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on July 16, 2000
I love DVD movies and for the longest time, the only reason I kept my laserdisc player was because I was afraid that "Shakes the Clown" would never come out on DVD. Let's face it; "Shakes the Clown" was an absolute flop in the theaters, and Bobcat Golthwait gambled his career on the movie, which never quite recovered. But since on video, "Shakes the Clown" has gained a strong cult following as one of the funniest, irreverent, misunderstood comedies of all time.
There are 2 kinds of people in this world; People who like "Shakes the Clown" and people who don't. Here's a quiz to find out which camp you fall into: If you like Liam Neeson movies, thought Julia Roberts was at her perkiest in the Runaway Bride, eat a lot of low-fat food and don't understand most Adam Sandler jokes, this isn't your movie. However, if you like South Park, if the Cable Guy was your favorite Jim Carrey film, and can appreciate the brilliance of well-constructed potty-humor, "Shakes the Clown" is right up your alley.
Bobcat is Shakes the Clown; an alcoholic party clown that doesn't know how to turn his life around. He hangs out in a dumpy clown-bar ("The Twisted Balloon"), and vainly wishes he could be a television clown. All he needs is one big break, but he's generally too drunk to do what's best for himself, like practice his juggling and regular pie-throwing target practice.
Binky the clown is his arch nemesis; Binky is the suburban party-clown that is used to things going his way. Binky is also busy pushing dope he buys from the more rowdy Rodeo Clowns. Shakes ends up in the wrong place during a bad drug deal and gets framed for killing a leader of the clown community with a juggling pin.
That's the basic plot and you know by now whether you will enjoy the movie or not. In my opinion it's absolutely brilliant and, even though crude at times, makes for an interesting look at the different factions within society and how we behave towards people from different backgrounds. It's not a cutesy morale-building movie, but it's message is thinly cloaked with hilarious dialogue and humor.
Now I can finally sell my laserdisc player.....
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on October 31, 2000
It's nice to see that so many people out there have finally "gotten" this movie (it's belly-flopped when originally released). It has an incredibly flimsy story and no real depth of character but, guess what? Some movies just don't need strong story and characterization. Especially, when it's filled with such talented comedians as Goldthwait, Julie Brown, Adam Sandler (before he became huge), Kathy Griffin, Tom Kenny (from "Mr. Show" who steals every scene he's in), SNL's Tim Kazurinsky, and the legendary Paul Dooley ("Say, you clowns are on dope!"). The language throughout is so blue it's almost aquamarine, and yet it doesn't pander to the depths of gross-out humor that some comedies have (though there are scenes of vomit and urination played for laughs, the jokes are actually FUNNY). Man, this film is funny, funny, funny. See it! A cult classic.
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on July 10, 2006
Pre-dating the much more popular "Bad Santa" by a good decade or so, Bobcat Goldthwait's sole directorial effort may have been a little too ahead of its time for its own good. Not that this is a groundbreaking piece of cinema, but within its narrow genre (Bitter Alcoholic Children's Entertainers) it has become a cult classic. Depending on your innate sense of humor, you will be either unspeakably shocked or wickedly delighted. Bobcat plays the title role fairly straight, considering the outrageousness of the story's central conceit. Something almost all reviews I've ever read seem to miss is the fact that Goldthwait's "clowns" are really a send-up of stand-up comedians, with all the backstage insecurity, jealously, pettiness and angst barely contained by the "happy" face paint (Maybe I recognize this underlying context because I used to work in stand up!) Julie Brown is appropriately twisted as the "love is blind" girlfriend, and Robin Williams almost steals the movie in his cameo as an abusive mime instructor. Not for all tastes, but worth a peek.
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on June 16, 2004
I really loved this movie, but it appeales to a certain sense of humor. Here's the litmus test: This flick begins with a cameo of Florence Henderson (aka Mrs. Brady) as Shakes the clown's washed out one night stand. If you don't find this the least bit funny then, "move along. nothing to see here." If this visual made you smile then watch Shakes the Clown. Its a rare gem.
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on November 3, 2006
Following the exploits of a good-hearted, booze-soaked clown who is trying to make his way in Palookaville, a town populated by denizens of that certain ditch in the entertainment world inhabited by clowns and mimes. He tries to kick the booze but his demons are hard to face. He gets involved in seedy intrigue with the tough, jaded rodeo clowns, picks on the mimes, and tries to avoid the indignity of doing balloon animals, all while keeping the bottle at bay lest he wake up puking into his frightwig. Oh yes, there's a love interest as well. Tasteless? Absolutely. Funny? If you know and love an alcoholic (or a clown), and you can still laugh about it, this movie will send you rolling off the couch and onto the floor in stitches. The relapse scene at the kids' pool party is alone worth the price of admission. A great cameo by Florence Henderson, and what may have been the last time Robin Williams was funny. Not for everyone, though, and let me state this for the record - NOT FOR THE KIDS!!! Got that? Now, go watch this!
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Here's the deal: Bobcat Goldthwait has a sick sense of humor. He writes and directs some of the best black comedies out there. If you're not a slightly twisted individual, you won't appreciate what he offers. If you're a prude, you'll walk away from just about anything he's involved in feeling very offended.

