Clownvis the King of Clowns: Is it Tribute?

EL SEGUNDO, CA.  The Elvis subculture is a diverse population of fans, producers/managers, and entertainers.  These are people, individuals, whose varying degrees of admiration for Elvis Presley seek to take part in his legacy.  Mike Leahy is one of those individuals who has carved out his niche in the Elvis subculture as Clownvis the King of Clowns.

Rock & Brews

It is easy to make a quick judgment about Leahy’s alter ego.  Is it tribute?  Is it just an act?  Is it disrespectful?  I had my reservations about Clownvis the King of Clowns when I met him at the Is Elvis in El Segundo? contest at the Rock & Brews restaurant.  I asked him if he was an Elvis fan and he said, yes, then stated his upper left arm adorns a large Elvis tattoo I didn’t ask to see.  He would have had to strip down his jumpsuit.  So, I dug a little deeper and googled him in order to form a better opinion beyond the make up.

Mike Leahy is a musician, songwriter, and front man for the psychobilly band, 7 Shot Screamers, and has released three albums:   I Was A Teenage 7 Shot Screamer (2001), Keep The Flame Alive (2004), and 7 Shot Screamers In Wonderland (2006).  (Wikipedia (n.d.);  7 Shot Screamers.  Retrieved November 11, 2013, from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_Shot_Screamers).  He appeared on America’s Got Talent as Clownvis and was rejected immediately after singing the first lyrics to Old MacDonald had a Farm.  The rejection was followed by an argumentative bevy of insults by Clownvis directed at each of the judges (video).  The one directed at Howie Mandel was kind of funny.  The audience hated him too.

Leahy is also the grandson of the late Earl Sydney Weaver.  Weaver was the Baltimore Orioles manager and is inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Earl Weaver managed the Orioles with intensity, flair, and acerbic wit for 17 seasons. He fashioned an impressive .583 winning percentage bolstered by five 100-win seasons (1969-1971 and 1979-1980). Known for his innovative managerial style and his colorful confrontations with the men in blue, the Earl of Baltimore won 1,480 games, six American League East titles, four pennants and the 1970 World Series (Hall of Famers (1996);  Weaver, Earl.  Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://baseballhall.org/hof/weaver-earl).

One trivia fact noted on the Hall of Fame website is in 1975 Weaver pioneered the use of radar guns in professional baseball to track the speed of pitches.

Weaver passed away on January 19, 2013 and Leahy spoke at his funeral service and shared his Grandpa Earl’s feelings about his band and Clownvis.

When I grew up, he loved the 7 Shot Screamers and Clownvis. He always kept up with how I was doing, where I was going, and how much money I was getting paid for these gigs. He wasn’t too happy with Clownvis on America’s Got Talent, one of his favorite shows. But when I talked to him about it, I explained that when I was up there arguing with those judges, I was evoking HIM! I could tell he got it, although I also realized old people don’t necessarily understand a punk rock attitude. He ended that conversation by saying, “Well, if you’re happy with it, I trust ya.”.

In my rebellious, young adult days I probably would have embraced Leahy’s pyschobilly/punkabilly genre of loud, raw music, but it no longer appeals to me in my 40s.  I guess that’s just maturity, but I am not the demographic audience Clownvis appeals to.  The music and videos of his raucous act often include strippers, vulgar language, and lots of parodies.  I particularly liked his Barack O’s Tacos video, but for the most part I think the show and videos are chintzy.

anarchy_by_teknika (800x600)To reiterate, I am not the key demographic for Leahy’s genre and act.  His audience are the anarchists, non-conformist youth and young adults of America.  It’s all part of the punk rock attitude that spits in the face of authority, religion, morality, social/political norms, and conformity.  In terms of Elvis, conformity would be paying tribute to him in the form the majority of Elvis fans expect and in the way ETAs do.  That’s not Clownvis.  That’s not punk.

Is Clownvis a tribute to Elvis?  Yes, in the subculture of punkers, and to Leahy, it is tribute to Elvis in their interpretation of the King of Rock and Roll.  It is Leahy’s way of expressing his admiration for Elvis to the punkers.  The tribute is more towards Elvis’ accidental rebellion of the norm for music and subsequent rejection by the social status quo in his era.  If anything, Elvis set the foundation for the droves of youthful, rebellious music ever since and still thrives in the music underground.  Punkers can relate to this type of tribute.

Traditional Elvis fans will probably be offended by Clownvis or write it off as a joke, for lack of understanding punk rock.  Nevertheless, it’s still tribute to the underground subculture of punkers.  Admittedly, I was offended when I first saw Clownvis until I walked in his shoes, in a matter of speaking, through a bit of research.  I don’t particularly like the Clownvis act, but respect Leahy’s interpretative method of Elvis for Clownvis fans.

