Wally is an Australian clown who spends most of his time travelling around the world to make people laugh. He’s been to an astounding 99 countries so far and his most recent stop is Iceland. The Grapevine saw him in his pyjamas and bowling hat at an outside café in Reykjavík and sat down to ask him a few questions about life as an international clown.
/// You’ve been here about three weeks, right? I think it would be better if I just got this one over with: How do you like Iceland?
– So you want me to tell you how beautiful your country is? (Laughs) That’s what everyone says, isn’t it? But really, I love it. There is an energy in this place that is unbeatable, the sunlight keeps on going and gives me more energy than I’ve ever had in my life. I also like being able to perform in the native language without having to learn a new one!
/// So you think English proficiency in Iceland compares favourably with the rest of…
– Totally. It compares favourably with Norway, Sweden, Finland, wherever. There are more people there, so more work for me, but in Iceland? Your English is… lekker!
/// How many countries have you visited so far?
– 99. You’re number 99. Nice number, eh?
/// Certainly. But… why?
(Laughs) – I haven’t got anything else to do! I’m a clown and I love travelling. When I was a little kid I used to play around in my grandfather’s house, and it was full of little souvenirs from all over the world – that really fired my imagination. As soon as I could, I went.
/// You chose a rather unconventional way to travel though.
– Oh, but it’s the best way to travel. I work as I travel, I make the local currency and live the local life wherever I go. My life is full of smiles, people like me, you know? (Laughs)
/// And you’ve gotten a good reception here, so far?
– Oh, yeah. My birthday was just the other day, and it was probably the best birthday I ever had in my life. I got invited to a party with an open bar and 20kgs of free lobster on a buffet table! Some guy just walked up to me in the street and said he thought I was funny and asked me to come along, and I wound up having the most amazing night and doing all kinds of naughty things. What a fun town to party in!
/// You have already become a bit of a celebrity here.
– Oh, like that is really hard. You don’t put your celebrities on pedestals anyway. The bloody local drunk is a celebrity here!
/// Since you perform in Lækjartorg you must have encountered most of the local drunks by now.
– I’m a very good communicator with bums and godbotherers, if you know what that is? Basically, it’s the people who go around with signs shouting that the world is ending and you need to love Jesus immediately. I generally don’t mind street people, I am a street person in a way. Some of my best friends in South Africa are homeless, they have very good stories, you know? You meet some amazing people that have been dealt a bad hand in life and are just trying to drag themselves up and can’t. That being said, I don’t credit the average Icelandic bum with much integrity. They’re just drunks, and in a country like Iceland you should be able to get your shit together. Your social system is too good for people to be there.
/// When did you start performing?
– I’ve performed all my life, really. I used to be extremely shy though, I couldn’t even get up in front of my class to read. But then I learned how to juggle and do acrobatics and found that every other aspect of my life was getting in the way of me learning more. The only way I could justify spending all my time on clowning and acrobatics was by performing it, and the first time I performed I got a really good reception. I never looked back after that. I make my own rules, I’m my own boss, it’s great.
/// For a clown, your show gets a bit political at times. Are you a political person?
– I’m a very political person, I try to incorporate as much politics as I can into my act, especially when I’m in South Africa. I’m starting to learn more about Icelandic politics, like about that outgoing prime minister of yours that looks like he’s been smoking dope non-stop for the past fifteen years. He leads a party called the Progressive Party, and from what I hear it’s more than a touch out of date. So now he doesn’t want to take the backlash and just wants to retire to Spain or someplace. Also, I think you should keep the aluminium in the ground and stop building these smelters. Iceland has two main things going for it: landscape and nightlife. Tourism is clearly where you should be focusing your efforts. But hey, the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket so you’re hardly alone. You should see the country I have to vote in, I’m just waiting for my PM to announce every child in Australia should have a flat screen television in ten years time. It’s the demise of our entire world.
/// Wow. You’re not an optimistic clown, then?
– No. I mean, it’s sad, but that’s the way it is. I’m just going out dancing and singing and having fun while it lasts. I’m not having children because I don’t think it’s responsible under the circumstances, although I’d adopt a child. There’s enough people with problems in the world, I’d rather solve a problem than add a person.
/// On a happier note, what’s your favourite country to perform in? What about least favourite?
– South Africa is definitely my favourite! Because of its everything. Least favourite is more of a toss up (laughs). France, yeah… France is the worst. They’re all like “Oui love ze arts, oui protect ze arts! But we will not pay.” They never fucking pay, man, they’re so cheap.
/// What about Germans?
– Germans pay well, and they actually do have a sense of humour. It’s just hidden, you have to learn how to make the Germans laugh. They really like it when you hurt yourself. They also love displays of technical ability. I mean, I have years of circus school education and I can juggle seven balls and do all kinds of neat tricks, but Germany is really the only place I rely on those. In Iceland I don’t need to do so many extreme tricks, I just need to talk and engage the audience.
/// Travelling alone around the world and clowning around as you do, you must have gotten into a few scary situations in the past?
– Not really, I mean of course there have been iffy moments. One time I was in Johannesburg and looked up to see this guy pointing a gun at my face. I was performing at the time, and the crowd just scattered. No one would stick around.
/// Do you think people are generally not willing to take a bullet for a clown?
(Laughs) – I can’t really generalise on that, but it seems not. I’d like to believe, though, that I cultivate goodwill wherever I go. Look, I’m there no matter what. You can pay me if you want but you can just stand and laugh even if you don’t have any money.
/// Lastly, what are some of the more unusual things people have put in your hat after a show?
– Condoms with phone numbers on them. I’ve never called but I appreciate the thought. I’ve gotten lollies, toys, rings, cigarettes, drugs, pictures. My favourite is when a child has seen my show like five times in a row and they go home and draw a picture of me or something, then they show up all shy and nervous the next day to give me the picture. I think that’s really sweet.