On Being and Understanding the Class Clown
If you remember anything from your grade school years you know that reputations are established quickly and typically remain static representations (or, in unfortunate cases, caricatures) of a personality. You also most likely remember your class clown by both name and deed. They are typically males, so I will prefer the male pronoun throughout, but please feel free to make the gender adjustment as necessary—women can most definitely fulfill this role with cynical pleasure.
Let’s begin with some definitions, because the class clown can be distinguished from the other types of individuals who mimic with overlapping characteristics. I can remember the funny man. We’ll call him Jack. He was a calculated humorist with an unmatchable wit, who could manage maintaining a solid grade point average and athletic superiority, all the while running with the class clown on occasions when it fulfilled his need for excitement. This would get Jack in trouble, but never too much trouble. You know what I’m talking about. He was an escape artist par excellence, and his genuine charisma and stable academic profile gave him a clear advantage.
The class clown also had posers. There seemed to be a proliferation of this type. They manage to do nothing of originality and appear to be piggy-backing off the class clown himself, maybe in a way to elicit his attention. Seth was our wannabe extremist. He was a nuisance, because while he didn’t mind attempting to do ridiculous things his execution of them was stilted and unnatural. His outbursts and actions were flat, lacking both depth and inherent mystery.
What distinguishes our clown of the class is his genuinely paradoxical nature, his intensity, and natural aversion of the predictable. He speaks and does when you least expect it, and when you are prepared for him you are never equipped enough for what it is that he says or does. He’s well acquainted with everyone—possibly even having a group he predominately mingles with—but he doesn’t fit well with anyone. There are those who seem to be afraid of him. He defies their attempts at categorization. Those within this group range from the confounded to the disgusted. Others are amused. These are the ones who may passively revel in his antics or actively suggest misdeeds in some twisted effort to vicariously partake in the sort of activities they can’t themselves muster the nerve for. Then there are, of course, the ones who withhold their distance as well as their opinion (a group that deserves a paper all their own).
He becomes distanced by all groups because of his intensity. People may find him interesting but unapproachable, always situated behind an ironic smile that’s particularly unsettling. The posers are too emotionally needy and can’t harness their role model’s own unperturbed self-appreciation. Even the funny man thinks he crosses the line between finely crafted jest and the infinitely absurd. As the world pushes away from him he responds in like spiraling into crescendo after crescendo of ever-increasing isolation. His own personality becomes to himself like a shadowy figment of ambiguity. Skirting along the gray, spectral, edges of noumenality—the act of becoming within the thing-in-itself—his sense of self becomes reducible with the self (just as you find within the pit of your being the sinister eyes of the Other-that-is). Your class clown is a master of deceit, not necessarily intentionally but as an inevitable consequence of the riddles and paradoxes that consume his thinking. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn later that he’s existentially crippled with ironies and the life and pleasure that we all typically experience has been sapped from his essence as he drinks himself into catatonic completion and lies fetally in a tight, dark, closet surrounded by his blood and brain-matter.
So enjoy the laughs while you can.