I would like to see Leahy wash off the clown make up and do an accurate, authentic tribute to Elvis in the traditional sense of tribute.  After watching and listening to him sing during the contest I think he could pull it off.  Who knows?   Maybe we’ll see him competing in an ETA contest in the near future without Clownvis.

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17 thoughts on “Clownvis the King of Clowns: Is it Tribute?

  1. I was there as well. Great show! I enjoyed Clownvis very much and was sad to see another Tribute artist cursing him out after the show. I was under the impression that Rock N Brews is a family restaurant but clearly not everyone got the memo. Clownvis was fantastic and while I do agree it would be great to see him without the makeup I can’t help but be intrigued by the “clownvis” character.

    Cheers

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  2. In your 40’s and don’t like the act? Hmmm I find that completely suspect.I am 50, and find the act to be a better ride than expected. The real bonus is that he can actually emulate Elvis’ vocals spot on. I have seen Clownvis, maybe a total of ten times, ech time something new was part of the act, never stale, overdone or cliche. There was a problem on the AGT show; they would not let him do his material which includes some Elvis material and he had to make do with the Old MacDonald thing, which in the context of the act is quite funny. Full disclosure, I know Mr. Leahy personally. He is a superior human being and an all around good guy, no to mention really talented.

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    • I agree with you on all points. It’s the reason I’ve concluded Leahy’s Clownvis act is a tribute to Elvis, but to a specific demographic. I get it. Many Elvis fans won’t get Clownvis and would be offended by the act for lack of understanding.

      While some folks in in their 40s, 50s, etc. may find him appealing we are not the core audience he is trying to attract. As an Elvis fan, Clownvis doesn’t appeal to me only because his interpretation of Elvis doesn’t appeal to me. It is not what I look for in an Elvis tribute artist. It doesn’t mean Leahy isn’t a talented or a wonderful person. His success in the pyschobilly genre attests to his talent. Clownvis appeals to a specific demographic of young adults.

      Clownvis is still paying tribute to Elvis and contributing his part to keeping the life, music, legacy of Elvis alive for future generations. The generation Leahy plays just happens to be a punk rock one.

      Thank you for your well thought out comment and taking the time to read my post.

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  3. Elvis, like I mean the real one, would have loved Clownvis because
    A) he was an enlightened human being with a good sense of humor.
    &
    B) he did NOT have a stick up his a$$ or a general hatred for humanity due to past shortcomings in his life that he decided to take out on others around him.

    So in the end who cares about what some fans of Elvis or ETA’s think, its a well done, new, fun and unique show that is plenty family friendly. I think the “haters” at the el segundo show were partially jealous and clearly mentally ill. I know many mentally ill people who have an unusual affinity for the Beatles and I assume the same is true for Elvis. These haters (2 gentleman in particular, were in full elvis regalia yet did not even perform! They must just walk around and live their lives in costume! Most importantly Clownvis isn’t being disrespectful, to think someone would put that much blood, sweat and tears into a character/show just for the intention of being disrespectful is something only a mentally ill person would believe. To suggest Clownvis should just be another “normal” ETA is blasphemous and down right insulting. Thats really what we need another ETA. Lets stifle any creativity or ingenuity on the planet while were at it! No no, Clownvis is by far one of the best ETA’s the world has ever seen… VIVA CLOWNVIS!

    ps: it really has very little to do with any punk ethos, Clownvis is merely the fusion of a clown and elvis, his target audience is not limited to “punkers”. Is it so hard to see how a family with young children could all appreciate his act? I’ve met people who claim to have a phobia of clowns but are NOT fearful of Clownvis, now put that in your peanutbutter, chocolate and banana deep fried sandwich with powdered sugar on top.

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  4. A couple things Mr Kendall:

    First, check out The 7 Shot Screamers. You don’t have to be in your 20’s to like it. Specifically, listen to “Wonderland.” That album is strong start to finish. Every song is a toe tapper, and the lyrics are thoughtful and interesting. This sounds cliche, but it really defies any label, especially “psychobilly.”

    Second, If you ask me, Mike has cooked down Vegas era Elvis to it’s very essence – Which, is Clownvis – cmon, lets face it, Elvis was a CLOWN. Think about it – we have ’56 Elvis (the rockabilly king of rock n roll), who matures into ’68 Comeback Special Elvis (the bad motherfucker in black leather), who then…in vegas…turns into a CLOWN. Crazy hair, crazy jumpsuits, watering down his rock hits, cracking jokes with the audience, giving scarves to the ladies like balloon animals…man, if that’s not a clown, then I don’t know what is. And, to call “E” a clown, isn’t being disrespectful. It’s who he was, and it was awesome.

    I too know Mike Leahy personally. I’ve seen Clownvis 3 times, and 7ss 10+ times. Trust me, he could pull off an Elvis tribute playing it straight. But who cares? Don’t we have enough of those?

