Shakes the Clown

After his unorthodox standup comedy led to his screechy POLICE ACADEMY 2-4 character leading to other movies that aren’t remembered too well other than SCROOGED, Bobcat Goldthwait took the Clint Eastwood or Bruce Lee path: he went rogue to write and direct a vehicle that was more in tune with his voice and talents than what he was being offered. At the time it didn’t get him much more respect than the talking horse one, but this movie holds up and earns him a pass for those other ones in my opinion.

Goldthwait plays the titleational clown, who gets the best waking-up-hungover intro since Bruce in THE LAST BOY SCOUT. He’s passed out in front of a toilet, wakes up because a kid misses and pisses on his head. He must’ve had a wild night with Mom, an older gal who looked sad with clown makeup smeared on her face, even before I realized she was Florence Henderson.

Shakes is a professional clown, he does magic tricks and balloon animals at birthday parties, and is hoping to get a gig replacing this other clown that’s leaving his TV show. But in the world of the movie it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, a culture. They hang out at clown bars, they rarely take off their makeup, they get beat up by rodeo clowns. They also hate mimes, and attack them on sight. I hope it’s a gang rivalry type deal, but I have a feeling it’s more like gay bashing. Luckily Shakes becomes a little more enlightened about the mime issue by the end of the movie.

But Shakes isn’t a lovable protagonist anyway. He’s a washed up deadbeat. He’s bad to his girlfriend (Julie Brown, Chloe-the-uniform-fitting-lady in POLICE ACADEMY 3 [of the two Julie Browns that were famous in the ’80s this is non-Downtown Julie Brown]), he misses gigs, yells at clients, all because he drinks way too much. I can’t deny it’s playing for the obvious shock value – ha ha, a man who’s supposed to entertain children is a drunk, womanizing asshole, ha ha – but what I like is that the movie actually becomes about his alcoholism. He loses his job and his woman, he still won’t admit he has a problem, his friends confront him, they try to help him, they give up on him, they give in and have a beer with him. The fact that it’s treated seriously is a joke in itself, but it’s a clever and unusual one.

Since Goldthwait populated his cast with buddies from the comedy world he ended up with a bunch of people who later became better known: Tom Kenny (the voice of Spongebob Squarepants cartoon character) as cokehead villain Binky the Clown, Kathy Griffin as the girlfriend’s best friend, best of all Adam Sandler as one of Shakes’s two buddies. It’s cool because he’s in clown makeup the whole time and real young, but totally recognizable as one of Sandler’s sweet-hearted doofus characters.

The comedian Robin Williams is in the movie too, but I think he was pretty well established before filming began.

There are alot of funny minor characters in the movie. The comedian Lawanda Page probly made me laugh the most as a horribly obscene clown lady talking shit in the Twisted Balloon Bar. And I like the two non-clown cop characters who bicker like an old married couple. If I have one complaint it’s Julie Brown’s character always speaking with a baby-talk like speech impediment. I’m not sure what the reason for that is other than random goofiness, and it’s pretty annoying to listen to. But I’m okay with the other random goofiness I don’t really get: Shakes’s friend whose idea of being a clown is just dressing in drag.

I like this movie. Maybe it’s just the era it was made in, but I was surprised by how much it felt like a Real Movie compared to Goldthwait’s more rough-around-the-edges directorial works of this millennium. It’ll take the time for a scene of Shakes just sitting by himself at the bar, filling up his glass from a pitcher, staring into his beer, as if Goldthwait doesn’t notice that it’s absurd that he’s wearing clown makeup while doing this scene. Or maybe more like he just doesn’t care if that’s a problem for you. He’s not always going for the punchline. (There are some though – he stumbles away from a post-car-chase fiery crash, then laments “I just made my last payment.”)

I guess that makes it hard to recommend. Most of the jokes are conceptual – they’re in the details of what a world of clowns would be like. World building, they call it now in the nerd community. I appreciate it for its weird dedication to putting this world on film and showing its seedy underbelly with a straight face. It’s not so much a hilarious comedy as an odd tone and subject matter that makes for a unique experience.

Maybe they should retitle it BAD CLOWN so it can claim fatherhood of the BAD SANTA, BAD TEACHER comedy cycle.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 at 2:49 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “Shakes the Clown”

  1. Hopefully this is a series covering the works of Bobcat. His development as a director has been shockingly good for someone who was known mainly for scream-talking and being all crazy in the Police Academy movies.

