Palukaville, USA is like any town in America, I suppose, if you allow for the fact that a great deal of its population is Clowns. Party clowns. Rodeo Clowns. Mimes. Clowns beating up Mimes. All costumed, all in make-up, with the locals grousing about what things were like Before The Clowns. They don't run the gas stations, they aren't the parents who throw the parties, there are no cop clowns (oddly enough), but when any of those people need a clown, for a party, or on TV, there are plenty to go around.
When not doing magic tricks or piling up inside of cars, the clowns of Palukaville like to chill out over a few cold beers and pizza at their favorite hangout, The Twisted Balloon. The big news there is the retirement (forced or voluntary?) of Uncle Peppy, the host of the local TV cartoon show. Longtime veteran Shakes (Bobcat Goldthwait) is the clown everyone is leaning towards replacing him - he's a great guy, and well liked in spite of the fact that he's an alcoholic - but Horror of Horrors, the producers have selected Binky (Tom Kenny), an arrogant and unfunny show-biz manipulator. Shakes hasn't heard yet - he was detained by Florence Henderson in a hilariously disarming opening scene that hits all the one-night-stand Hollywood cliches while presenting a perfect little capsule of why Shakes is loveable, and why Shakes is a loser.
And yes, it's An Important Film:
This cult classic, featuring both Goldthwait and Sandler in a supporting role, received one of the best capsule reviews in the history of film comedy: "The Citizen Kane of Alcoholic Clown Movies. And the comparison is an apt one. Just as Orson Welles did in Kane, Goldthwait wrote, directed and played the title role in a film that would start new trends and inspire filmmakers for years to come. What Orson Welles did for deep focus and low-angle cinematography, Goldthwait did for portraying clowns as drunks, mimes as annoying and yes, cameo appearances of beloved TV stars playing against type.
When a film begins with a disoriented clown waking up from a blackout drunk to find himself in bed with TV' Florence Henderson, trashily smeared with clown makeup and with a large hickey on her breast, you know that this would be a different kind of comedy. Sandler, to his credit, successfully repeated the idea with Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore, and then the floodgates broke. From the Brady Bunch movie to William Shatner singing Priceline ads, to the cringeworthy embarrassment of Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (featuring everyone from Dustin Diamond to Dick Van Patten), this gag - while brilliant once - has outlived its usefulness.
Put simply, there would be no Surreal Life without Shakes the Clown. And while it might be hard to say that' a bad thing, you have to give it up for the innovators. Which is the point of this whole thing. Comedy is great when innovators, not imitators, are at work.
Check out the YouTube clips here.