Ah, Krusty the Klown. Say it soft and there’s music playing. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. At the risk of hyperbole, Krusty is one of the greatest comic inventions not just of The Simpsons but of pop culture as a whole. A rampaging id with rapacious appetites and little in the way of impulse control, Krusty is the quintessential show-business phony.
For a time in the mid-1990s, there was talk of Dan Castalenetta playing Krusty in a live-action spin-off (I imagine it would run just after The Simpsons Smile Time Variety Hour and Chief Wiggum, P.I) but, like so many beautiful dreams, it never came to fruition. I have no doubt that Krusty could carry his own show. He’s a deceptively complex character, a borsht belt vaudevillian whose veneer of kid-friendly bonhomie veers instantly into explosive rage whenever he doesn’t get his way.
Krusty is Don Rickles in clown makeup. He’s Bozo The Clown with a dizzying array of addictions and compulsions. He’s SCTV’s Bobby Bittman, a shameless shtick-slinger intent on polluting every element of show business. Krusty could exist without sidekick-turned-enemy Sideshow Bob but he wouldn’t be as rich or beloved a character.
Sideshow Bob is the Yin to Krusty’s Yang, the effete intellectual to his populist crowd-pleaser. Sideshow Bob offers the promise of the world of children’s entertainment as it should be: refined, respectful and educational. Krusty represents the world of children’s entertainment as it is: a mercenary horror show of sugary cereals, shoddily made dolls and action figures and merchandising run amok. Yet we love Krusty all the same.
“Krusty Gets Busted” is the first Simpsons episode devoted almost entirely to Krusty the Klown, who is introduced as part Catskills emcee, part comic sadist and part deranged cult leader. When Krusty asks his audience what they’d do if he went off the air, they exuberantly reply, “We’d kill ourselves!” which may or may not have been a reference to Soupy Sales’ notorious request that children send him their parent’s money on his soon-to-be-cancelled kid’s show.
Yes, Krusty is the worst possible babysitter for Springfield’s children. He’s also, not coincidentally, its most popular. But it comes at a cost for Sideshow Bob, who loses what little is left of his dignity when he is shot out on a cannon and instead of soaring to the clouds (or at least the rafters of Krustylu Studios) he plummets to the ground, his afro burned off, his body limp, his soul dead.
It is an image of supreme, complete humiliation. Who can blame Bob for wanting revenge? The verbose slide-whistle enthusiast gets sweet, if temporary revenge, on his boss when he frames him for a convenience store robbery that leaves Homer diving in the snack-food shelves in cowardice.
Homer is put in a difficult position: does he do the right thing and put his son’s hero in the hoosegow or lie? Morality was skewed in fascinating ways in tonight’s episode. Doing the right thing leads to a disastrous outcome twice. First, Homer has Krusty thrown in jail because he genuinely believes he saw him commit the hold-up. Later, correctly arresting Sideshow Bob leads to the instant disintegration of all of his high-minded aspirations to elevate the level of discourse on children’s television and cultivate a respect for literature and learning among sugar-addled Krusty fans.
Surely only a lunatic would say things like, “Treat kids as equals! They’re people too! They’re smarter than you think!” all of which Bob declaims while being carted off to jail. Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First Homer has to identify Krusty in a line-up of clowns. This is hilarious both because of the incongruously despondent expressions on the harlequins’ faces and because of Homer’s inexplicable delight at being in the presence of such suicidal mirth-makers. “If the crime is making me laugh, they’re all guilty!” quips Homer inexplicably. I’m also a sucker for a Stephen Soundheim reference.
In Springfield the mob mentality rules so it isn’t long until Reverend Lovejoy is arranging a giant ritualistic burning of Krusty merchandise. “Because these are children’s toys, the fire will spread quickly so try not to inhale the toxic fumes,” he counsels in words that are, sadly, as timely today as they were twenty years ago.
In Krusty’s absence, Sideshow Bob transforms the show from a borderline-criminal exploitation of the gullibility and mindless hero worship of children into a “Cavalcade of Whimsy”, a high-minded master class for Ivy League-bound rugrats.
At the core of tonight’s episode was a mystery: who framed Krusty? Alas, as mysteries go, this was a little on the blindingly obvious side; the clues were so obvious that even Chief Wiggum should have been able to deduce what was going on. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that Bob didn’t think up a smarter plan to frame Krusty.
Today, “Krusty Gets Busted” looks prescient. It anticipates our current tabloid world where pop icons from Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino become ubiquitous brands with their smiling mugs planted on everything from tee shirts to underwear and celebrity criminals represent the fastest growing criminal subset. Yes, we’d be seeing a whole lot more of Krusty and Sideshow Bob (no mean feat, considering he should still be in jail) in the future but “Krusty Gets Busted” set the bar prohibitively high.
—“Yes, I know the procedure for armed robbery. I do work in a convenience store you know.”
—“You can emerge now from my chips.”
—“Send in the clowns!”
—“If the crime is making me laugh, they’re all guilty.”
—“The news story behind that enigmatic half-joke right after this commercial message.”
—I really want to see the competing station’s Emmy-award-winning Hobo Hank
—“Just look at these amusing caricatures of Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag!”
—Best Krusty episode ever? If not, what is?