Today Is April Fools Day, Which Is Also J.P. Patches Birthday!
by Scott Schaefer
To most people, today is “just” another April’s Fool’s Day, so beware the pranks o’April.
But to this fool, April 1st also stands for one other thing that means a lot to me:
IT’S J.P. PATCHES BIRTHDAY!
For you non-Northwest natives, J.P. (“Julius Pierpont”) Patches is a well-known local TV clown who spent many years on KIRO-TV in the 60s and 70s entertaining thousands of us Seattle kids (here’s a link to his website for the unenlightened: www.jppatches.com).
To me, J.P. Patches is the #2 comedic influence in my life. #1 is my Dad, who was the funniest man I ever met. Of course it helped that he was my Dad, that it was impossible for me not to meet him, and well, he was around me more than any other man, but I think you get the point – Dad was funniest, J.P. was #2.
As a young child growing up in West Seattle, I’d watch J.P. on TV in the morning before school during breakfast, then again in the afternoon. He did the show live every day, twice a day for 10-15 years, along with his sidekick “girlfriend” Gertrude (aka Bob Newman), Tikey Turkey, the ‘second meanest man in the world” Boris S. Wort (Newman again), Ggoorrsstt the Friendly Frpl, and a myriad of other characters, most, if not all, played by Newman.
Recently, J.P. and Gertrude were honored with a comical statue in Fremont (aka “the old Burien”), along with the infamous “ICU2TV Set” which sadly, remains the only bad taste in my love of this clown. (LINK: http://jppatches.com/page41.htm)
You see, during each episode, J.P. would “look” through the TV set (actually a cardboard frame) and speak to all his Patches Pal kid viewers who were having birthdays that day, and, by name, send them a personal wish along with a message like “Look in the dryer Scotty for a special surprise.”
Much to my dismay (Mom please note: I know you never meant to hurt my feelings, and I’m sure it was a hassle to to call it in, BUT…), good ol’ J.P. never noticed me on my birthday.
(insert charmingly boyish sniffling sounds here)
I remember, on the one day per year where it was “my day” I’d sit in front of the TV, my eye glued to my hero, and await for him to “tune in” the ICU2TV Set.
“Oh boy,” I’d think, “I wonder where Mom hid the gift for me – the dryer? Under the stairs by the empty coke bottles? Or maybe in the hamper?”
Then J.P. would speak. And I would wait.
“Happy birthday to Danny, go look in the shower. And Sally, be sure to look under your bed. And Betty, look in the hamper…and…that’s it for today’s Patches Pals celebrating birthdays! We’ll be back with some cartoons right after this…”
If I was a modern child with a cell phone back then I think my Twiter message would like something like this:
“OMFG JP dint say my NM! WTF???”
Unfortunately, cell phones hadn’t been invented yet so all I could do was stifle my tears while eating my Froot Loopsâ„¢.
I am lucky though. I’ve met J.P. Patches three times, the first being around 1968 or so at our neighborhood grocery store (did you know that at one time practically every neighborhood in the area had its own small grocery store? I know, hard to believe…). I believe this store was called Zorich’s, and it was located on Charleston Street near 49th SW in West Seattle.
It was a BIG deal to wait in line to see this man. And I did for what seemed like hours but was probably only 20 minutes (like very boy in line, I’m sure I had to pee). Of course I didn’t mention to my Dad anything about not being mentioned on the ICU2TV set as I was “cool” with it (not really – I just wanted to not look lie a crybaby; plus remember – I had to pee!).
Finally, my turn came and J.P. asked my name.
“Scott,” I muttered.
“Scott? Well I just happen to have a button here with your name on it!”
At that moment he handed me a big red and white button with my name on it. Literally. I still have it somewhere, stored away in one of those boxes you put your valuable childhood memories in, which end up getting buried by other boxes with your own children’s childhood memories from not that long ago.
The second time I met J.P. was in 1994 when I returned from a six-year stint in LA where I wrote and directed on a few network comedy shows. This meeting took place on the closing night of Murray’s Doghouse, a longtime greasy spoon restaurant that had become a Seattle institution. This was such a big event that KCTS was broadcasting live, directly from the dive. My ex-“Almost Live!” buddy Pat Cashman hosted, along with Nancy Guppy and probably John Keister, and of course with those other Seattle institutions, J.P. and Gertrude. This was during my first week back from Hollywood, and it made for a wonderful return to my hometown. I ended up sitting at the bar with them, just us talking, and I confessed right then and there:
“You two were probably the reason I got into doing comedy TV,” I said, raising a pint of what was probably a Hefeweizen.
We joked around a bit more, sharing behind-the-scenes TV production stories, and I think they liked hearing that.
The next time I saw J.P. was when the Seafair Pirates were landing at Alki. I was there with my 4-year old son, and I introduced him to J.P. He only recognized him as “that clown guy on your shirt” (I have a J.P. t-shirt, get your own here) and I’m not sure his meeting him had as much impact as it did me.
J.P. is now over 80 years old, and last I heard he’s battling a form of blood cancer called acute myeloma.
I sincerely hope he’s well on this day, his true birthday, and I will peer through my own imaginary ICU2TV to acknowledge J.P., raise a toast to all the joy and laughter he not only brought into my life, but inspired me to try to do the same (although nowhere even close…).
So…Happy Birthday J.P. Patches…and thanks!
Here’s a clip from his show that really demonstrates his comedic style:
One more thing – yesterday I updated my Facebook status as “Excied that tomorrow is…you guessed it…J.P. Patches Birthday!” and here are some humorous comments from some “friends,” including Highline Historical Society Director Cyndi Upthegrove and my little sisters’ comment on her not knowing who J.P. was: