This Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons has been dealing with mortality more and more lately. They’ve never shied away from it, from the early demises of Bleeding Gums Murphy and Dr. Marvin Monroe to the wholly unexpected T-shirt gun incident with Maude Flanders, but as The Simpsons gets old, it seems to be getting obsessed with it. Like an Abe Simpson reading the obituaries and not because he’s looking for real estate.
Last season The Simpsons killed off “the most beloved man in Springfield,” a character they made up just for the episode. Then the series dealt silently with the real-life death of Marcia Wallace, the voice of Edna Krabappel, a truly beloved character. I love Krusty the clown. I lapse into the voice casually when I tell my kids “everything’s going to be all right” and they always believe me. Even when I tell them I need their fingerprints on a pair of candlesticks. The kids didn’t think everything was all right with the opening couch gag, though. They were quite perturbed.
The Simpsons‘ “Clown in the Dumps” was a bittersweet episode. The laughs and irreverence are there, but the premise, that Krusty the clown is driven out of comedy by his fellow comedians, is a sad reminder that time drudges on and that even The Simpsons will one day go to syndication heaven. The episode itself opens with foreshadowing. The very first image we see in the opening credits is Ned Flanders as a preordained angel making his ascension. Bart writes “Spoiler Alert: Unfortunately my dad doesn’t die” on the chalkboard.
Krusty, who was born Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski, loses his father, Hyman Krustofski. Rabbi Krustofski has been played by comedian Jackie Mason since “Like Father, Like Clown,” the sixth episode of season three (and occasionally by Dan Castellenata). Mason was always an inspired choice, not only did he used to be an ordained rabbi, but he was born with the name Yacov Moshe Maza in the city of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Sheboygan is a great clown-funny sounding name, like Cucamonga, Walla Walla, Keokuk or Seattle. It’s even funnier if you picture it pronounced by Professor Frink, which my daughter has been doing since I started this sentence.
Rabbi Krustofski always saw his son, the unfunny clown, as a needy nothing. Krusty has been trying to fill the hole in his soul with laughs. A long-time hack who only really knows how to shill, Krusty has never even been an also-ran. His only lasting legacy being a law limiting the working hours of chimpanzees to 14 a day and the invention of paying alimony by dropping hot pennies from a helicopter. With his superfluous nipple, addiction to Faberge eggs and subscription to Gigantic Asses magazine, Krusty is his own punch line but is still capable of suffering a crisis of conscience and brief acts of uncharacteristic generosity.
The Simpsons always make you care for their characters. There is a sweetness inherent in the most egregious traits. Family Guy points this out on their own crossover episode airing tonight. They may overload their episodes with more punchlines per cartoon frame, but they don’t have the heart of The Simpsons. Even their dog, arguably the most likable character on the show, couldn’t sniff the butt of The Simpsons’ Santa’s Little Helper and all he has to do is drool.
The death of Rabbi Krustofski affects the whole of the Krustylu studios and Springfield. Even Sideshow Bob was allowed out of prison to attend the funeral. Each of the Simpsons kids reacts differently. Bart immediately tries to comfort Krusty, his life-long idol. Bart endures the monotony of the star-scroll of spiritual thought to find the only true comfort religion might bring: that a rabbi somewhere is watching Krusty the Clown for laughs and inspiration.
Lisa only sees a cautionary tale for her sedentary father. Homer just sees that he has to reach for the popcorn. One of the funniest sight gags of the night was caught on Lisa’s Daddy Cam: Marge suffocating Homer with the sleep apnea contraption that’s supposed to help him breathe. Oh sure, it’s all funny until somebody collapses a lung. But no one did, so it was. Lisa wants to control the uncontrollable, fate.
“Clown in the Dumps” may not be considered a classic episode now, but after a few years when we watch it again on syndication, probably next year on FXX, it will grow in stature. It is a heartfelt episode that does bring on the laughs. The sadness of the episode to me was Jackie Mason’s voice, which sounds very tired.
“Clown in the Dumps” was written by Joel H. Cohen. The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie, Gil Gunderson and Principal Skinner, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson and Nelson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson, Pamela Hayden as Millhouse. Hank Azaria plays Moe Szyslak. Guest stars: David Hyde Pierce as Felix, Sarah Silverman as herself, Jeff Ross as himself. Don Hertzfeldt.
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Tears of a clown grief counseling: Specializing in jesters, harlequins and rodeo clowns. No mimes.
Rachel Krustofski’s Headstone: Beloved mother. Would it kill you to leave some flowers?
Oys R Us: The Whole Store Is a Complaint Department.