Gross Heart: Much to Love about Mump and Smoot

Canadian clowns, Mump and Smoot (with Thug), were in Whitehorse tonight in a revival of their first show together, Something.  I was led to believe it was going to be scary, or disturbing--but these were not scary clowns.  While there are some grotesque moments, there’s a charming show beneath the grossness.  It stems from the deep friendship between characters Mump and Smoot, developed more than twenty years ago by John Turner and Micheal Kennard.

On stage, there is a sense that Mump, a bit rule-bound and dictatorial, is trying to be a mentor to Smoot, or a father-figure.  Smoot, on the other hand, is young, innocent, full of whim, silly even, more uncontrollable–like a child.  His voice even sounds a bit like Elmo from Sesame Street, though he can easily scowl at the audience and berate them just as much as Mump.  But the two clowns cry together, miss each other, play together, and are true friends–even if they play doctor and (unintentionally) hurt each other.  It’s not Laurel and Hardy I think of but Abbot and Costello.  Or even George and Gracie.

Our audience was completely charmed by these two–and I laughed through the whole thing—there’s really only a few moments that you can stop laughing.  Sometimes you are laughing at what the clowns are doing to other members of the audience.  The Audience serves as the fourth member of the show, and completely unpredictable.  John and Mike, afterwards in the talkback, referred to what the Audience does at their shows, as “gifts.”  They don’t know how the audience will react, but they take whatever the audience does and uses it in the show.  This is why the show is different every night.  Sure there are several “acts” they go through–but the audience determines paths they will take in the act.

Yes, there are some grotesque moments, but comedy and the grotesque have often gone together.  Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein comes to mind as comedy exploring inside Horror.  We all still laugh–in fact fear makes us want to laugh all the more.  Movies that play with death, or that use a dead body as a running gag, or that find humor in zombies (see Sean of the Dead). Saturday Night Live’s spoof on Julia Child severing her own finger while doing a live cooking show–this is what they mean by grotesque, or even horror.  Mump and Smoot really don’t go beyond that barrier towards horror.  There is nothing so realistic that it makes you gag.  Thug, played by Candice, is perhaps the scariest of the three, and she doesn’t say a thing–which is why she’s kinda scary.  She’s completely unpredictable.

However, they take some roads in other directions that I don’t recall seeing in other clown shows, or comedic duos: Clowns with spirituality.  Mump and Smoot have a home world of Ummo, speak Ummonian, and worship Ummo, their god.  They have a strong belief–and in this they speak about belief and spirituality in society.  Mump and Smoot are believers, and I like the way they reflect on spirituality.

I like the way they reflect on love and friendship too–how these clowns care about each other–even if they do it grossly.  They are friends together in a nightmare–and their world is weirder than ours, but their care is authentic and real.  If these had been horrific clowns we could not have bonded so well with them. We cared about them.  We tried to save Smoot from his own curiosity, calling out to him from the audience–yes, you get so bonded with the clowns that you are calling out from the audience as naturally as you would call out to your friends; we chastised Mump for his treatment of Smoot, and he snackered at us from the stage.  We worked together as an audience to be part of this wonderful show.  I loved being a part of this show, and I think you will too.

“Mump and Smoot are the latest wrinkle on the existential fall-guy, the Everymen buddy-buddies alone at the edge of the world. With their horned caps, bulbous noses and pancake eye masks, however, they are closer to big-tent Laurel and Hardy than new-age Vladimir and Estragons…” – New York Newsday

Edmonton Sun called Mump and Smoot a “national treasure.”  And I think they’re right.

They are in Whitehorse for two more nights—I urge you to not let this one get by.  You’ll have a great time in the audience.  For its use of blood, children will not understand what’s going on, but teens will LOVE it.  Teens get in for $5.  Adults are loving being a part of the show.  It’s a great uplifting night out with friends or partners.  This show definitely has a heart, and if you wait for it, they might show it to you, even if it is a bit wet and dripping.

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