  2. I liked the idea of Clowns and Mimes being in a perpetual war. I think that’s the main strength of this film like you say, the execution sometimes feels off but it’s inventive. Robin Williams got the biggest laughs out of me especially his aggressive style of teaching mimes how to be fried bacon.


  4. This movie sounds like a total must see.

    Speaking of sad clown movies, and though the main character is not a clown but it’s treated like one all through it (as in he’s always the butt of a joke), have any of you guys ever seen this movie called REFLECTIONS OF EVIL?

  5. Chopper Sullivan

    June 26th, 2012 at 4:37 am

    You gonna continue the Bobcat theme with GOD BLESS AMERICA?

  6. Nabroleon Dynamite

    June 26th, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Just listened to Bobcat on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Dude has his head on so straight. Cool cat.

    But since you on some ill clown shit…

    “The Last Circus” is the illest clown movie in existence fam!!

  7. Titlaeational! Another brilliant alternative to this titular nonsense. I remember chasing this movie down in video stores. The clerks thought I was crazy but I was determined.

    WINDY CITY HEAT is my favorite Bobcat movie. It’s just insane the extent of this prank. It is interesting that his later movies actually got scrappier and smaller scale (like you dont even see extras populating a scene.) I’ve also seen him do standup live, back when he was still doing the animal voice!

    I’m surprised they don’t repackage SHAKES as an Adam Sandler vehicle.

  8. As long as you’re having a Bobcat marathon, you should definately check out BACK TO BACK, aka AMERICAN YAKUZA II starring Michale Rooker, in which Bobcat cameos as some lunatic. It was briefly discussed in the AMEIRCAN YAKUZA talkback.

  9. Didn’t Bobcat directed a movie called WORLD’S GREATEST DAD? I seem t recall the subject of that movie was also quite a bit disturbing, and it was a relatively well budget holywood production, or at least not a super-cheappie.

  10. It was ultra cheap but he got Robin Williams to star. It’s quite good.

  11. If we’re giving suggestions for our favorite bits of Goldthwaitania, let me submit a brief for ONE CRAZY SUMMER, Savage Steve Holland’s post-BETTER OFF DEAD sophomore slump. I think it’s still pretty charming, and one of its many underrated virtues is its ability to create context in which the Bobcat’s screeching dolt schtick is funny rather than irritating (it helps that he’s part of an ensemble supporting cast (including Joel Murray, the guy in GOD BLESS AMERICA)).

    If any of you are going through a protracted bout of unemployment, as I once was, I recommend listening to the DVD commentary track, which features Goldthwait, Holland and Curtis Armstrong and is very funny.

  12. Forrest – okay, you sold me on Back to Back. I just ordered a used copy so it won’t be right away, but thanks for the reminder on that one.

  13. Vern:

    How about “The Bad Clown: Port of Call – Palookaville”

  14. Shakes rocks! How’s the scirrocis Shakes? Fine. How’s your disease-ridden cock?

    One of my favorite movie anecdotes came from this one. I saw it after laughing at the ad campaign, “The ‘Citizen Kane’ of alcoholic clown movies.”

    I worked with this guy who had a tv and VCR in his office and we basically shared the same taste for action and comedy. Usually if I made a recommendation we watched in his office laughing and getting a little work done. For some reason we didn’t catch Shakes together and he took the tape home. The next day he bitched that he and his wife had watched it and it was the biggest piece of shit he’d ever seen. I countered it was the company and happened him to watch it again the next time I had to come to the office. Of course he laughed uncontrollably when we watched together, he proceeded to steal the only VHS copy available from his video store as he couldn’t find it to buy and to this day it remains one of his favorite movies.

    When they turn off that camera, he’s gonna fuck that little dog.

  15. Nabroleon, I second THE LAST CIRCUS recommendation. From the director kf DYING OF LAUGHTER and 800 BULLETS. You know you gotta, Vern.

  16. Bobcat’s films are, ‘rough around the edges’? World’s Greatest Dad looked pretty damn slick to me. Favorite movie of that year, by far.

  17. Btw, large portions of Anchorman are stolen from this movie, imo.

  18. Tawdry, it’s a great movie but slick it is not. There’s a scene set in a Sizzler which not only clearly is not a Sizzler, but it’s barely even populated by diners. That’s the sign of scrappy run and gun shoot where we can and no extras to wrangle. And hey, that’s how I’d do it too, but I definitely notice it looks different than the standard production designed hollywood fare. (also why call it Sizzler when we all know what Sizzler looks like? Just say it’s something we’ve never heard of.)

