It was 1977 and it was time to present the new season’s gags to Mr. Feld. I was set to go; I had everything except a walkaround. I had no idea what I was going to do!
So on the day we had to present, I just happened to be out and about in Venice and I couldn’t resist stopping in to the local music store. I walked inside, and there hanging on the wall on display was a huge harmonica! My mind started working, the wheels started turning… I figured it was a great clown prop! I had to ask the guy if it was for sale, and he told me I could have it for $5.00! Of course I bought it. What clown wouldn’t buy a prop like that?
So after my day out shopping and scoring a massive harmonica, it was time to head to the arena to prepare for the evening events. I hadn’t even stopped to think about the walkaround I was expected to have that evening! I decided to head upstairs to the Attic, which is a sacred place above Clown Alley where old clown props are stored. I was looking for something… anything that I could use to get through the presentation! Nothing seemed to catch my eye.
Then it hit me! I’m thinking “HUGE HARMONICA!” But what could I do with it besides walk around with it? Think…think…think…
Then it started to come to me. I started to think about some every day clothes I wore almost daily: an old pair of overalls, and my oversize mountain climbing boots... Suddenly, an entire character was born! Adding a pillow in my belly was almost an afterthought, but it had to be…
At this point in time, Barry Lubin was doing Grandma, and he had a lot of whoopee cushions. Ideas, Ideas!! I asked him for one, split it open and put it on my head for a hat. At the very least, this character would look funny and hopefully I could get by with that.
Standing at my trunk, I glanced at the bag of ping pong balls I would use for noses. Hmmmm, could I put them in my mouth… play that giant harmonica… and when I pulled it away, my cheeks would remain puffed out? YES! I had my walkaround!
The presentation began and I was nervous about whether or not this would be enough. So often what seems funny to us, just doesn’t go over well. To me, it seemed pretty funny! I had great fun putting this character together! Now it was my turn to show it. I walked out with the harmonica in front of my mouth sat on the ring curb and started to rock out to the music. I really went at it stomping my feet and dancing around. I waited for a break in the music and just at the right moment I pulled the harmonica away and wiped my brow. I looked up to see Mr. Feld, and he was laughing hysterically! It actually worked! I knew I had succeeded…
This character became very popular and in the following years I would do it more and more in the show. It really worked well for the seats in Come In. With this character, I could do almost anything and get away with it! At the time, I didn't know what I had started but I knew it worked and I was having a blast doing it!
Fast forward to 2000: Tim Holst called me to the office in Palmetto to settle the contract for that coming season. He specifically asked me if I still did the character with the ping pong balls. I told him I did every once in a while but not all of the time. “Well, we want you to do it all the time.” Holst said. I wasn't sure I could, but told him I would sure give it a try.
He handed me the contract to sign. When I read through it, it said, "Jonathan Freddes, clown with ping pong ball in mouth character."
Wow! All the time? I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. It felt great that a character I had made up on a whim had been so successful and they wanted him all the time, but there’s a lot of pressure in doing that kind of thing. It didn’t take long to figure out that doing it all the time was quite painful with regular sized ping pong balls. I had to do a lot of experimenting until I found something I could use that was less painful. I won't even tell you what I finally found that worked. That’s my secret!
For the next seven years it was written exactly like that in my contract. All of this, for $5.00!