What if the United States was a person? What sort of person would it be?
You might think of Uncle Sam – the tall, lanky goateed man in a star-spangled suit and top hat. And . . . sure. That’s one answer. But John Clancy gives us two alternative answers in the form of the monstrous clowns Fatboy (played by Joey Wright) and Fudgie (played by Michele Legere).
In Clancy’s relentlessly hilarious play Fatboy, the titular clown, at constant war with his sex-crazed wife, chews and slaughters his way from self-induced poverty to world domination. The duo – whose relationship is inspired by the classic puppets Punch and Judy – eventually get the best of whomever they encounter: a scheming tenant; the judge, prosecutor and witness at a war crimes tribunal; and even their own government functionaries.
But Fatboy is less about its story than its themes, expressed through pointed satirical jabs at American culture and politics. Its mockery is simultaneously universal and specific, just as it was more than one hundred years ago in Clancy’s inspiration, the viciously satirical French play Ubu Roi, by Alfred Jarry.
Every time we learn something about what Fatboy and Fudgie believe and value, every time they consume and destroy, every time they say one thing while doing another, Clancy is poking fun at something we all recognize, yet may not acknowledge. For those who pay close attention, this play is shockingly relentless and vicious in its satire. For everyone else it’s a fast-paced, no-holds-barred romp.
There’s nothing wrong with sitting back and enjoying a good laugh. It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures! Clowns have been helping us laugh at least as far back as ancient Egypt, and have been a prominent form of entertainment in many cultures for centuries. Yet, from the beginning, their role has been more than entertainment; clowns have served to ridicule and humble those in power, to force audiences to face uncomfortable realities, to unsettle and disturb expectations, and more recently to sell junk food to children.
Fatboy and Fudgie are monsters. Yet they’re also people, so we need to ask ourselves how different are we, individually and collectively as a society, from such scheming fiends. Maybe not as different, in some ways, as we think. After all, when we first meet Fatboy and Fudgie, they’re failures. Nothing has worked out as they planned. They’re broke, hungry, frustrated, but still driven by hope. Most of us have been in a situation like this at least once. And when help arrives, they immediately derail it, complicit in their own tragedy. Surely most of us can relate to that, too.
But we aren’t clowns, surely? We’re far more noble than these fools. We have at least some dignity. So do our nations. Uncle Sam is a better way to represent the United States as a person than a couple of murderous clowns.
Maybe. But consider this: the idea of Uncle Sam (even the costume) was plagiarized from a civil war-era clown named Yankee Dan Rice, who died in 1901. . This man travelled across the country, writing and performing songs and skits that poked fun at current events. He was a wildly popular clown who used humour to do exactly what humour does best: making people laugh while exposing uncomfortable truths.
Perhaps some clowns can be noble, even dignified . . . but not Fatboy and Fudgie. They’d spit in our faces and toss us into a wall for even suggesting it.
Fatboy is written by John Clancy; directed by Michael K. Potter; starring Joey Wright, Michele Legere, Joey Ouellette, Nikolas Prsa, and Fay Lynn – will be performed at The Shadowbox Theatre Oct 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24. Doors open at 7:30 PM for an 8:00 show. Tickets $25, available online only at postproductionswindsor.ca, where patrons can also review the venue’s Covid-19 health and safety policies.