August 17, 2013

Clowning Around

Maybe I'm cursed for having studied history and actually remembering it. Perhaps my fascination with the medieval period and the Renaissance have left me unsuited for life in polite society in Obama's America. But I'll say it now -- I'm not in the least bit offended by the Missouri Rodeo Clown Scandal that has rocked America this week. Indeed, I think that the actions of this latter day fool are in the highest traditions of his calling.

Let me explain.

If one goes back a half-dozen centuries or, one discovers that rather than being banned from political humor that mocks the nation's ruler, the Jester was the one person who could mock the king. How honored were these fools? Consider the picture below.


One of course recognizes Henry VIII at center, closely flanked by Prince Edward and Queen Jane Seymour, with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth a panel removed. But the two figures spying in the doors of the outer panels? They are none other than Will Sommers, the most famous of all court jesters of the Tudor period, and Jane Foole, his female counterpart! Their roll -- mocking the king and his extravagances and follies, made them honored and beloved even by the king himself, not outcasts to be derided and reviled. After all, it was not the lords and ladies of the court who Henry had included in the portrait along with his family -- it was the clowns who mocked him and brought laughter at his own expense.

Which leads us to the current controversy in Missouri.




We've got accusations of racism from all the usual suspects, both nationally and on the local level. The man has been banned from all rodeos in an entire state for the performance, been denounced by some clown as being unethical and accused of committing a hate crime by the head of the NAACP in the state and even been denounced by the White House!

For what? For mocking the President of the United States.

You know, something that is fully protected by the First Amendment and has gone on for as long as we have had presidents of the United States.

That includes ones generally remembered as good presidents, and ones who were popular.


Well, I think you get the point.

And let's not forget how respectfully Mr. Obama's immediate predecessor was treated during his years in office. Maybe some clown in a rubber mask isn't so bad after all.

And while we are on the topic of rodeo clowns and political humor, let me make an observation as a rodeo fan whose favorite clown is the great Leon Coffee, who I see 8-10 times a year at RodeoHouston, one of the most beloved figures in his field.


Though I can't recall any political humor from him here in Houston, he is not above engaging in a little at other rodeos.

In a break in Thursday night’s Xtreme Bulls competition, bullfighter and comic relief expert Leon Coffee crawled out of his hiding spot in the barrel on the dirt floor of the AT&T Center to ask a serious question.

Had anyone heard about the time that Chelsea Clinton met President Bush, Coffee asked, before continuing:

“She said, ‘What are your three biggest fears?’

“He thought for a moment, and said:

” ‘Osama.

” ‘Obama.

” ‘And yo mama.’ ”

And if you object that he is not wearing a mask in this particular instance, he does at other times.


It is part of the rodeo clown schtick. Public figures, even political leaders, get mocked. It is funny -- or at least it is supposed to be.

Which brings me back to the incident in Missouri. I've watched the video, and that is where the whole thing fails -- the act wasn't funny. And it has nothing to do with Obama being president or Obama being black. The whole thing wasn't done well. And if folks were up in arms over that, I'd join in the critique.

Instead, I'll join with my Congressman in extending an invitation for him to come perform here in Texas. But don't expect me to drop by for the performance -- I'll go see someone who is actually funny.

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NAME: Greg
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