A Laugh Is A Smile That Bursts – By Phil Richardson

The clown came home from work and hung up his rubber nose.

It had been a tough day because the only gig he could get was a boy’s birthday party; he didn’t like birthday parties. No place for an artist. He had tied balloons into strange shapes, painted faces of squirming little boys and juggled balls while the brats ran around screaming. No place for an artist. He had made $200, but it was the only work he had now-another week of eating peanut butter sandwiches was in the offing.

He poured himself a glass of scotch and settled into the threadbare sofa. There was no TV in his room, so he stared at the posters of famous clowns that covered the walls-Grimalidi, Emmet Kelley, the Frattelini Brothers-he was as good as any of them. He just had never been given a chance to show what he could do.

Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will get a real job. A performance that befits an artist. Someday I will perform before huge crowds and appear on TV. Someday I’ll be in the Clown Hall of Fame, someday…


The phone rang and he pushed himself up from the thick cushions with some difficulty. Lately he had been feeling stiff after a day’s work.

“Martin the Most here,” he said.

“Martin, it’s your agent. I think I’ve got a gig you’ll like.”

“Another birthday party?”

“No, a real performance on television. They want you for the Rick Amon Show. It’s some kind of variety show. They want a clown who can juggle and I suggested you.”

“The Rick Amon Show? I never heard of it. TV? That sounds good. I’ll take it.”

“The pay’s good-a thousand bucks. Not bad for 10 minutes work. Do your best.”

“Thanks Jerry. See you.”

“Good luck, see you Martin.”

At last, a real gig. Now I can show them what an artist can do. People will see me, Martin the Most-a true performer.

He busied himself during the next few days working out to loosen up his joints and practicing his routine. He had been told he would have six minutes on the show and it was hard to decide what to eliminate from his act. His friend Edwin the Magnificent watched him perform and told him he should cut the plate spinning. “You drop them a lot anyway.” Hector the Great suggested he skip the magic act. “You almost cut your assistant the last time.” Finally, he decided to eliminate both segments and to concentrate on his juggling. As he practiced, he got some complaints from the people downstairs because of the noise from dropped Indian clubs, but he ignored them.

His friend, Stella the Stiltwalker, asked him which costume he was going to wear for the performance and suggested he needed to buy a new one which she would be glad to make for him. “Since you’re a friend, I’ll give you a special price of $500.” He didn’t have $500 but decided it was important enough to borrow the money. He was being paid $1,000 for the show, and he could use a new costume.

Stella measured him and brought some material for his approval; within a few days she brought him his costume. The coat was red with big brass buttons on the front and the sleeves glistened brightly under lights. The blue pants were tight at the bottom and ballooned out at the top. Stella suggested he wear regular white tennis shoes, which would set off the colors of the costume.

Martin immediately tried the costume on and looked at himself in the mirror. His spare frame accentuated the balloon effect Stella had created. His bald head, with frizzy red hair on the side, eliminated the need for a clown mask. The clothes were loose and his movement-so essential to his act-was not restricted.

Stella asked him what the Ricky Amon Show was about.

“I’ve never seen it,” she said. “Is it a variety show?”

Since he didn’t watch TV-he couldn’t afford cable-he decided to call his agent and find out more about the format.

“Well, it used to be a variety show,” Jerry said. “But I heard their ratings had been slipping and they were going to try something new this season. This will be great for you to be part of the first season.”

“No kidding. Sounds good to me.”

“Well, you could use a break. You haven’t been doing too well lately.”

“Just going through a bad stretch. Things will change now. After I appear, everyone will want me.”

“I hope so. I don’t earn if you don’t earn. Good luck.”

“Good-bye. Thanks for the info.”

“I don’t earn if you don’t earn”. He’s got lots of people earning for him. I’ve only got me.

Martin practiced and practiced. He shaved ten minutes off his routine until he had exactly six minutes. He borrowed a video camera and tripod so he could videotape himself and watch his routine like people saw it on TV. When he practiced, he threw his knives higher and higher and only occasionally dropped them. As the day for his performance drew nearer, he became more nervous. He found that drinking a little scotch before his practice relaxed his nervousness, but he tended to drop things more often.

Finally, the day arrived. Martin packed his knives. his rubber nose and his costume in a duffel bag and took the subway to the TV studio. The receptionist had a badge ready for him, and a young woman escorted him to the makeup room. She smiled at him as they walked and said she was excited to see the new show.

“They’ve changed the show a lot.,” she said. ” It’s all very secret. Even we insiders don’t know what this show is going to be like.”

“Well, I’m going to do my best to make it a good show.”

They reached the dressing room area and Martin was given a small cubicle where he changed into his costume. He was early for the performance, and as he sat waiting to be called he kept telling himself he was the best and this was going to be a good show and….

Finally, a man came to the room and took him to the stage where he would perform. He hoped his sweaty underarms didn’t show through the costume. He hoped he would be good.

Ricky Amon stood in the spotlight holding a microphone and dressed in a tux and black tie. He was a small man with a slight paunch, but he had the confident air of a seasoned performer.

“And now we present…Martin the Most…a clown who makes you laugh as you are astounded by his feats of juggling,”

Ricky Amon’s introduction puffed Martin up, and he ran onto the stage with his bag of knives and clubs and turned to smile at the audience. They gave him a nice round of applause and he proceeded to stumble around as if looking for something and then excitedly found his bag of gear. He picked up one knife and tossed it high into the air and, before it landed, he snatched another knife and threw it higher, grabbed the first knife and threw it even higher. Soon he had twelve knives glistening and twirling in the studio lights. The audience applauded, and he smiled his clownish smile and…he dropped one of the knives and someone laughed, and he dropped another knife and the audience snickered and suddenly someone came across the stage and threw a pie in his face and someone came from the other side and threw another pie and, as he stood there in the spotlight with creamy pie filling dripping all over his costume, he heard Ricky Amon say, “So folks we bring you a new twist, a clown getting a pie in his face. Isn’t that great?”

The curtains closed and Martin wiped the gooey stuff from his eyes and tried to clean it off his brand new costume and he cried out, “I hate you! I hate you all!”

And Ricky Amon said, “I thought clowns wanted to be laughed at.”

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Phil Richardson is retired from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He met his wife there in a creative writing class and they both continue to write. His work has appeared in Elf: Eclectic Literary Forum, Fantasy, Folklore and Fairytales, Northwoods Review, The Storyteller, Cafe Irreal, Digitalis Obscura, Big Pulp, Muzzle Flash, Word Catayst, the Love After 70 Anthology,and the Writing On Walls Anthology. In addition, his short story “The Joker is Wild,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction in 2005.

  1. It makes me think of the paintings that depict the sad clowns rather than the happy one.

  2. This story drew me behind the costume into the private world of clowns that most never see. I enjoyed the insiders view of the clown’s frustration as he/she tries to land that big gig; and the twist in the end that was actually quite hilarious even though the clown thought otherwise.

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