Puddles Pity Party brings mystery, joy to Sinclair
It’s New Year’s Eve, a few hours before the revelers start their celebration in earnest, and things are getting festive early. Puddles the Clown has offered me a cup of coffee and fitted me with a red nose and party hat, even though we are communicating through Skype. I can see just a bit of red in the corner of the frame where Puddles has strapped the big round proboscis. Usually, I speak with artists by phone when they come to town. But Puddles, whose expressive baritone has made him an Internet sensation, doesn’t speak.
Puddles does like to interact, though. He is known to bring audience members onstage while he’s singing, sometimes just to hold a prop. That’s why his show is called “Puddles Pity Party,” according to “Big Mike” Geier.
“When people go to a party, they’re part of the energy, as well,” Geier says. “So he likes to include the audience in some of the antics and try to egg them along.”
Geier is often referred to as Puddles’s road manager, but he prefers “confidant” or “sidekick.” They have a lot in common — they are both 6-foot-8, both have beautiful singing voices, and when I contact Puddles on Skype I get Geier’s account. When we speak on the phone after the Puddles “interview,” the idea that Geier might be Puddles never comes up. “My wife and I just make sure he gets to where he needs to go,” he says. He calls it “chasing the clown.”
For roughly 20 minutes on Skype, Puddles uses gestures and facial expressions, and sometimes sheets of paper, to answer my questions. When my cat George jumps into the frame, Puddles gets excited and begins to play harmonica, signaling his dog, Georgie, to howl in the background. For a few minutes, we enjoy the interview as a foursome before I am able to get to a few questions.
What does he enjoy about singing? He writes, simply, “feelings,” and holds up the paper for me to see. How does he feel when he sings? He purses his lips and writes. “Hopeful?” I ask if that’s how he’d like the audience to feel when he sings, and he nods eagerly.
In October of 2013, Puddles teamed with pianist Scott Bradlee’s collective Postmodern Jukebox for a jazzy rendition of Lorde’s hit “Royals.” The YouTube video, which now has over 14 million views, is striking. As the band vamps over the intro, Puddles wanders into the frame and sets his suitcase, marked with “PuddlesPityParty.com,” on the bass drum and sets his lantern on the piano. The giant clown in pale makeup and a tiny gold crown — embossed with a “P” for Puddles — towers over two backup singers, and dwarfs the upright bass player and drummer in the background.
It seems like a parody. But when Puddles opens his mouth to sing, it’s beautiful. Operatic. He emotes like a diva, leveling his gaze into the camera. Puddles is an intense and compelling presence. Since then, his video collaborations with Postmodern Jukebox — including last year’s covers of Sia’s “Chandelier” and Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” — have regularly garnered millions of hits. When we interact on Skype, Puddles sits in front of a small shrine of paintings, photos, and knickknacks, including a Puddles sock monkey, sent to him by fans.
It’s hard to fathom just what you’re seeing when you’re watching Puddles. Take away the visual element, and you’ve got a singer with true emotional resonance. He is fully committed, even when he’s mashing up Celine Dion and Metallica for a cover of “My Heart Will Go On” with his masked sidekick, Monkey Zuma, playing a giant banana as if it were a guitar in the background.
“I don’t think he’s serious, but I think he’s sincere,” says Geier. “He’s conveyed to me that the world is this sad and beautiful place.” Geier notes that sometimes, the physical mechanics of joy can look like sadness. “Things can make you sad in such a wonderful way. And I think the word ‘sad’ is maybe just a poor choice of words sometimes. If you were to see the Northern Lights for the first time, it’d be breathtaking. It’d be kind of an emotional thing.”
That’s where the hope comes in. Like most any artist, Puddles wants to connect with his audience, and it almost doesn’t matter exactly how. “He’s a very hopeful guy, in really heavy ways, but also in really ridiculous ways,” says Geier. “Like, I hope there’s pie. Pie and coffee.”
It’s tough to get a real back story on Puddles from Geier. He says they met in 1999 when Geier was a bartender at the Star Community Bar in Atlanta’s hip Little Five Points district. Puddles would come in and out of his life occasionally, but the relationship became more steady a couple of years ago. He says Puddles will be working on a new album in 2016, although it’s tough to find just the right project for him.
“There’s going to be an ebb and flow of opportunities,” Geier says. “He’s kind of popular now, so I think the next thing, the next phase, is going to present itself. For the time being, he’s just going to be true to who he is.”
When I ask Puddles about his name, he writes that he thinks it’s an old family name, “handed down from olden times.” I ask why he started singing in the first place. “Meemaw! Look at me! Look at me!” he writes. He isn’t a songwriter, but maintains a large repertoire of popular covers, from show tunes to pop songs. That’s how he puts together a set list.
“People like songs they kind of know,” Puddles writes.
When I ask how he’d like people to react to him, he doesn’t take long to answer. “Some laugh. Some cry. We all hug.” And what is he wishing for in 2016? “More pie,” he writes, “more coffee and Costner 4 Prez! #Kevin.”
Puddles Pity Party
At The Sinclair, Cambridge, Tuesday at 9 p.m. Tickets: $30. 617-547-5200, www.sinclaircambridge.com