Saturday morning began like any other: I woke up around 11, got out of bed, walked to the bedroom window, opened the shades, said, “Oh! Hey there, Earth. Are you ready to get your boots knocked?”, went to the bathroom, urinated, went to the living room, turned on the stereo, pressed “Play”, and proceeded to sing and dance along to “Monkey” by George Michael. The same routine I had had since the release of “Faith” in October of 1987.
Then everything changed.
I was singing and dancing in my boxer shorts when the CD began to skip. “Love the monkey”, digital hiccup, “Love the monkey”, digital hiccup, “Love the Monkey”, over and over again. I should have been laughing. “Love the monkey” is a funny line to hear, especially repeatedly over a hard synth-pop beat. Yet I wasn’t laughing. Not because of the skipping either. That can be rather annoying but annoyance wasn’t what I felt. I felt blank as “Love the Monkey” and the digital hiccup continued on in stereo surround sound. That was until the line chopped itself into bits of syllable, the player made a strained whirring noise and the CD abruptly stopped. I pressed “Play” on the stereo. Nothing. I tried putting on another track from the album. Nothing. I ejected the disc, ready to wipe the bottom gently against my boxers, when I saw it: a scratch running from the center to the edge. Despite the scratch – which I know had ruined the disc – I wiped it anyway, placed it back in the tray and pressed “Play”. Nothing.
I sat back down on the couch defeated and unsure of what to do next. This had never happened before and it worried me greatly. To alleviate the anxiety, which I knew would morph into something far more hideous if allowed to do so, I decided that I needed to cheer myself up. It was Saturday, after all, a day of freedom and a day of fun. What I needed was humor.
I went to my DVDs first and selected a classic: Mr. Show. Since my discovery of the show in 2002, when its first two seasons were released on DVD, it had been the epitome of humor for me. Though I have seen every episode multiple times, I always laugh at some point during each one. Always. It was during the final sketch of the random episode I selected when I realized that I hadn’t laughed. Not at “Puny Devil Knee-High Socks”, “Dream of a Lifetime”, or “Catholics and Satanists United”, and now, not at “Let’s Get Sloppy!” It was distressing to say the least but I did my best not to dwell. Thinking that maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for Mr. Show, a thought I then had to ignore for being so preposterous, I put on the new standard Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! I was halfway through the entire second season before I faced the fact that I was still not laughing.
Understandably a little frantic, I left Tim and Eric on, and began grabbing books from the shelf, haphazardly making a pile. I rifled through the pages of Gravity’s Rainbow, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Sabbath’s Theater, The Timewaster Letters, and The Broom of the System, reading their humorous passages. But none brought even a giggle. Not Slothrop vs. the Octopus, not Pantagruel drowning the camp of his enemies in a flood of urine, not Sex Holes or Sex Blimps and not Mickey Sabbath’s graveyard ejaculations.
Now deeply frightened, I went to my last line of defense against a humorless existence: a video of a koala bear farting the riff to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”. But even Richie Koalamore didn’t help!
“What the hell?!” I shouted, “I’ve lost my ‘Faith’ and my humor!” I threw my hands over my lips and held them there in some desperate attempt to shove what I had just uttered back into my mouth and return it to my mind. Better yet, to return it to the state before thought, the ether of ideas. But, alas, it was too late. On my knees I wondered, “How, pray tell, can I restore my ‘Faith’ and humor? How can—“ The answer had been spoken. “Yes! Pray! That’s how I’ll get them back!”
With a very vague idea about the how’s, why’s and where’s of prayer, I went online to do some research. Now I didn’t know it then, but something was guiding me. God, Google, whatever you call it. In no time at all, I had found a solution for my crises. I found Clowns for Christ.
Clowns for Christ, Inc. is a non-profit Christian organization and “the oldest full time Gospel, preaching, soul winning clown Ministry, in America.” The founder, Dr. Bob Kahn, Sr., and his wife Alice, of Cleburne, Texas, whose “entertaining and unusual approach” about the teachings of Jesus Christ, have allowed them to travel across the country ministering, in a motor home, for 40 years. The Clowns for Christ ministry “consists of Professional Clown Tricks, Christian Skits, Ventriloquist, along with performance of Gideon, the parrot, Precious, the super dog, also singing action songs with Aunt Alice and her electric organ, and a vivid Biblical, visible illustrated message.” The ministry’s motto, from Corinthians 4:10, is “We are fools for Christ’s sake.”
I was lucky enough to catch Bob and Alice at their home in Cleburne just before they were about to preach and perform for a Christian youth group at the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas. When I arrived at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon, they had just finished getting into their “Rainbow Robes”, as Alice put it, and welcomed me inside.