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  5. Mike Leahy has his place in the ETA world as Clownvis. It works. By the respectful, well thought out comments made here in support of him, he has a loyal fan base who appreciates his music, his tribute, and his friendship. It’s also appears some are Elvis fans.

    When I observed Leahy and talked to him I could see he wasn’t making a joke out of the memory of Elivs. I was pleasantly surprised. Whether Elvis would appreciate Clownvis or not, I cannot say, but Elvis was known to have a great since of humor. Who knows? Perhaps, he would get the “joke” if a joke is intended. Personally, I don’t think any joke is intended.

    Mr. Dickson’s statement that Elvis was a clown poses interesting thoughts and provokes interesting theories. If Elvis is a clown, did we make him into a clown? Was it Colonel Parker? Did he do it to himself? In fact, there is book out which discusses this similar insight, but the analogy is Frankenstein’s monster rather than clowns. Leahy’s creative tribute may also be just an artful statement on how celebrities get molded into “clowns” by trying to live up to an image. However, that’s probably over thinking it because it could all just be entertainment. I would still like to see Leahy take off the make up and show us what he can do as a traditional ETA.

    Lastly, don’t be hating on the ETAs who competed against Clownvis. Many of them are personal friends. Just like Clownvis is going to be misunderstood and judged so are the ETAs paying tribute to Elvis. It comes with the terriority. We just need to take some time to get to know each other.

    Thank you to everyone who took the time to read the post and make comments.

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  6. I would love to read that book!

    When I look at Vegas Elvis (“E”), I see guy who did that to himself. In that, I don’t think it was engineered. If you are surrounded by sycophants, and hot women faint in presence for years – that will go to your head. You’ll believe your own hype (and his wasn’t hype, it was true, right?), and keep trying to bring shit bigger and better. Flashier jumpsuits, bigger sequins, hair, rings, belts, side burns. You’ll drive up to the white house wearing a cape, and demand to see the president. “E” was so gangster! If I’m not mistaken, he was the first rock star to have paternity insurance. Anyway, no matter how gangster you are too much flash, begins to look clownish.

    Also, I think that Col. Parker gets WAY to much credit for “creating” Elvis. There’s no doubt that he had a huge part in making him a superstar. But any manager could have made Elvis a superstar.

    Back to Mike Leahy, do yourself a favor Mr Kendall and check out the 7SS. You wont be sorry!

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  7. Mr. Kendall,

    You’re article is well written, and well researched. I find error in where you keep combining his previous singing role with his current character and keep referring to “punk”. I think you are off the mark on this and his fan base. My husband and I attended this competition, we don’t know Mr. Leahy personally. We are Clownvis fans and he gave us a shout out, and we showed up. We are not “anarchists, non-conformist youth and young adults of America”. We are over 40, upper middle class, mostly normal people… We enjoy a good time, and good entertainment, and Clownvis always delivers. He is a fantastic professional ENTERTAINER who “Dares to be Different”. Remove the critical eye, watch his shows live one day, and just have fun.

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    • Tena Jo,

      I appreciate your comment. Clownvis has a more diverse fan base than I expected. My critical eye is more of an observation and the contest was the first time I had seen Clownvis. In addition, my research was limited to YouTube and articles and I concluded his fan base would be limited to a narrow audience, i.e., the punk ethos. I am finding out by the various comments of his supporters Clownvis appeals to many. More surprising, is his appeal to my socioeconomic peers.

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  8. I enjoyed Clownvis very much I though there was no disrespect and frankly I am still laughing at the endless roll of paper out of the mouth during his act. We want to be entertained, and he definitely was entertaining. Yes Elvis purists will hate him, but they hate everyone. I think my 5 year old summed up the whole contest. I asked him how he liked the show and he said “It was SOOOooooo Boring (slight pause and a very excited) Except for Clownvis he should have won!”

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    • It was SOOOooooo Boring (slight pause and a very excited) Except for Clownvis he should have won!

      Leave it to the honesty of children to sum up an interesting contest. Also, I think Leahy would probably appreciate that you get the humor and his act was for entertainment value versus disrespect.

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  9. Mr Kendall, since you are learning so much about Mike, and obviously have an open mind, I (again) encourage you to keep digging until you hit the 7SS. And, Since you seem impressed by the socioeconomic standing of his (and 7ss) fan base, my wife and I are in our 40’s and upper middle-class. In fact, my wife is a dr. I hired Clownvis to visit her on 2 valentine’s days, and she’s been with me several times to see 7ss.

    Enjoy:

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  10. Clownvis A.K.A. Mike Leahy and his seemingly constant creative collaborator director Sean Barrett are true creative geniuses who ride the line between madness, surrealism, and humor. To only see this as a low rent Elvis impersonator would be an injustice to what I see as the future of alternative comedy from guys who are actually alternative. I see the Elvis stuff as a very minor player in this Koffmanesque styling of comedy.

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