For some of us—after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil (Shakespeare’s eloquent substitute for the word croaked)—nice words will be spoken, eulogies given and tributes delivered: “Uncle Carl was such a nice guy. And he always gave me candy. I loved him.”
Sweet words, all right. If only Uncle Carl was around to hear them. But usually, by the time they are spoken, the Uncle Carl’s of the world are already down the road.
So imagine how great it must have been to be J.P. Patches (mortal name: Chris Wedes). This was a remarkable person who heard thousands of people tell him how loved he was countless times—day after day—and nobody waited until it was too late.
I would watch the Clown at the many appearances he would make in the last few years—decades since his enormously popular kids’ local TV show went to black—and the phenomenon was always the same. Grown men and women, buckling at the knees, in delighted reverie at the sight of their treasured childhood hero.
Much has been written and said about this remarkable being—and why he, perhaps above all of Seattle’s many broadcast performers, stands on a pedestal of his own.
I don’t think the answer is complicated.
Chris Wedes was real. That might sound odd when talking about a man that dressed in clown’s clothing and makeup. But no amount of artificial cover-up could disguise the very genuine, kind and immeasurably funny human that dwelled beneath.
Kids picked up on that. You can fool an adult, but not a kid. Kids can smell a phony from 10 kilometers. Patches was none of that. He was a good-natured smart aleck—a benign insurrectionist that kids not only found amusing, but also someone they could trust.
Here’s part of an interview I did with Patches last year during one of the many lunches we enjoyed together. At the time, he had announced that he was retiring. He wasn’t feeling all that well and thought it was time to hang up the rubber nose.
This brief excerpt will give you an idea of the witty mind behind the man—a mind that never retired until his body did.
PC: There are rumors that you are retiring, but I thought I’d get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
JP: “What are you saying: I look like a horse?”
PC: “No! Not at all. By the way, how old are you now?” (At this point, JP rose from his chair and stomped his left foot on the floor 83 times.)
PC: “Look, J.P., to anyone who grew up around here in the 60’s and 70’s, you’re an icon.”
JP: “Thanks. That how “I conned” you into picking up lunch today.”
I wish I could pick up lunch tomorrow.
I loved that guy.
But I know I’m standing in a very, very long line with everyone else who ever met him.
If there is a Heaven, I know St. Peter is waiting for J.P. Patches eagerly.
But even as he’s swinging open the gate, Old Pete better be ready to get a pie in the face.