Put simply, Puddles’ Pity Party consistsof musical performances delivered by a mournfully sad clown. The inclusion of such an act at a comedy festival raises the question ‘who is the joke on?’ Is it on Puddles the clown, who’s inconsolably glum while everyone else is laughing and having a good time? Or is the joke on the audience, who think they’re in for a barrel of laughs, but will instead taste the bitter depressing truth? Well, Puddles (who also goes by the name Michael Geier) makes it clear he has no ill intentions.
“It is not my aim to unnerve anyone,” he says. “But feelings are encouraged. Laugh if you feel like laughing. Cry if you feel like crying. Whatever it is, express it don’t repress it. Society too often expects us to keep a stiff upper lip. That’s nuts. It’s OK to cry. Even us big guys have got to let it out.”
A resident of Atlanta, Georgia, Geier’s been taking the stage in clown garb for several years now. However, it’s only recently that the seven-foot clown gained significant momentum. This is largely thanks to a cover of Lorde’s Royals, which has travelled around the world since surfacing on YouTube in late 2013. Accordingly, the Pity Party set list includes versions of many other treasured songs, drawn from all over the popular music map – think The Beatles, ABBA, Sia and Bond themes.
“My music director, Father Tim Delaney, arranged all of the songs,” says Geier, “and it’s me and my band playing on all of the tracks.”
In the lead up to this Australian tour, videos of Waltzing Matilda and Slim Dusty’s Pub With No Beer showed up on Puddles’ YouTube page. This leads one to speculate that his song selections are purely based on a mixture of popularity and thematic resonance. Though, that’s not quite true.
“I’m drawn to songs that pick the lock, whether it’s joy or sorrow,” Geier says. “Emotive anthems are my jam. The music goes round and round and it comes out here [points to tears]. Once in a while, I’ll cover a tune at someone else’s request and I might not see the merit in it until I’ve sung it a few times. It’d be difficult to sing a song night after night without having some respect for the material. If I’m not feeling it, I’ll drop it from the set list.”
So, let’s go back to that opening inquiry concerning the source of humour. Could Puddles’ operatic and emotionally soaked reinterpretations of pop songs be a ploy to indicate that pop singers are more or less just clowning around? Once again, the white-faced crooner denies any pointed attack. “I can’t speak for the glamorous pop stars and showbiz peeps, but I know that they are all someone’s son or daughter, and I imagine that they have feelings just like the rest of us.”
Ah-ha, so his essential aim isn’t to poke fun, nor does he endeavour to subject himself to ridicule. It’s a much broader, open-minded outcome the towering clown has in mind.
“It’s a pity party,” he says. “We may wallow a while in our darker core, but through fellowship we help each other find the light. It’s like magic – magic that is within each of us, underneath our fear and cynicism and stoicism. Live performance is cathartic. The Pity Party is like therapy for me. It’s a shared experience with the audience. I’d probably go mad without it.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY