Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Thank God for that clown.
“The Bro Mitzvah” is a perfectly fine episode of HIMYM. Better than many, without a doubt. But there is a whiff of calculation about it that keep it, in its conception at least, from becoming legendary. This is a business problem getting an ingenious solution, rather than an intuitive leap of artistry. The problem at hand is that Barney’s bachelor party is a mandatory stop on the route to Barney’s wedding. The solution is to allow Robin to get some revenge and turn the tables for the many lies and extensive torture Barney put her through in the weeks leading up to “The Final Page.” There is plenty of enjoyment to be had watching that come together, but nothing inherent in that setup to elevate the proceedings into the realm of delight, surprise, or pathos.
That’s where the clown comes in. At first, I thought that the “balloon contortionist” Ted and Marshall book to fulfill Barney’s demand (in his “Bro-rah” scroll, “written in He-bro!”) for “mind-blowing entertainment” was just another gag. (And a tired one at that. Using the epic lameness of clowning for an easy laugh isn’t exactly fresh or original.) Then the clown stuck around in the background, reacting to every scene with some sort of mime rimshot that got funnier and funnier with every iteration. When Quinn turns out to be the party’s hired stripper, the clown lets a pink balloon held near his crotch deflate with a sad raspberry. When Marshall shouts a suggestive “hey-o!”, the clown gives an appreciative honka-honka. When Barney calls the night “catastrophic” and Ted calls for everybody to drink as per their An Inconvenient Truth drinking game, the clown hustles over to grab a beer. With every joke, the clown is in the corner, punctuating, extending, riffing, and providing non-verbal base hits that bring the comedy runs home.
Turns out there was a good reason that clown had supporting actor chops. In the episode’s most heartwarming moment (heck, maybe its only heartwarming moment), the clown is revealed to be William Zabka, Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai dojo and the real star of The Karate Kid, according to Barney’s habit of identifying with overdog villains against underdog heroes. But even though Zabka is the MVP of “The Bro Mitzvah,” he has help decorating the rather utilitarian superstructure of this episode and making it into a reasonably elegant half hour. Ralph Macchio does his part, too, playing a playa who spouts irritatingly pedestrian versions of Barney’s catchphrases (“in-wait for it-credible” and “self-shake”), causing Barney to grit his teeth and deny any relationship to the hated karate kid pretender. Yes, even when the clown points at the two of them to indicate how alike they are.
During all of this, Robin has been calling to complain about the dreadful dinner she’s having with Barney’s mom, featuring sex ed demonstrations using breadsticks and napkin rings. (Best bit: Robin reports that Mrs. Stinson is holding up three breadsticks and talking about her night with Crosby, Stills, and Nash.) After Macchio goads Barney into returning to Atlantic City to gamble with the $5000 for the caterer, playing a complicated Chinese game Ted doesn’t understand (he cheers at the appearance of a chicken and a black jellybean before being reminded that they signify losing thousands of dollars), Marshall ends up in the clutches of mobsters as collateral for Barney’s credit. Here’s where the writers decide that they’re going to pull back the curtain from this The Game-eseque charade, and while I always enjoy Ted and Marshall’s rivalry, their little fight over who is going to pretend to be in danger to turn the screws on Barney makes it difficult to believe that Barney could stay in such deep despair. (“Not the skeeball hand!” is a great cry of pain from Marshall, though.)
I wonder if there’s still another shoe to drop from “The Bro Mitzvah.” Unlike The Game, Barney doesn’t get a chance to reaffirm his life or reassess his values because of these torments. Robin’s “The Barney” play is less of a bridge between possibility and conquest and more of a cruel exercise in literalism mitigated by the expectation that Barney will appreciate such a novel approach to a legendary night. In fact, she continues cementing her position as Female Bro. There’s no epilogue. Surely, this neat little package tied up with a balloon bouquet can’t be all there is to Barney’s lifelong dream of an epic night of pre-nuptial excess.
- Barney gives Marshall and Ted props for their kidnapping plot: “The students have become the intermediate students.”
- How do I love Ted? I love his proud reveal of their bachelor party location: “You know the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City? You know the secret penthouse at the top of the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City? Boom, there it is—visible from our window!”
- The complete Bro Mitzvah requirements: booze (duh), cigars (duh), strippers (duh), fear for our lives, mind-blowing entertainment (“like a naked fire show! or a naked magic show!”), karate kid appearance, “alone time” for me during strip show, tell crazy sex stories, spontaneous decision we regret, spend way too much $$$, lose a bro at some point, at least one real moment between bros* (*broment), ooh! ooh! see a girlfight! right?, if bride hears what happened? furious.
- After two weeks of planning, the only thing Ted has on his bachelor party list is Purell. (“Whaddya got, Marshall?” “Well, nothing now!”)
- You’ve all seen the picture of Jason Segel (“Dr. Dunk”) on the same high school basketball team as newly-out NBA player Jason Collins, right?
- “And that’s the inverted chimney sweep, the last of the 17 basic sexual positions.”