I suppose this is what the Fringe is all about, isn’t it. Interviewing a clown over Skype who mimes his responses. Right then.
Puddles the Clown is a gentle giant: 6’8", but slow, soft and sweet in gesture and expression. And though his act—the Puddles Pity Party—features him performing moving, melancholic renditions of contemporary pop with his hearty baritone, the character is otherwise mute. This silence, coupled with his appearance (traditional Grimaldi/Pierrot all-white clown garb, big ruff and fluffy buttons), lends him a sombre, timeless air, like a bygone cartoon.
His answers are therefore simple – a nod, a shrug, a few words on paper. A purity of message. So, the basics: what is the Puddles Pity Party? “It’s about feelings and showing it,” the card says. And what can Fringe audiences expect from the show? “Tears, laughter, fellowship, hope,” says the next card.
This will be his first full Edinburgh run, having been here just two nights last year. “No clowns allowed in the castle,” he comments with a frown. “The nice guard said no fancy dress allowed.” Outrageous! “Hence the Pity Party,” he adds. Is he excited for August? He nods, reluctantly, and holds up a shaking hand: he’s nervous. “Chip butty,” he writes, as if the prospect makes it all okay. I suggest more Scottish delights to sample, deep fried Mars bars a particular favourite.
The Pity Party often involves audience interaction. Have these crowds ever been difficult? He thinks deeply on this. “Unpredictable, not difficult,” he writes, before quickly conceding: “I stopped a fight a few nights ago...with a cuddle and a kiss.” A true ambassador for good feelings, I proffer, and he shrugs modestly. He scribbles: “#feelings”.
Some might recognise Puddles from YouTube, as "The Sad Clown with the Golden Voice" in an entrancing cabaret cover of Lorde’s 'Royals'. “I like the words in songs,” he says of his covers. “Sometimes their meaning is lost in production. I like to focus on the emotions.” And at twelve million views, it’s a viral hit. “Social media has been the deciding factor in spreading the word,” he explains. “People are so engaging online,” he gestures between us talking now, via webcam, separated by thousands of miles. “The future is now.”
I manage to catch up with ‘Big Mike’ Geier—the man behind the facepaint—over email later, and the bond between creator and persona is heartwarming.
“He seems to prefer the awkwardness of communicating silently, rather than risk saying something stupid,” he explains. “Puddles gives me a call, text, email, letter, telegram, knock on the door or smoke signal, and I stop whatever I’m doing and we get to going... I’ll put my life on hold for that fella, gladly. He has taken me on the most incredible journey since I met him.”
The simplicity of his act is a refreshing counterpoint to the more fussily complex shows on offer. “Puddles explained to me once that the key is to be honest and true,” writes Geier. “Feel the feelings. Cry it out. Cut an onion if you have to… and cry it out.”
Why should people see your show? People have told me it’s a cathartic experience. They laugh. They cry. They leave feeling like a kid again.
Your top tips for the Fringe: Chip butty at Spoon Cafe. My pal Kevin turned me onto it, and I still can’t thank him enough.