JustLarry is a professional comedian/clown/magician that has been delighting crowds across the country for more than 20 years. His act is a variety show in itself, but this weekend he is bringing JustLarry’s Paradise, a super-stacked variety show with dancers, aerialists singers and, of course, comedy and magic from the man himself, to the Hi-Tone. We got a chance to talk to Larry about his act and the upcoming show.
MIF: Real quick, and sorry if this is rude, but “JustLarry” no space, right? Unique name. There a story there?
Ha! There is! In the late 90’s I was doing an evening of entertainment at the Edge coffee shop on Cooper. The manager asked me what to put on the marque outside. He kept suggesting “Larry the clown” “The amazing magic of Larry Clark” and other such titles… and I kept saying I am not in Makeup, I am doing more than magic, etc, so just put “Larry”, just “Larry!” “when I showed up the next day the marquee said “Just Larry!” My friend Christiana Bendall (a very funny comedian and improviser, and who is now married to also hilarious Joe Lebovitch, the leader of Wiseguys) was working for a sign company and as a gift for the night had made me a vinyl sign with my name on it, when she saw the marquee she ran back to her office and cut out vinyl letters to add the “JUST” to “Larry” to her sign. She made the no-space one-word thing happen!
I had toyed with the name for a bit for my out of makeup performing, but clowning was in my soul. I went to Ringling Bros. in 99-01 and when I came back to Memphis after that I started working hard on my comedy career, and used that moniker full force… the rest is history.
MIF: Makes sense. I have you say you are the least scary clown I’ve ever seen.
That is because I am real clown! Clowning is not rainbow fright wigs, one-piece jumpsuits with pom-poms and hearts or sparkles on your face… a true clown is like Chaplin or Keaton. The only reason for the makeup and costume is for the venue.. it is for the audience to see what you are doing, you are only highlighting your face, not hiding it. You have to do those things for 10,000 people a show to understand what you are saying without words. You are just being an extension of yourself. Some of the older pictures that show the bolder garish makeups come for a time period where the circus was primarily in massive tents (Ringling’s in the 40’s and 50’s was over 4 football fields wide and sat over 20,000 people a show) so everything had to be bigger and broader back then. Now thanks to modern arenas and amazing lighting technology we are back to a clean classic look!
MIF: Certainly the most rock ‘n’ roll clown ever.
Haha! Well I guess career wise you might be right- as a musician friend once pointed out, I have done over a hundred and seventeen performances at Madison Square Garden, which according to him might make the most times a Memphian has played that arena!
MIF: Your shows always have a huge element of spectacle and variety to them. What inspires you to create these kinds of experiences?
You are very kind! I guess for three reasons: as a clown you have to learn everything in the circus to be able to spoof it, along with learning about music and the arts, so all those skills come in to play. As a child I loved comedy and watched everything I could get my hands on: Jerry Lewis, Three stooges, Marx Brothers, Olsen and Johnson, Milton Berle, George Carl, and all those folks always had shows that were bigger than just a few jokes or skits. Also, coffee and I probably have adult ADHD, my brain won’t stop working, I create all the time. may not need the idea at that moment but you never know when I just might!
MIF: What makes magic so awesome? I’m serious here. Have you figured it out? That unexpected turn to finish off a really stellar piece – what is it about that, that rules so hard?
Magic is awesome because no matter what you are – a dreamer, a cynic, of just an audience member, you still believe in it! Come on we all want to have super powers. So it is fun when you work hard to make the impossible look possible. Even those people who just want to tear apart how the tricks are done, usually in the end, still say how impressive it is to do, because of the skill level. That’s why Magic has been around for thousands of years. Just like great jokes, some magic has twists, some has punchlines, and some is just entertaining from start to finish with no specific topper moment.
MIF: So what’s happening this weekend. What was going through your head when you said “Ok these performers, these performances, this theme.”
Normally It takes me a year to write and create one of my Memphis-based one man shows, but this show fell into my lap! The Downtown Association had brought me in for an event in Court Square a few months ago along with the Beale Street Flippers and the Might Souls Brass Band… – the Mighty Souls Brass band is formed a few members from another band called Rolling Head Orchestra , who I had worked with on some previous burlesque shows… so every time I would do some juggling at this event they would step up and play behind for me, and every time we had a break the band said, “come on man, WHEN are we going to do another show together.” Visiting me while I was there was the gorgeous burlesquer, Kitty Wompas, and she was asking me the same question ”When?”
Two days later I was attending Josh McLane’s awesome Don’t Be Afraid MEGA Show (20 comedians) at the Hitone, while I was there, the owner Brian pulled me aside and exclaimed “Come on Mother’, when are you gonna do a show at my place!” (of course after us slamming two shots of Rumplemintz!) so with cloudy judgement I said OK pull open you calendar. We picked a date, And it was on!
That night I created a premise that I had always wanted to try, have an outdoor tiki/ luau party, so instead I brought it inside. The next day I contacted the acts I wanted or who had contacted me about being in shows, Kitty was of course in, my roommate the amazing singer and actress Annie Freres was in, Comedian Happy Johnson jumped in feet first, Miss Drag Tennessee Bella DuBalle couldn’t wait..everybody was all ready, except the band they had gotten a booking. In the beginning the wish list cast was over 20 people! I paired it down to 10, this way the show can run about an hour and half.
This show is about the audience traveling to island of Kind’aWannaLayYa! Where they encounter- Tiki goddesses, beach beauties, a lovely and hilarious hula dancing Happi, Learn dangerous tribal skills, try not to anger the Volcano goddess Pele’, see shipwrecked lovers, aerial sirens, meet under sea Mermaids… and so much more! Also the Hi-Tone is making big fun tropical drinks for the show, so you can get your Mai Tai on!
MIF: What’s the biggest reason for people to come to your show this weekend, then?
BOOBS!!!!! And because its gonna be a heck of a lot of fun! a great cast, awesome venue, and a responsive city that loves entertainment!
JustLarry’s Paradise, featuring Tara Morton, Happi Johnson, LadyDoo Moi, Happi Johnson, Kitty Wompas, Callie Compton, Annie Freres, Bella DuBalle, Requi Emma, and JustLarry is at the Hi-Tone on Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $15. Advance tickets available online here.