  19. “From the director kf DYING OF LAUGHTER and 800 BULLETS”

    800 Bullets is that movie where a little boy grabs a woman’s bare tit right? now how did they ever get away with that?

  20. Yes! I’ve always wanted to see Vern review this one and TA-DA here it is. I’ve always loved this movie. The absurdity of equating mimes and clowns and such to bloods and crips and how that all metatextually represents the cliquish nature of the backstage scene at comedy clubs is ingenious. I’ve still yet to see WORLD’S GREATEST DAD but I definitely look forward to Goldthwait’s new movie cause it seems to have the same type of teeth gritting biting satire that SHAKES helped me become aware of as a shorty.

  21. Because Sizzler is amusingly depressing.

  22. Nabroleon Dynamite

    June 28th, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Just read up on 800 Bullets”

    Clint Eastwood cameo?

    Controversial (if this movie was made in America) child porn scene?

    Directed by the guy that did “The Last Circus”?

    $2 on Amazon?

    This has just been moved to the top of my “Must See” list!!

  23. Nabroleon: It’S not really Clint, but they asked him. He was busy.

  24. Busy? Clint doesn’t do cameos in other peoples movies. Period.

  25. Well, he cameoed in CASPER!

  26. I like this screaming guy’s movies. Even “Sleeping Dogs Lie” – which is about a girl who tells her fiance that she blew her dog in college because she was bored, and all hell breaks loose. Truthfully, it’s not even that funny, but it’s got heart. I’m glad they’re are folks out there who finance his kind of movie.

  27. Now that I’ve revisited the POLICE ACADEMYs I think Bobcat is too hard on himself for his animal act. I found it really endearing, especially to see it in different situational. Evil gang leader as a screaming dork, police officer completely overreacting, even love struck animal bursting with passion (in CITIZENS ON PATROL.)

    The first two times I saw him do standup he was still doing the voice and he was awesome. He’s still equally funny now but I don’t think there was anything wrong with the animal phase in his career. I know it’s smart to make fun of it before other people criticize you but it also becomes conventional wisdom that’s actually not relevant. Animal was good, mature Bobcat is also good. It’s like when Dylan went electric. Yeah I just related POLICE ACADEMY to Bob Dylan.

  28. Nabroleon Dynamite

    June 29th, 2012 at 6:58 am

    @CJ. No Clint cameo? Shit!!

    Ordered it already, if it’s on at least half the level of “The Last Circus” I should enjoy it.

  29. Don’t worry, it’s one of de la Iglesia’s best movies. Without having seen LAST CIRCUS and MUERTOS DE RISA, I would say top 3.

  30. Anyone seen God Bless America?

  31. Someone I knew in university kept heaping praise on this movie. I’ve never had a chance to see it. Various people have had the “clowns vs. mimes” idea independently of each other (including me and my co-writer on a project) but this movie may have gotten there first.

    Forest Taft: I have BACK TO BACK on VHS and it was one of the few movies I own I just couldn’t get through. My friends and I were watching it and there was no there there and we just had to cut our losses at some point. Since it’s ten years since it was recommended here, Vern may have already reviewed it by now and maybe that will give me a new impression of it and make me want to try it again.

    Broddie: The clown/mime war as a metaphor for comedy club cliques/feuds is a brilliant interpretation!

    Fred: Totally agree about animal-voice Goldthwait. Can’t add anything else; you put it too perfectly. :-)

  32. That first scene with the kid really staid with me all these years – I like the film overall but it’s like that overshadows everything else. That’s some memorable filmmaking.

    I like his other movies a lot, too – Greatest Dad, the dog blower, even evil bigfoot – the guy has a voice and a way with stories that is fairly unique. God Bless America is the exception; I don’t care too much for it, even though it’s possibly the funniest one after Shakes… it doesn’t have any warmth for any of its characters, just a smug (if justifiable, at the height of reality show madness) anger at pop culture, and it doesn’t really have any real insights. It does, again, have a really memorable first scene (IIRC – I think it’s the first!) where the protagonist (spoilers) blows a baby into red chunks with a shotgun.

    Apparently he’s been making documentaries in the last decade, which I need to see – the genre sounds like a really good fit for him.

  33. Ugh. If there’s one word that doesn’t belong in anything related to this Goldthwait’s films, it’s staid.

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