A TRIBUTE: Rest In Peace, Julius Pierpont (J.P.) Patches
It is with a heavy heart that I write this post.
Sadly, one of my heroes – J.P. Patches (aka Chris Wedes) – passed away Sunday morning (July 22) after battling multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He was 84 and reportedly passed with his family at his side.
For you non-Northwest natives (or those too young to recall), J.P. (“Julius Pierpont”) Patches was a well-known local TV clown who spent many years on KIRO-TV in the 60s through around 1981 entertaining hundreds of thousands of us Seattle kids (here’s a link to his website for the unenlightened: www.jppatches.com).
First, a little background to help put things into context about why J.P. means so much to me:
- I grew up in Seattle and watched J.P. every weekday – both morning and after school (and, as I recall on some Saturdays as well).
- After college, I pursued a career in comedy TV, starting at KING-TV’s “Almost Live!” and continuing on to working 6 years in Hollywood (Fox, The Arsenio Hall Show, America’s Funniest People and many others).
- I returned to Seattle in 1994 to work as Senior Writer on Bill Nye the Science Guy, where I won three National Emmy Awards.
- Overall, I spent from around 1985 – 1998 working in TV comedy, and I credit J.P. for inspiring me. I wanted to be him, but I couldn’t, so I did my best and had fun doing it.
- As many Readers may occasionally notice, comedy is still in my blood and will be until the day I pass.
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. Directed by Joe Towey, the show had a loose, improv feel to it, which was probably because most of it was ad-libbed.
A few years ago, 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 to me in my love of this clown.
You see, during each episode, J.P. would “look” through the ICU2TV 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.
I remember, on the one day per year where it was “my day” I’d sit in front of the TV, my eyes 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 Facebook update would look 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 Loops.
I am lucky though. I 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 around 2002 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 still own 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.
Here’s a classic moment showing J.P. pulling a great prank on KIRO Weatherman Harry Wappler:
Here’s a video of J.P.’s final public appearance last September:
So…Rest In Peace J.P. Patches/Chris Wedes, and thanks for helping me find my inner clown. As I look through the ICU2TV set to the great beyond, all I can say is
Look in the great heavenly hamper for a special surprise J.P.!
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Parts of this story originally appeared in story from April 1, 2009: "Today Is April Fools Day, Which Is Also J.P. Patches Birthday!" The best part of that post was the end result – Chris Wedes sent an email directly to me, thanking me for it.]