As you might imagine, Bob and Alice Kahn, once they’re in their clown getups, are a real hoot. When Alice answered the door for instance, she brandished a plastic slingshot and, after assessing me with suspicious eyes, asked, “Your name isn’t Goliath by any chance, is it?” Moments later, when I shook the hand of Bob, he was wearing a Joy Buzzer, the old practical joke device which simulates an electrical shock. When I jumped at the device’s vibrations, Bob, with tongue-in-cheek bombast, proclaimed, “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”
There wasn’t much time for me to explore the home of the Kahn’s, but what I saw of it, the living room and bathroom, was a parade of their two passions. On the walls were paintings and photographs of clowns, paintings of Jesus and crosses; on the shelves were figurines of clowns and Jesus; and in the bathroom, a Jesus Fish, a circus-themed shower curtain, a bible and a fuzzy, rainbow toilet seat cover. I was also happy to see a combination of these passions: a painting of Jesus as a clown.
Before I could even explain my situation to Bob and Alice, I was riding in their motor home to Dinosaur Valley State Park as they sang hymns, altered to fit their ministry – their refrain for “How Great Thou Art” was “With laughter filled, my soul thy name would laud, O funny God! O funny God!” Their energy was incredible. I felt completely comfortable with them. As we got onto Highway 67, I began to explain the events that had occurred in my apartment just hours earlier.
“Alice, this young man needs a Rainbow Robe and makeup.”
Alice climbed out of the passenger seat, pulling me by the arm towards the back of the motor home, “Alright Mr. Sadpants, you’re getting a baptism in balloons.”
Once in my Rainbow Robe and makeup, Alice gave me a crash course in Christian clowning as Bob continued driving to the park, shouting the occasional tip. She focused on balloon animals. Let me tell you, those clowns make it look easy. I busted fifty balloons – an entire bag – before I made one cross, which is the simplest one to make because it’s just two straight balloons tied together. After that we moved onto the Jesus Fish, which was still only two balloons, but involved some bending which I couldn’t quite master. Satisfied with being able to handle a cross, Alice showed me one of her creations, the Balloon Jesus. It was incredible and took her no more than five minutes.
Bob announced our arrival at the park with a honk of the horn – not the one on the motor home but the one in his red clown nose. The youth group had everything set up for their arrival: a small stage, buffet table for food and drinks, folding chairs and a blue tent. The event was a combination birthday/welcome party. The birthday was for a young group member named Sarah, who had just turned 11. The welcoming was for a new group member, Bercik, an immigrant from Poland.
Bercik intrigued me immediately. It was quite obvious that his view of the proceedings were cynical, bordering on contempt. Sadly, I didn’t have time to speak with him and find out how he was wrangled into this – I was on balloon cross detail. However, by the end of the party, he seemed to be coming around – he put on a balloon headband yet did not undo the straps, let alone remove, his backpack.
Bob and Alice put on one hell of a show. Along with their jokes, gags, tricks, balloon animals and skits, they brought on Gideon the parrot, Precious the Super Dog and Zacchaeus the Gospel Robot – all of whom must have been hiding behind the closed door of the motor home’s bedroom since I hadn’t seen them until their performance. Bob had Gideon recite passages from the Bible. Alice had Precious howl along to the hymns she sang and played on her electric organ. Zacchaeus, well, I don’t know if its role is supposed to be a reality check or what. It was calculating the End Times via the word and number counts that it made using the Book of Revelations. Yes, I suppose an 11 year old girl should know that her time is valuable. No, I don’t think that that lesson should be conducted before she eats cake and opens presents.
Despite my reservations about Zacchaeus, the party was a success. The youth group loved Bob, Alice and the gang’s big top Christianity. They also liked my balloon crosses, even the ones that looked more like plus signs. As dusk began to settle around Dinosaur Valley State Park, I helped Bob and Alice say goodbye in song, bless the partygoers, clean up and head back onto the highway in the motor home.
Back in Cleburne, I thanked Bob and Alice for their hospitality and got ready to return to New York. It was inside their home, after Bob, exhausted from preaching the Gospel of Goof, plopped down on the couch with a slow, airy honk, as the Whoopee Cushion placed below the seat deflated, that I laughed. It was long, hearty and wonderful. And it wasn’t the first. As I slapped my thigh, I realized that I had been laughing all day long. Clowning for Christ was hilarious. I looked around their living room again. At the Jesus clown figurines, giant bible and, one of their props, a hot dog on a leash. It was hysterical. I thanked Bob and Alice again, this time for helping me find my humor, and left.
Sunday morning began like any other: I woke up around 11, got out of bed, walked to the bedroom window, opened the shades, said, “Oh! Hey there, Earth. Are you ready to get your boots knocked?”, went to the bathroom, urinated, went to the living room, turned on the stereo, pressed—
“Oh god! ‘Faith’!”
I had regained my humor yesterday but forgotten entirely about my ‘Faith’. The same anxieties began to take hold of me just as they had done 24 hours earlier. Before I could truly begin to pace, I nearly tripped over my clown pants. As I bent down to untwist them from my ankle, a small package fell from the pocket. It was gift-wrapped in paper covered in balloons and rainbows flowing from heavenly clouds. My first thought was that I had somehow stolen one of Sarah’s presents. Then I saw the small card taped to the package. I removed it and read it.
You gotta have “Faith”!
Bob and Alice Kahn
I opened the package and, sure enough, there was a copy of George Michael’s “Faith”. I laughed as I put the CD in the player, pressed “Play” and started dancing to “Monkey”. All was restored.