Speaking as a small-town kid who grew up along the fringe of the big city’s cultural perimeter, I can say with finality that my proximity to the Big Apple has conferred upon me absolutely no urban savvy, no street smarts of any kind, no stereotypical New York wit or edge and a conspicuous and almost-perfect vacuum of personal style. Peoria doesn’t know this about me, so, shhhh. Let them think that I am “from New York.” I am just a small-town kid – granted, one of the weirder kids from one of the weirdest towns, but small.
Now, that’s not how it went for all my friends. When the Maestrosities – a literal band of clowns, musical clowns, virtuoso clowns – hit the stage at the Unison Arts and Learning Center in New Paltz on Saturday, June 1, it marks a homecoming of sorts for a hometown Heroy. To a certain few generations of Paltzonians, my friend Glen Heroy was our prodigy of the stage, a small-town Chosen One who was stealing 90 Miles Off Broadway productions as a virtual toddler, apprenticing as a juggling clown with the Van Amburgh Circus, rocking Godspell with the college kids as a 14-year-old and eventually finding his métier and his genius as a sketch and character comedian of great physical energy and unjaded imagination. Solo or with a slew of collaborators (typically musicians), he played and packed the village bars alongside all the bands of the ’80s – skinny tie and all.
Then Gotham, of course, where the Eastern Seaboard small-town Chosen Ones always go for validation and destiny. Heroy has found heaping piles of both over a nearly-30-year career in the City, but it’s validation of the messy and ambiguous adult kind more than the pure, pharmaceutical-grade stuff of small-town childhood dreams. He made serious inroads in New York early with his innovative sketch and musical comedy, dabbled with comic book authorship, did promising TV work with the newly launched Nickelodeon. He paid bills by playing Santa Claus and still does (see him in white beard piloting the Hess helicopter in a heavily aired commercial last holiday season).
Along the way, he has turned a knack for impersonation into a viable second career as a tribute performer (late-career Ozzy Osbourne and Elton John are his specialties). He has honed his singing and spoon playing skills to a, um, knife’s edge in the clubs, cabarets and dives of New York, performing with the Maestrosities and with the perilously risqué Bathtub Jen and the Henchmen.
The centerpiece of Heroy’s multifarious comedic career might be his work with the Big Apple Circus. He has seen the world through the eyes of a big-tent clown and was featured prominently in the lauded six-episode PBS series Circus. He called me the day he saw his face plastered on the side of a New York City bus, our first contact in a number of years.
But most of his eight years with the circus were spent as part of the Clown Care Unit, a Big Apple Circus program that deployed trained clowns to nine different New York City area hospitals, mostly to pediatric wards, mostly pediatric cancer. As Dr. Bovine, Heroy worked as a supervisor and clown dispatcher, a performer and a coordinator of palliative and therapeutic clown care.
It’s a cliché, but the small town does want to see its Chosen Ones succeed. We want that vindication and validation – not of ourselves, of course, but of our discernment and our instincts, our joy reflex, our recognition of a real-deal, can’t-miss talent. And Heroy has cultivated that talent with constancy and heart, through highs and lows too many to enumerate. He has always been uncommonly attuned to the secret struggles and traumas of disrupted and non-traditional childhoods. That he should dedicate his industry-certified talents to so selfless and unglorified a calling as the Clown Care Unit…well, that’s the kind of thing that really does a small town proud.
Check out Glen Heroy and the Maestrosities on June 1 at Unison. It’s a five-piece band of serious, trained clowns, two of whom have performed with the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Described as “Spike Jones meets the Muppets,” the Maestrosities create an immersive world in which they are, in their own minds, the only band that matters. Twice they were rejected by America’s Got Talent because they wouldn’t break character during the auditions. Now that’s talent.
The Maestrosities, Saturday, June 1, $21 advance/$17 member advance/$25 door/$21 member door/half-price student; Unison, 68 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz; (845) 255-1559, www.unisonarts.org, www.maestrosities.com.