Calling the Puddles Pity Party a one-man show feels a spiritual disservice. One man he may be, but Puddles the Clown is so much more than a man. He’s tall, for one—6'8"—and so maximally expressive he could be a cartoon, or a deity, something conjured from pure positive energy.
The show is simple: the big guy sings some songs. Hell, the songs alone are great: contemporary reworkings of classic pop, from ABBA to Leonard Cohen, belted out in his deep, operatic baritone. He sings with his heart and he sings with his eyes, fiddling with his big Pierrot buttons as he serenades the audience. We’re made to feel as important as he is; almost every song involves someone pulled on stage, to sing with him or be sung to, fostering a warm and inclusive environment miles away from any festival cynicism. He brazenly transgresses the usual boundaries by hugging, tousling hair, kissing, stealing beer – being a friend, basically, in such a disarming, comfortable way, that, surprisingly, nobody minds. Thanks in part to being a natural improviser, he plays with the crowd with casual dexterity (though some moments write themselves: three people walk out during ‘Hallelujah’, just as he croons the line, “You don’t really care for music, do you?”).
In between numbers he is entirely mute, and therein lies the magic. Non-verbal performance is nothing new, but what Puddles elicits is more than just understanding. By trusting in the audience so completely, and challenging the consensus that being picked on is the ultimate in live embarrassment, he draws out a fundamental—and wordless—joy from all of us. Words would’ve polluted the message.