FEARS OF A CLOWN

Misplaced  enthusiasm had always been Sarah’s downfall. There had been many events when she had thought that, like an elderly swain, she would be able to rise to the occasion, and then found she could not. A kind of automatic utterance issued from her mouth at such times, and she would squeak: “O yes! I can do that!” There had been one time when she promised to stand in as the celebrant at a pagan christening: the baby had been frightened by the horns Sarah was wearing, and it had screamed throughout the ritual. Another time she had been persuaded to operate as a taxi service for a well-known film director. He had refused to let her use his toilet after a long drive, and caught her peeing in his shrubbery. And there was the time she had allowed a secret lover to wear her clothes to a party, and someone recognised the frock he was wearing. 

But this current escapade was far, far worse. Her cousin was organising an evening of  stand-up comedy, in a cafe setting. It was meant to be a little risque, a little sophisticated, a little mysterious: a sort of cross between Noel Coward and Hercule Poirot. In some fuddled attempt at political correctness, her cousin had invited a female comic to be the star turn: and at the last minute, she had let him down. Could Sarah help? And before she knew what she had said, out it came: “O yes! I can do that!”

 

She had a day to prepare her act. When she was in her intellectual prime years before, the concept of the Carnivalesque had been in high vogue - the idea that in some circumstances, taboos could be broached in playful disguise. Perhaps she might hoist the Carnivalesque into service once more? But it all depended on getting the right outfit. 

 

Alas, the local costume hire shop was ill-equipped. She had thought of going as Pierrot, or as Sid James perhaps. But there were no appropriate costumes to hand. The only one which was at all suitable was a clown’s outfit with full make-up provided, so she hired that. When she donned the outfit, her heart sank to her enormous floppy boots. The red wig was too big, the pan-stick make-up was too white, the bowler hat squashed her ears. Oh well, thought Sarah, the show must go on.

 

On the night, the audience fell quiet as the spotlight focussed on her. She proceeded to tell some rather sophisticated jokes, which accorded ill with her outfit. The audience began to be restless, and someone yelled: “you’ve gotta be joking!” Suddenly something snapped in Sarah’s mind.

 

She took off the bowler hat and threw it into the audience. Ditto the red wig. She stepped out of the huge shoes and displayed her small feet. She slipped out of the clown’s outfit, and stood naked on the stage. All that was left of the clown was the white face, the eyes like stars, and the red gash of a mouth. She took the lipstick and drew another red gash between her legs.

 

Pointing at her chief critic, she said: “well, YOU tell me what’s funny!”  He fumbled a little, trying to say that puns were funny, that slapstick was funny, that shit was funny.  No, said Sarah, humour was there in order to make life tolerable for the oppressed. She talked about being  a waitress at the banquet of life, she talked about feeling like a Mini in a car-wash during sex, she talked about button-mushroom-shaped penises, she talked about being a Bunny Girl during the shooting season, she talked about her little Jack Russell dog wanting hardcore performance with her left leg,  she talked about the necessary arts of flattery, all in a machine-gun delivery that took the audience’s breath away. And in the end, she turned to them before the lights went out, hissing: “you’ve gotta be joking!” 

 

She was a huge hit, of course. All her earlier awkwardness was forgotten by the audience. But not by her. She knew that she had taken them to the edge, and that neither she, nor they, would ever be able to laugh in the same way again. But perhaps some things were too important to be funny, and she could tell them so again: “O yes! I can do that!”

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |