Twenty five years ago, a simple woman named Catherine Perkins had a simple idea: clown kids. Tiny children, dressed up and performing as clowns. You’re saying how? Fucking why? No, fuck you, why? Great questions, but slow down. I don’t want to spoil the ending of The most excellent book of how to be a clown with easy step-by-step instructions for a brilliant performance.
When your whole idea is “someone needs to show children how to dress up like clowns,” it’s tough to stretch that into a book. So Catherine didn’t. Her book, which is again called The most excellent book of how to be a clown with easy step-by-step instructions for a brilliant performance, is only 32 pages long. So to be clear, a book publisher heard the pitch “children clowns and nothing else,” from a woman with no previous writing experience, and instead of saying, “you’re insane,” they said “great.” Then she handed them a 32 page manuscript and instead of saying “okay, you’re insane,” they said, “okay, great.” When you’re this bad at spotting danger, you shouldn’t be publishing books. You should be screaming, “Oh no, not again” from a cage in an abandoned amusement park.
This is the table of contents, and I’m including it mainly to prove I wasn’t exaggerating about this ending after 32 pages. Catherine knows less about being a ten-year-old clown than Dennis Miller’s electric razor knows about Philips Norelco’s return policy, babe. She named her chapters things like THE CLOWN’S COSTUME, CONFETTI BUCKET, and YOUR CLOWN’S FACE which seem like things a child clown would hiss if you asked, “How long are you going to keep me in here? Where am I supposed to go to the bathroom!?”
The chapter, “Choosing your CLOWN” takes you through all both of the clown choices– The Auguste, The Whiteface, and this is not a book with a lot of depth. Picking the right one really depends on how much shrieking you, the child clown, want to be doing when you’re biting off someone’s fingers. Look, it may seem like I’m making cheap scary clown jokes, but I honestly think that any child in 1996 who used this to become The Whiteface grew up to be and is currently a murderer.
Take a moment and imagine a child asking, “Can you buy me a clown instruction manual along with hundreds of dollars worth of props and also dedicate dozens of hours of your time to develop my mime act?” If you don’t have the parenting skills to say no to that, it’s no wonder your shitty kid wants to be a clown. If Bill Cosby’s dad was alive he’d tell you, “Thank you. This mime child of yours makes me feel better about the monster I created, zabobba goobo.”
When your intended audience is grade schoolers very interested in mime, your book doesn’t have to be good. But I fucking dare you to come up with something less useful than this vague suggestion of zanyness. This sounds like someone trying to destroy a robot by asking it to define “silly.” It’s like a police statement given by a child after something killed his third birthday party.
To express yourself, you want to make your expressions clear and exaggerated, which means it’s only the third piece of advice and Catherine is already repeating herself. I didn’t expect this book to be good. No one could have! But I am sort of shocked how even the most remedial possible instructions on how to be a clown runs out of steam the moment your audience knows what a clown is. Is the entirety of clown school really someone saying, “Clowns must be silly and exaggerated, and thank you for coming. Mr. Boi-oing will notarize your course completion licenses on your way out.”
The chapter called “Your Clown’s FACE” delicately shows you how to put on clown makeup, which is something a Walgreens Halloween costume assumes you can handle on your own. It’s vaguely nightmarish, and it’s hard to picture this child saying anything other than a parade of snakes out of his mouth. I don’t know, there’s something about a lifeless grin, clown makeup, and eyes filled with malevolent blackness that unnerves me.
CASTING CALL: Child needed for clown book photo shoot. Models must have completely black eyes and two or more Vietnam deployments. APPLICANTS MUST PROVIDE OWN KNIFE.
Let’s look at “More Crazy FACES.” For The Cheery Clown, carefully blend the red face paint to create the illusion of a boy clown with most of his face torn off. Tell your “audience” (see Page 32) you’re looking for your face, looking for your face. One of them has it!
I’m not sure I get “Funny BODY.” Do you need a master’s degree in stupid to appreciate clowns? If I saw a child clown roll up his sleeve it wouldn’t even occur to me he’s hilariously making his arm grow. It shouldn’t occur to anyone. It’s like a magician pulling a deck of cards from his pocket and being done because he was hoping you’d never seen pockets before. But let’s say it works. Say, by some miracle, you are good enough at pulling up your sleeve that you’ve convinced someone you’re a child clown with grotesquely long arms. In that moment, they are feeling the absolute opposite of joy. If you took that weirdly long clown arm off with a machete, a 911 dispatcher would send the police to give you an emergency medal.
Catherine explains how to do nine gags like “The WEIGHT LIFTER,” which is pretending a fake dumbbell is very heavy. I feel like if any person, even one who never aspired to be a clown, closed their eyes and pictured things clowns do they would write the exact list with the exact instructions. Pretend a bucket has water in it, but it turns out to be confetti. Juggle. Hunt the boy who took your cheery face. I’m not sure what my point is. I guess it’s that the audience for this book can’t conceivably exist. You don’t know anything about clowns but desperately need a job as one? And you’re four? Living in a civilization that allows full costume amateur child clown shows? What a strong clown! What a strong clown!
Catherine’s advice on how to run face-first into a wall is pretty good. You pretend to walk through a wall, bow, run into it twice, and TA DAH!
There are little touches in the book that sort of spell out, “You were right the whole time– we are criminally insane.” Like in “A Clown’s BEST FRIEND,” where it shows you how to pretend a stiff dog leash is attached to an invisible pet, someone took the time to add a little phantom dog to the photo. What could this be other than a nod to other maniacs? This ghost dog is either the child clown book equivalent of a murder club secret handshake or nothing makes sense. It’s like when a conservative convention stage is shaped like a nazi symbol. They’re not Nazi nazis, but, you know, wink! You don’t need this explained; at this point it’s been said again and again how right wing politics are exactly like dead dogs haunting child clowns.
There are a lot of uniquely deranged elements in The most excellent book of how to be a clown with easy step-by-step instructions for a brilliant performance, but look at this index. The term “mime” appears on 12 of the book’s 30 indexable pages, and Catherine decided to list eight of them as “14, 15, 16-17, 18-19, 20, 21.” Hey, Catherine, in the non clown community we pronounce that “14-21,” you miming lunatic. This is how a child clown holds your mouth open and counts your teeth. You could have just put “mime: most pages.” Catherine, if this isn’t some kind of activation code for tiny clown operatives, fuck you. And fuck you if it isn’t, Catherine. Look at what you’ve done. Look at this goddamn abomination you’ve created. This book has been leering at me from my desk since March 8th-11th, 12th, 13, 14th-15th, the 16th, and 17th through the 18th. Also the 19th, and 20th. 21, 22, I’m the one who has your boy clown faces, Catherine. Come and get them. I’m ready for you on the 23rd. The 24th-26th. 27. The 28th through the 30th, 31st.
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