heard it during the baseball Royal’s last playoff run) but after comparing the two,  I found I like Puddle’s version better.  With YouTube views nearing 200,000 since it was posted in February of 2014, the Royals clip has lead to a couple more PMJ videos and some live Puddles Pity Party  performances with PMJ.  You will just have to check it out for yourself because words alone can not paint an accurate picture of the whole Postmodern Jukebox / Puddles Pity Party collaboration.  It is  musically tight and pretty flawless for something recorded live and (apparently) in one take. (can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=23rJ4D44It0 ).  They call him ‘The Sad Clown with the Golden Voice’ and I can’t disagree with that.

My clown fear must be ebbing because there is another clip out there from a radio talk show featuring a male and female broadcast team co-hosting a studio visit by Puddles.  It made me laugh and clowns don’t usually have that effect on me.  The setup here has the woman co-host running down a list trying  to guess who their ‘special guest’ will be.  Enter Puddles and she instantly goes into a nervous rant I can relate to:  she hates clowns!   So how does one conduct a radio interview with a clown who doesn’t speak?  Puddles makes his presence known by slurping his coffee a few times.  He then takes out a party hat for the squealing co-host before breaking into his I-Phone backed version of Royals.  By the end of the clip, she is snapping photos with her own phone and Puddles Pity Party has gained a roomful of new fans, including me.

Maybe Big Mike is really Dr. Phil under all that greasepaint.  Maybe he is just a comic genius with a great voice.  The truth is, Big Mike Geier is a hard working entrepreneur who has struck entertainment gold by flipping the whole ‘hate/fear of clowns’ thing on its’ ear.  I can now see a different side to the whole ‘fear of clowns’ thing.  I might not be ready to jump in the clown car quite yet, but I am looking forward to seeing what Big Mike does next.   I am ready – cue the Judy Collins CD and Send in the Clowns!  I wonder – would Big Mike even  fit into a clown car?