The crowd was mostly quiet but Kirk felt like he was killing it.
It was the first time he’d juggled plates instead of bowling pins and he didn’t break even one. He’d always broken at least one when he practiced at home.
Rather than make a bunch of small balloon animals the audience wouldn’t be able to see, he made a giant giraffe. Even a coulrophobic could be impressed by that. Couldn’t they?
The magic tricks, while hardly dazzling, passed as illusions. The magic rope, the rings, the wand tricks, all of it.
He even heard some gasps and a distinct “Woo!” as he wrapped up his finale with a somersault.
A show simply couldn’t go any more smoothly for him.
Even still, there was a smattering of boos as Kirk danced off stage. (They were high school kids after all.) But mostly there was polite applause and a few cheers.
As he made his way backstage he ran into the next act, which happened to be a mime. He’d seen her getting ready earlier, practicing and touching up her face paint. She’d been watching in silence the whole time. As they bumped into one another the mime smiled a big grin and gave Kirk two thumbs up.
He was about to say good luck, when he heard the host’s voice over the PA system: “That’s Knick-Knack the clown everyone! Give it up for Knick-Knack!”
There was another polite round of applause.
“Next up, we have a mime,” the voice said. “Everyone welcome Oddball!”
Music cued up and Oddball donned her smile. She ran out on stage and pretended to slip and fall as the spotlight caught up to her. Or at least Kirk hoped she was pretending.
Oddball started off with some standard mime fair. She pulled on a rope. She pretended to eat a carrot like Bugs Bunny. She was trapped in a box.
Kirk felt like he could have done better, but Oddball seemed pretty new at this, and he was happy she was trying. He knew being a clown was tough, but mimes always seemed to get it worse.
And with that thought, the crowd started booing. It wasn’t a smattering, either. It was a bass-y roar, the kind that overwhelms.
Oddball worked for a few more seconds but then froze. This time it wasn’t part of the act. The boos had sunk in and she’d hit the wall. The sound reverberated through her body making her feel hollow. She became acutely aware of her rising body temperature as sweat soaked through her black and white striped shirt.
A few more long seconds passed and then Oddball fled, running off stage as fast as she could. Again, she slipped and fell. This was the only time during her act that audience members laughed. Others gasped in horror. A few let out a rubber-necking “Oooooh.”
Oddball got up and finished her trot off stage.
The voice from the PA chimed in like God chiding his flock from on high.
“Oh no, no, no,” it said. “Everybody give Oddball a hand. Come on now. Be respectful. Give her a hand.”
With that more people applauded, trying to salvage the situation and a scrap of Oddball’s self-esteem. But it was far too late for that.
Kirk turned to follow where the fleeing mime had run. He asked one of the other talent show performers where she’d gone and was directed to one of the dressing rooms. There she sat with her head down in her arms crying.
“Are you okay?” Kirk asked.
There was no response. Just more sobbing.
“God, that’s a stupid question. I’m sorry. Is there something I can get for you?”
Again, Oddball said nothing, but this time she lifted her head.
Her make-up was smeared and running from the tears streaming down her face.
Sweaty, sad, and breathless, the mime shook her head ‘no.’
“Okay, well I thought you did okay,” he said. “You’re going to be fine, trust me.”
Inhaling one more deep breath and letting it out, Oddball pinched her fingers at the corner of her mouth, dragged them across her lips, and turned them.
“Oh, right. Of course.” Kirk said. “Mime’s don’t talk.”
The mime sniffled and looked down.
“Okay. Well, clowns do and let me tell you, I’ve been booed, and yelled at, and jeered lots of times. I’ve had people call me names and throw things at me.
“And you know what I do when they do that stuff?” he asked.
“I keep performing. When they boo, I act sad. When they call me names, I play along. When they throw things at me, I juggle them. Because I’m a clown. And if the audience is doing all that stuff, they’re being entertained. I’m getting a rise out of them. I’m doing my job.
“Of course I want to make people smile. Of course I want to make them laugh and I do – the happy ones anyway. But the truth is, unhappy people don’t laugh. And they don’t smile. They boo and they jeer. Nothing else makes them feel quite so good. And that’s not a reflection on you, it’s a reflection on them.”
“I’ll leave you alone now,” he said.
Having said his peace Kirk turned to leave. Then he felt a slight tug. He turned around and Oddball hugged him. Hard. Her face was still wet and he could feel it.
“You’re fine Oddball,” he said. “You really knocked’em dead out there.”
They both laughed, even though mimes aren’t supposed to.