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Film / Shakes the Clown

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"You're a loser. Your parents had to pay a grown man to come and play with you today, because kids collectively and on the whole think you suck."

Shakes the Clown is a 1991 Black Comedy movie written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, who also stars as the title character.

Shakes is an alcoholic clown who's on the verge of getting fired, as his drunken shenanigans often end up ruining the kids' birthday parties he performs at. On top of that, his drinking is messing up his relationship with his girlfriend Judy (Julie Brown), a waitress at the clown bar Shakes frequents and aspiring professional bowler. When he passes out at a bar for clowns that him and his two friends frequent, he winds up being framed for the murder of his boss. Said friends and Judy help him evade the law and two witnesses to the actual murder (who chase after him) as Shakes, while posing as a mime, finds out who's really responsible (at first he thinks he actually did it and was just too drunk to remember) and helps bring him to justice. Meanwhile, Shakes' friends realize Shakes has an alcohol problem, and help/force him to quit.

The movie offers a lot of raunchy jokes, many a Cluster F-Bomb, and cynical humor. It also features cameo appearances by Robin Williams as a mime and Adam Sandler as another clown.

This work provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: The mime instructor's line about not wearing pantyhose to class because "I don't want to know what religion you are" is from Robin Williams' routine about ballet ("Men wearing pants so tight, you can tell what religion they are!").
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Subverted. Although it is an early 90's movie, it's not particularly idealistic or preachy, so the drug dealing rodeo clowns are a more realistic portrayal of drug dealers.
  • The Alcoholic: Shakes is almost constantly drunk, and much of the story is about him trying to get off the sauce. It's also surprisingly deconstructed as the film actually shows the consequences of Shakes' alcohol abuse; it's ruining his relationship with Judy and negatively affecting his ability to do his job, putting him at risk of being fired. Dink and Stenchy also become worried for Shakes and admit to him they think he has a drinking problem. On top of that, it's made obvious that Shakes' drinking is rooted in depression and a traumatic incident from his childhood.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Binky only thinks this is happening to him, which drives him insane, and serves as most of his personal justifications for his actions.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: One of Palookaville's plainclothes cops wears a porkpie. In 1991.
    • Similarly, Shakes's boss wears a zoot suit, complete with hat.
  • Bludgeoned to Death: Owen Cheese meets his maker when Binky, in a fit of rage over his use of cocaine being noticed, grabs one of Shakes' juggling pins and juggles around Cheese's brain with it.
  • The Cameo: Florence Henderson is the whore in the opening scene.
  • Camp Gay: The male mimes - particularly their leader, played by Robin Williams. (There's a female mime, too, but she comes off as a New Age kook rather than a lesbian.)
  • Chekhov's Skill: Judy's bowling skills.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Oh, so many.
  • Cower Power: Binky isn't above literally hiding behind his Mooks when Shakes actually gets up the nerve to confront him.
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: Both Binky when he becomes the host of a children's clown show and (to a lesser extent, possibly, depending on if what someone said jokingly about his relationship with a performing dog used on the show was accurate) his predecessor.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Binky punches his two Mooks in the stomach just because they laughed at his embarrassing attempt to woo Judy.
    • "I'm fired?! I'LL KILL YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" (although, thankfully, Shakes doesn't go through with it)
  • Double Entendre: The mime instructor orders his male students not to show up to class wearing pantyhose because "I don't need to see what religion you are!"
  • Drag Queen: One of Shake's best friends wears a pink dress and possibly fake boobs underneath it as part of his clown getup. He's not a very convincing cross-dresser though, with a VERY deep voice, and does it more for laughs than as a serious performance.
  • Dreaded Kids' Party Entertainer Job: Shakes is forced to perform at children's birthday parties (which he hates) because he doesn't have a TV show.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Surprisingly for this cynical of a movie, it is true that the people who do drugs are BAD people, but the good guys are also drunks.
    • It's pretty obvious that Binky's cocaine use is making him even more batshit insane than he already is.
  • Dumb Blonde: Judy, although she mostly only sounds dumb because of the way she talks.
  • Dumbass DJ: The DJs Shakes listens to on the way to the first party, who are named "Loud" and "Obnoxious."
  • '80s Hair: It's technically the early 90's but Judy and her friend sport it.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Judy.
  • Enemy Mime: Played for Laughs with the abusive mime instructor, Jerry, who spends his class shouting, degrading, and threatening the other mimes under his tutelage.
    Mime Jerry: Tommy, you lose that hat again, I'm puttin' it up your ass! It's gonna be hard to walk in the wind!
  • Everyone Hates Mimes: Played for laughs and drama. Shakes and his friends, as party clowns, hate mimes for not being 'manly' enough, and if they see them will assault them. Shakes, at least, gets better.
  • Expy:
  • Fantastic Racism: The clowns' aforementioned hatred of mimes. According to Word of God, this was an allegory for gay-bashing.
  • Freudian Excuse: Shakes' for being a drunk is that, when he was a child, he witnessed his father getting killed by an elephant, presumably while working as a circus clown
  • Funny Background Event: When Cheese bails out Shakes, some cops have a handcuffed suspect in a blue tank top and a mullet. When Shakes and Cheese walk away you see one of the cops with his gun drawn and pointed point blank at the suspect's forehead.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: "The poo has hit the fan!"
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Guess.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Basically Binky's final statement to Judy just before he tries to kill her.
  • I Know Karate: "Well, I know Vulcan nerve pinch!"
  • Improbable Weapon User: Shakes' boss is bludgeoned to death with a clown's juggling pin.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: seem to be rather fashionable apparel for most of the clowns in the bar where Shakes hangs out, possibly because being a clown sucks and/or when not forced to put on a happy face for kids, all their pent-up frustration can be let loose. Also, Judy's best friend is rather cynical.
  • Jerkass: Binky is a huge one. He's a vindictive, egotistical psychopath who kills Shakes' boss and father figure with a bowling pin when caught snorting cocaine. And then tries to frame Shakes. He was not even a nice guy to begin with. Shakes even states that "as a human being, he's nothing but a lump of shit."
  • Lame Comeback: "Yeah? Well....the only TV show you could get on would be the...Not Funny....Diarrhea Club....Fart-Face!"
  • Monster Clown: Binky is the biggest one, but several others could be seen as this.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Several, if you consider that all the clowns (even the mean ones) make their living by pretending to be lovable, fun-filled child entertainers. Binky is the main example though.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Subverted: Binky and his "friends" do some playing around with the Boss' corpse and Shakes' passed out body, but they never actually pretend he's alive to anyone who doesn't know otherwise.
  • Parental Substitute: Shakes' boss, which makes Shakes all the more upset to wake up from being passed out cold to find him dead and the possibility existing that Shakes did it.
  • Pocket Protector: Shakes is saved from a gunshot by his flask of whiskey.
  • Punny Name: Shakes the Clown is a pun on the "shakes" that former alcoholics get.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: "What's a Shondell?"
  • Speech-Impeded Love Interest: Judy.
  • Spy Speak: One of Binky's henchmen tells him "The Dolphins are in the Jacuzzi" in reference to a successful drug purchase.
  • Tinkle in the Eye: At the beginning.
  • This Explains So Much: When Shakes disguises himself as a mime to search for clues to the solving of a murder at a mime school, his two friends nearly beat him to a pulp before realizing it's him, and even then, they remain disgusted, with one of them remarking that he suddenly understands "all those times he would just sit there saying nothing." But Shakes finally manages to persuade his friends that he's still a clown.
  • Villainous Harlequin: (Duh, this is a show about clowns) Binky.