On New Year’s Eve 2015, I “interviewed” Puddles of Puddles Pity Party for the Boston Globe. I put interview in quotes because Puddles doesn’t speak. He sings in a beautiful, soaring baritone, but in between songs, he mainly just grunts. For more on that, read the piece.
I interviewed Puddles via Skype, and he answered me with gestures or by writing on sheets of paper with a marker, which he sometimes sniffed. Our cat George made an appearance, and there was a harmonica duet, and a Puddles sock monkey. It was a unique experience, which I now share with you.
Afterwards, I call “Big Mike” Geier, who is often referred to as Puddles’ “road manager.” He tells me for the story that he came into contact with Puddles around 1998, when the giant clown came into the Star Community Bar in Atlanta where Mike was bartending. Puddles looked like he’d, “hitched a ride on a coal car on a railroad or something,” according to Mike, but he put his money down and drank soda pop all night. He’d come into his life every so often, but a couple of years ago, Mike and his wife Shannon started, as they put it, “chasing the clown.”
Mike says the relationship is mysterious, and Puddles is just as likely to show up in anyone else’s life. Me, for example, now that we’ve met. “I’ve known Puddles a particular period of time, but his relationship with me is almost like his relationship with you, now,” says Mike. “If you choose to accept this mission. [laughs] If you choose to accept this mission, you’re Puddles’ guy, as well.”
He has said this to any number of journalists who have chronicled Puddles in the past. But it gets in your head a bit, that idea that sometime, somewhere, when you least expect it, a six-foot-eight clown might appear, and who knows what will happen next? It’s a nifty bit of magic.
Before the show at the Sinclair, the stage was set with a chair, a stool for Puddles’ suitcase, and a bunch of scattered balloons. On the screen were lyrics from David Bowie’s “Quicksand” from his Hunky Dory album. “I’m not a prophet or stone-age man/Just a mortal with potential of a superman/I’m living on…” Bowie had died two days before. Poetic that Puddles left the quote hanging.
About twenty minutes early, Puddles walked from backstage, past the perimeter of the crowd, and straight to the lobby. People started trickling out to see him and take photographs. One fan gave him an incredibly-detailed balloon animal portrait, which wound up behind the merch booth for the rest of the show. When most of the crowd had cleared, Puddles spotted me by the bar. I started to introduce myself, forgetting he would know what I looked like from the Skype interview. I put my hand out, which he ignored and gave me a bear hug before getting ready to take the stage. When you’re expecting strange and wonderful going in the door, you might be setting yourself up for a letdown. How could this show live up to the weirdness of its own concept?
The answer is that Puddles is and amazing performer. He’s an adept physical comedian with a well-stocked cabinet of facial expressions, made even clearer by his choice of white makeup with just a few red tears. And man, can he sing. He nailed “Hallelujah” and “I Who Have Nothing,” which are not easy songs, vocally. He connects with his audience, frequently heading out into the crowd to sing or find a volunteer for a bit. At one point, he found people taking video of the show, took their camera and sang directly into it before handing it to a different audience member. After the song, the lights came up briefly so everyone could find their camera.
When it was over, Puddles went back out to the lobby and posed for pictures for another forty minutes, waiting through those short gaps in time when the line was done but people were lurking around the bar, working up their courage to approach him. Finally, when the stage was long torn down and the last fan had gotten their photo, Puddles gathered his suitcase and lantern, walked through the cleanup crews and disappeared backstage.
PUDDLES AT THE SINCLAIR 1/12/16