Have you ever wondered what it sounds like when somebody takes a hammer and drives a nail through his nostril, up into the sinus cavity, all the way to the base of the brain? You haven’t? Well, let me tell you anyway. It’s the pure “tink, tink, tink” of metal on metal; quiet but distinct. And it goes on long enough to make more sensitive witnesses squirm in sympathetic agony.
“Thing is, this doesn’t really hurt that much,” says Larry Clark, sideshow geek, circus clown, juggler, magician, and lifelong Memphian, as he gives the nail one final tap. The exception, Clark says, is when you haven’t done it for a while and “things” have to be “pushed” out of the way.
When he was a teenager, Clark was fired from his job as a bag boy at a local grocery store when he balanced a shopping cart on his chin to stop a child from crying. His unique skill set may have been too hot for that grocery store, but it landed him work as a human pin cushion with the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and as host clown for Ringling Brothers. He’s debuting Larry! the Show, his first full-length solo performance, at TheatreWorks this weekend.
“There wasn’t a eureka moment,” says Clark, who can never remember wanting to be anything other than a clown. His act, variously inspired by burlesque, carnival acts, and classical clowning, also owes some debt to W.C. Fields and the “gentleman jugglers” of the vaudeville era whose acts employed top hats, cigars, and cigar boxes. “When people think ‘clown,’ they think of a guy making balloon animals at birthday parties … that’s not me,” says Clark, who, after performing around the world, is excited and a little nervous about this rare hometown closeup for friends and family. “My mom doesn’t think I should juggle chainsaws at TheatreWorks,” he adds. “She said it crosses a line.” - By Chris Davis