However, just because he's great at dark comedies doesn't mean he's lowbrow or dumb. In fact, even his early work, like Shakes The Clown, shows that he's actually a pretty deep thinker with a skill for pointing out the humor in the darker moments of life.

While Shakes The Clown is not his best work (hey, he was just getting started at the time!) it is some of his more accessible work. This is in large part due to the fact that he got people like Julie Brown and Adam Sandler on-board. The plot is fairly simple: Alcoholic clown Shakes needs to shape up and finds himself framed for murder while trying to sober up and hang on to his girlfriend. What makes the movie work is the fact that Shakes and the other clowns all go to a clown bar, where various grease-painted entertainers hang out and unwind after a long day of performing for ungrateful children (and adults). The bar is the central location for the movie. It's where most of the action happens, and it's where Shakes' girlfriend happens to work when she's not bowling (Nevermind. You'll see.)

Bobcat is always happy to degrade himself on screen, and he does it brilliantly here. Shakes is a total mess. A disgusting mess. A shameful mess. Bobcat sells the drunkenness and depravity, whether he's being peed on (Nevermind. You'll see.) or stumbling around in a drunken stupor. Yet he still manages to remain likable and not lose his status as the film's protagonist.

I won't spoil this movie for you. Just trust me: If you're into dark comedies, Shakes The Clown is a good place to look for your fix, and then when you're done I suggest tracking down Bobcat Goldthwait's other movies. But be warned! If you're a thin-skinned, sensitive sort who dislikes violence, vice, or vulgarity, you should probably avoid this and other Bobcat Goldthwait movies. He's not dumb, but he's not shy, either.
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on January 4, 2005
I'm always looking for quirky/funny movies and this one is a jem! I saw it when it first came out and have worn out two VHS copies and am now working on the DVD.

To date I still can't hear Muddy Water's "Mannish Boy" without envisioning Shakes swaggering out of the gas station mens room. The cameos in the flick are great too! Florence Henderson as a clown groupie. Robin Williams putting Shakes through his paces as a mime instructor.

Funny stuff! Can't recommend it enough!
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on January 8, 2015
Why do we watch films, especially comedies? To be entertained.

This movie is very entertaining, however, it is also very original. It tells a story of a clown, named Shakes, who is an alcoholic. He has job issues, a framed-for-murder issue, a relationship in trouble, etc. No one element really dominates the story. I think this may be considered a failure of story telling, the "finding the real murderer" element takes place almost by accident and everybody accepts the truth (mainly, because the witnesses tell the truth when asked), so Shakes is not hiding out or looking for the real murderer for that long. Entire movies have been based on that premise, but not this one.

The relationship is not the focus either. Judy and Shakes are present throughout the film, and their relationship is in focus, but it does not focus on this any more than it focuses on Judy's friend who is trying to be a chef.

