Halloween is almost upon us and we are witnessing a new craze; people dressing up as Scary Clowns and going around terrorising their neighbourhoods. Some children are so traumatised, they refuse to go outside and play and their parents struggle to get them to go to sleep at night. One enterprising part-time police constable, in response, during daylight hours, patrols the streets as Batman and at night operates a child telephone assurance ‘help-line’. It’s no wonder clowns can be viewed as being scary for, even in their ‘natural’ state, they have an unnatural appearance, which is too easily exaggerated and consequently could even frighten adults, at the ‘right’ time. Margate has introduced Fright Land using both Punch and Clowns to visually promote their dying seaside resort’s latest attempt to garner interest. Punch can easily be rendered scary or frightening, especially in the wrong hands. The opening pages of this very website had to be edited from ‘everyone remembers their first Punch & Judy Show’ to something more appealing, as it was pointed out to me, 50% of people, when in the wrong hands, went away traumatised by the experience. This is most definitely not what we want but children do like to be frightened, provided they are in their own safe space.
Historically, clowning was a very malevolent activity. Long before circuses, clowns were in theatres performing The Harlequinade. This involved thieving, fighting, tricking, kicking, throwing, and falling through the scenery – often with disastrous injurious affect. It was thanks to one clown – Joseph Grimaldi – that the audience saw through the mischievousness nature of the performance and thereby took ‘Joey’ to their hearts. It was an easy win for the Punchmen of the 1820s to downsize Grimaldi to a puppet and to then stick him on their little stage. But what as? Punch is supposed to be ‘King of the Clowns,’ why have two kings, or indeed, clowns?
The wood carvers to the Punch & Judy profession advertise a standard set of puppets and Joey is included as a ‘natural’. The cycle is self perpetuating and Punch men being the ever so conservative bunch they are, probably didn’t stop to think whether characterising someone from 150 years ago is still a good idea; Joey, after all, is a clown and clowns are ‘fun’ aren’t they? And who could object to fun? Well, with scary clowns we have an answer to that question!
Joey serves two purposes in Punch’s show. Firstly, he can be played as every bodies friend. This was fine in the 1970s when the entertainer was colloquially referred to as ‘Uncle Ted’, ‘Uncle Ray’ or ‘Uncle Johnny’ but in these post Saville days, this is one thing political correctness may rightly have successfully eradicated. Secondly, he does ‘The Body Count’. This comes about when either Punch’s ‘victims’ mount up on the playboard or after Jack Ketch’s ‘hanging routine’. It is supposed to be comic but the underlying ethos is, one individual is playing mischief on another’s legitimate desires, i.e. the wish Punch has to count how many bodies he has is subverted by Joey’s unwelcome interference.
In fairness, played well, it is good puppet theatre but it’s hard work and consequently ‘you’ are unlikely to see it performed much anymore. This leaves Joey with the job of bringing Punch his sausages. Grimaldi’s prop: sausages, were establish well before the crocodile joined Punch’s cast and so their employment in the Punch show as a silly prop, makes it a natural fit. It seems such a little job for someone like ‘Joey’ whose heritage is so well established.
You won’t often see Joey in my show. He does nothing that any other character cannot do instead. With the Devil providing more than superlative Machiavellian interaction, in the drama my show provides, my show doesn’t need two clowns! Punch and his operator are more than sufficient!