Puddles Pity Party
Friday, January 23, 2015
The man with the clown in his face probably did not expect this. Even for fans of Puddles Pity Party, it's a startling experience to find yourself inches from a six-foot-eight bald man in full clown garb, belting out “I Who Have Nothing” at full volume as his microphone presses into your cheek.
Puddles the Clown, star of the one-man karaoke/pantomine show that is Puddles Pity Party, is a master of walking that line between delighting his audience and making them feel uncomfortable. He doesn't just break the fourth wall; he invades people's personal space. Time and again throughout his two sold-out Friday shows at the Troubadour, Puddles would plunge into the mostly seated crowd, silently prowling (though he sings, he never speaks) for volunteers and victims.
The forced audience participation gave his clever and often hysterically funny show an extra frisson of tension and anxiety. When you know you might be called upon at any moment to lead the audience in a Beatles sing-along, or don a ridiculous costume, or even just sit and quietly submit to a Marilyn Monroe-esque serenading of “Happy Birthday,” it literally keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Puddles became an Internet sensation thanks mainly to a stately, dramatic rendition of Lorde's “Royals,” accompanied by two backup singers and a jazz trio. On Friday, he had to rely on pre-recorded backing tracks, but it hardly mattered. The main attraction for fans of the “Sad Clown With the Golden Voice” is Puddles himself.
Puddles' voice is indeed impressive, though it's not so much golden as booming, ideally suited to songs popularized by belters old and new like Tom Jones, Sia and Celine Dion, all of which he performs with a tear-jerking bravura that would border on absurd even without the clown costume. He also favors offbeat arrangements, like a torchy, slowed-down version of ABBA's “Dancing Queen” and an over-the-top reading of Dion's “My Heart Will Go On” that abruptly, in one of the show's highlights, veers into Metallica territory.
But Puddles' vocal skills pale in comparison to his ability to work the audience to his advantage. Throughout the show, his fans provided many of the highlights, unintentionally or otherwise — from the hirsute dude with the “I [Weed Leaf] L.A.” patch on his jean jacket, who sat through his “Happy Birthday” serenade with a stoner's thousand-yard stare, to the poor woman who clearly did not know the words or melody of “I Will Always Love You” but cheerfully muddled through a karaoke rendition of it anyway.
In a way, by the show's end, we were all as much a part of the Puddles Pity Party experience as Puddles himself. Especially the guy who left with a microphone-shaped indentation on his cheek.