The comedy is based on the ridiculous nature of the visual elements, some slapstick, a few jokes, and petty personal conflict.

The best thing about this film to me is that it is original. It does not follow a formula. It is like a documentary, of a sort, of a person's life (Shakes) without a script. We just see what happens, and what happens is very funny and entertaining.

Of course, if you expect to see a typical plot and a string of jokes, then this movie is not for you. The film is almost a metaphor, not meant to be taken literally (I highly doubt so many clowns walk around in full getup all the time and beat up mimes on sight), but the metaphor does not matter, because it is funny to watch.

In a way, it is an abstract movie. It is not so much about an alcoholic clown and the conflicts, but what the alcoholic clowns and the conflicts represent.

And what it represents is not that important either. It is just funny to watch.

I give it four stars, even though it is the best movie in its field, because it is a highly unique movie, and it is difficult to judge such a film. We judge against expectations, and it may be difficult for many to know what to expect. Expect to be entertained. If you expect anything else, you may be disappointed.
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on May 11, 2000
Leonard Maltin really doesn't get it! Like most critics, he doesn't want to look at the underbelly of society and see the humor there. To use the premise of "innocent clowns" that we all equate with happy childhood memories, and depict them as real cursing, alcoholic, angry, jealous, murderous,depressed, drug abusing humans is comic genius! Just the idea makes one laugh! Of course it's raw, of course it's crude, but that's the POINT! Clowns are supposed to be happy, smiling icons of goodness. These clowns are NOT! That's what makes "Shakes the Clown" work. Other than a few minutes of boring "filler" scenes, the entire movie makes you laugh, whether you feel guilty about it or not! And it doesn't even need Robin Williams, although that's a nice surprise. Any movie that opens with Florence Henderson's make-up smeared face after a one night stand with a drunken clown HAS to be great. A masterpiece for Bobcat!
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on June 27, 2007
A review quoted on the VHS box calls "Shakes" "the 'Citizen Kane' of alcoholic clown movies." With a rave like that, how can you go wrong, particularly if you're the type of person who loves coarse, scatological, and downright juvenile humor (as I unashamedly do)? Bobcat Goldthwaite turns in a bravura performance (he should, he wrote the screenplay) as a second-rate, besotted "party clown" with an attitude. When he's wrongfully framed for the murder of a promoter by his evil, clown rival, Binky, Shakes gets sober and mean and in touch with his inner Bozo to clear his name and bring rough justice. Julie "Downtown" Brown, plays his patient and ditzy-but-smarter than-her-man love interest. Cameos by Florence Henderson (think Mrs. Brady with running clown make-up after a one-nighter with Shakes), the late Lawanda Page ("Aunt Esther" from Sanford & Son) (another clown lush with the raunchiest lines in the film), Robin Williams (appearing in the credits under the nom de guerre of "Marty Fromage" [heck, I'd be embarrassed, too] as a mime instuctor) lend "gravitas" to an otherwise lightweight cast. Said cast includes Adam Sandler, in a supporting role as a clown side-kick to Shakes. Who knew he would go on to win Drew Barrymore's heart playing the fool, minus the red nose and white face, as a wedding singer?

The "plot" (such as it is) takes place in - and the film's entire premise is - a clown "town" where virtually all the citizens are either party clowns, rodeo clowns or mimes. Rodeo clowns rule, while mimes are beaten up for sport by everyone else as the bottom of the clown heap. Now, you might ask yourself: "Is this supposed to be some form of 'deep social commentary' a la Werner Herzog's 'Even Dwarfs Started Small'?" Pshaw! Get real! There is zero in this film that any sane person could, should or would take seriously. But that's the charm.

Confidentially, I've always found clowns to be sinister, hidden-agenda types; but "Shakes" was right up my rat-infested, garbage-strewn alley, AND it cured me of my clown hang-ups (well, almost). I have foisted it, reverentially but insistently, on many a friend -- some of whom actually remained friends after they watched "Shakes". Whew! So waste a few bucks and a perfectly good evening. And it helps to be half in the bag yourself. Cult classic, indeed.
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