Not exactly a euphemism for spanking the monkey but coming awfully close, Punching The Clown follows the mockumentary misfortunes of 21st century pretty much X-rated combo standup funnyman/freaky folk troubadour Henry Phillips as himself, and distills plenty of offbeat laughs. With a pseudo-serious tone serving as setup for vintage vaudeville derived borderline bawdy and always with a determined straight face, solemn songster Phillips manages to pull off making fun of himself without ever coming close to cracking a smile.
A small town bible belt truckstop guitar strumming performer who gets just about excommunicated after graphically sexing up his blasphemous stage routine unknowingly for an evangelical crowd showing up for pizza, Henry heads over to LA to pursue that big city elusive holy grail of fame and appreciation. Where his equally loser aspiring actor brother (Matt Walker) sets him up with rock bottom feeder talent agent Ellen Pinsky (small screen Seinfeld sitcom sensation Ellen Ratner, in a zany turn that repeatedly threatens to steal the show).
Though never less than wowing his audiences, a chronically melancholy Henry is still stalled career-wise at a paycheck-free gig set up by Pinsky, featuring his salacious serenading during open mic night at a java dive know as Expresso Yourself. And Pinsky’s introduction of her broke and downcast client to the phony LA swells at a wickedly satirical music industry shindig where they’re tossed out for crashing, doesn’t help matters either. Or at least not until a tabloid rumor connecting a baffled Henry to bagel addiction and neo-nazi tendencies perks up record label honcho ears, and propels him into stardom. Well, not exactly.
Boasting fabulously flamboyant screenwriting by co-conspirator serial loon Phillips and director Gregori Viens, Punching The Clown is essentially standup comic cinema at its most irreverently outrageous. Which nicely compensates for a narrative that feels far too faintly familiar in comparison. But with its bookend FCC violation inserted Captain Chaotic insomniac overnight radio show, during which jaded jock Wade Kelley and an incorrigibly raunchy poker faced Phillips rudely dis the FCC’s naughty word police, Punching The Clown is no-budget heady hardcore humor that is impossible to resist.
3 [out of 4] stars