Puddles Pity Party
Englert Theatre — Friday, Oct. 12 at 8:30 p.m.
Free with Witching Hour pass
Puddles Pity Party, the enigmatic, reticent 6’8” clown best known for his cover of Lorde’s “Royals” and his appearance on America’s Got Talent (season 12), recently offered a rare interview for Little Village.
As the shy Puddles does not speak, but rather pantomimes to the audience and lets his baritone covers of popular songs speak for him — and as this 5’4” theater reviewer has a minor case of coulrophobia — we conducted our interview by email.
Puddles explains that he is taciturn because there is “too much talking in the world today.”
“I always seem to say the wrong thing anyway,” he wrote. “I notice the less I talk, the more I hear.”
Despite his reserve, he was open and sincere in his responses to my questions.
Puddles Pity Party is based in Atlanta, but recently concluded his “Up Close In Your Personage” tour throughout UK, Ireland and the EU, and will be working his way across the U.S. when he stops at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. as part of the Witching Hour festival.
Puddles considers himself “a citizen of the globe.”
“I spend so much time traveling that I found myself fairly comfortable with the reality of laying my head down in a different place most nights,” he wrote. Reflecting on his childhood, he continued, “My MeeMaw and PawPaw brought me to River City after PawPaw sold his shrimp trawler.”
The Witching Hour festival brings him back to Iowa after a recent performance in Des Moines at Hoyt Sherman Place at the end of this summer.
“I have some great friends from Iowa City, Marshalltown and Davenport,” Puddles explained.
“And, although I’m vegan, I’m intrigued by the pie shake at the Hamburg Inn.”
Puddles Pity Party’s performances are notable for his silent entrance onstage — carrying a lantern and a suitcase, setting his few worldly items down on a stool and then singing his heart out. His act is interactive and engaging, inviting audience members onstage to sing along, performing pantomimes and traditional clowning acts between songs, pulling props from his suitcase and playing irreverent slideshows.
In his versatile baritone, he covers popular songs such as Morrissey’s “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” and Radiohead’s “Creep,” creating emotive new settings for these popular tunes. When he covers a decidedly happier song, such as Abba’s disco hit “Dancing Queen,” it sounds like a dirge. He also creates mashups, such as his cover of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard” sung as a jaunty rockabilly to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
In the fan-favorite cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Puddles provides a slideshow of one Mr. Kevin Costner. Despite his usually morose demeanor, Puddles admitted that there are a few things that cheer him up: “cats and dogs and coffee and Kevin Costner movies!” When asked if the Academy Award-winning director and actor is aware of this devotion, Puddles didn’t think so.
“I can’t imagine that a big-time superstar like Kevin Costner would have any interest in a sad sorry sack like me,” he wrote. “But if you’re reading this right now, Mr. Costner, you’re always on the guest list to my show (with a plus one)!”
Besides the overarching melancholy in the themes and lyrics of his chosen songs, the selection is diverse across genres and decades. Puddles explained how he makes his choices:
“I don’t have a formal selection process. Songs come at me from all directions and it all just depends on mood and circumstance,” he wrote. “I have gotten some surprisingly positive responses from the original artists over the years. Cheap Trick and the Who and Nick Mason from Pink Floyd have all given me shout-outs for my renditions.”
When Puddles Pity Party auditioned for America’s Got Talent, the four judges — Howie Mandel, Mel B., Heidi Klum and even Simon Cowell — were initially awestruck with his audition, a soaring rendition of Sia’s “Chandeliers.” Cowell called his audition “originality at its best.”
But when he moved forward, guest judge DJ Khaled and Heidi Klum seemed utterly confused during his operatic interpretation of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” Khaled commanded Puddles to “cheer up,” and Klum complained “I do like you, Puddles, and I feel bad because you’re a sad clown. But I want a happy clown. There’s so much sadness in the world right now.”
In the quarterfinals of America’s Got Talent, Puddles experienced one of those major life disappointments when Cowell gave him an “X” (or eliminating vote) for his cover of Lorde’s “Royals.” Immediately after concluding his song, Puddles packed up his suitcase and began leaving the stage, only to be brought back by host Tyra Banks for the judges’ feedback.
Puddles explained, “I picked up my stuff and split when it was over. I thought I was supposed to do that. I didn’t realize that I was supposed to stick around on stage. I guess I got confused. Being up on that big stage can really rattle a fella. I’m such a dummy … By the way, I was never upset with Simon. The guy was just doing his job and he has a big job to do!”
His cover of “Royals” with Postmodern Jukebox — a roving group that covers popular songs in vintage styles, who will be in Cedar Rapids at the Paramount Theatre the Monday after Puddles’ Iowa City show — has garnered over 24 million views on YouTube.
On working with “Scott Bradlee and his gang,” Puddles called their collaborations “like play. We just show up and create together.” There is another big fan of his rendition of this song, too. “Lorde claimed that the version of ‘Royals’ I did with Postmodern Jukebox was her favorite. I’m humbled by all that feedback, to say the least!”
For those attending his Englert Theatre show, Puddles promises a party sans pity.
“I hope audiences leave with a cut in their strut, glide in their stride and a feeling of fellowship. And there will be lots of Puddles Cuddles for e’rybody that wants ‘em,” he wrote.
And for those, like this interviewer, who grew up seeing too many scary clown portrayals in horror films, Puddles assures, “I don’t know why only scary clowns get all the press. There are plenty of non-scary clowns out there. I’m a hugger, not a mugger! My show is all about acceptance. Unconditional support for all. And sing-alongs!”
Colleen Kennedy shaves her head; wears baggy trousers and little round glasses; deplores depilatories; drinks pints; protests regularly; votes Socialist Worker Party; supports; spurs; eats fire; soaks; pulses; wrestles; squats; is concerned; refuses to be stereotyped. (That is actually Dame Emma Thompson’s bio from Cambridge Footlights, but Colleen aspires to all of this.) This article was originally published in Little Village issue 251.