Written by Tony Bennett for the Duluth News Tribune (August 27, 2018)
On the FX series “Baskets,” Zach Galifianakis stars as Chip Baskets, a down-on-his-luck guy from Bakersfield who wants nothing more in the world than to be accepted as an arty French clown. The gag is that he’s got a passion for something that no one else shares, a love for something no one else loves. Here’s a guy who just wants to dress up in face paint and ruffly clothes and make people laugh, and no one’s buying. That failure to be funny is a big part of what makes the show funny. He’s a sad clown who wants to be happy.
At the Norshor Theatre on Sunday night, another kind of sad clown took the stage with no introduction and then spent 90 minutes entertaining a close-to-full crowd with his own struggles. Puddles Pity Party — if you haven’t seen him on shows like “America’s Got Talent” or on YouTube doing dramatic, operatic covers of Lorde songs — is an island unto himself, a weird, looming, alien presence who seems fixated on his own misery while also doing his best to bring beauty and laughter into the world.
The Puddles experience isn’t too tough to grasp, even though he leaves a lot of his story to the imagination. There’s no origin tale, no fictional narrative — Puddles just appears on stage, and, through his actions, you get the sense that he’s bummed, but doing his best to deal with it. When he took the stage at the Norshor (after making his way through the balcony audience preshow and shaking more hands than a political candidate at a fundraiser), it was without any ado at all. He just took a seat and started eating popcorn and reading a book. The crowd — which was quite diverse, age-wise — immediately locked in on him and his subtle actions, laughing generously at his slightest movements, saying “Awww” at his failures.