Under the Sign of Saturn

By Emma dePaulo ReidDecember 14, 2023

Under the Sign of Saturn

SATURNALIA: A HOLIDAY BACCHANAL, The Yard Theater, Los Angeles, December 9, 2023.

“The difference between the clown and bouffon is that, um, the audience makes fun of clowns, but the bouffon, like, makes fun of us,” answered an audience member, paraphrasing the words of Jacques Lecoq, the inventor of the bouffon school of clowning. “Douchey,” a member of iL FUNGO’s all-bouffon clown troupe, dressed in a Blade-Runner-meets-Rocky-Horror tutu and Beetlejuice makeup, was reaching over the first row to hold a “microphone” (made of a bow taped to a hotdog) to the audience member’s lips.

Douchey had asked, with a put-on air of pretentiousness dying for approval, if the woman in the second row “got” the show. “We didn’t know all that!” he exclaimed when she put forward her well-researched response, but as soon as I stepped into the Yard Theater on Saturday night for iL FUNGO’s Saturnalia: A Holiday Bacchanal, an hour-long version of the usual slapstick skits that Los Angeles’s only all-bouffon clown troupe performs as headers for stand-up acts and other indie comedy darlings, I could tell that something out of the ordinary was afoot. My suspicions were confirmed as “Clob,” a character styled with a hulking red silhouette, freakishly extended arms, and a Lorax mustache, read the rules of the show (with highlights such as “Number four: do unto others!”). When he got to number 420, he boomed, “If you came here on mushrooms, have a good time!” The audience tittered, ready to oblige.

Having disarmed us early on with the performers’ cartoonish, bumbling personas and colorful papier-mâché costumes, the show progressed with a good-natured air of chaos as the bouffons fielded flying hot dogs, made fun of each other, interviewed audience members, and led the room in a sing-along that ended in a few of us, myself included, getting pulled in front of the room to sing. Being forced into audience participation ranks about as high on the “fear” chart for me as flying on a plane through a bad thunderstorm, but tonight I found myself mostly at ease onstage. The spirit of the bouffon had infected me, and made me willing to act a fool in front of the laid-back Saturday night crowd. I returned to my seat with a smile on my face.

As the show ended with the crowned “King” of Saturnalia eating the jellied heart of the huge blue bear “Stuffins,” the performance devolved into a raucous party—a club-like atmosphere where everyone, critics and clowns alike, danced around the room. 

In the L.A. world of stony-faced front rows and people too “over it” to dance along to popular songs, the performance was a triumph in bringing the room together by way of silliness. In the late days of the year, when early sunsets make weekend nights a bit harder to brave and many go into hibernation, the bouffon’s tricks are appreciated. Because of them, we find it easy to remember that there is delight in being harmlessly embarrassed, and making friends with a room of total strangers is just a few airborne hotdogs away.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Emma DePaulo Reid is an L.A.-based screenwriter and artist from Washington, D.C. She is just as old as her tongue, and a little bit older than her teeth.


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