LOS ANGELES -- More than 150 clowns were expected to attend the New York premiere of Bobcat Goldthwait's new film "Shakes the Clown" and then march down Third Avenue to a premiere party.
When they heard Shakes was an alcoholic clown, they pulled out of the engagement without ever seeing the film.
Mr. Goldthwait -- who wrote, directed and starred in the film -- expected the clowns to protest, so he beefed up security for Monday's event.
"There will be no drive-by pie-ings from the clowns in the 'hood," he said last week. He's calling the controversy "The Last Temptation of Bozo."
Actually, the manic, wild-eyed comedian known for his screaming delivery and pointed political views couldn't ask for better publicity for his feature-length film directorial debut. "If there is a protest, people will think I staged it," Mr. Goldthwait said.
"Shakes" is set in Palukaville, a fictional Midwestern dustbin of a town inhabited mainly by party clowns, mimes and rodeo clowns. After birthday parties, the party clowns -- still in full makeup -- let their cherry-red and lime-green hair down and get loaded or snort cocaine at a bar called the Twisted Balloon. Between lines and shots, they talk about how much they hate kids and how desperately they want to be on television.
Party clown Shakes (Mr. Goldthwait) has a particularly nasty booze habit. He throws up and passes out indiscriminately. He cheats on his barmaid girlfriend (Julie Brown), an aspiring pro bowler. (One of his one-night stands is a clown groupie played by Florence Henderson.)
When they're not twisting balloons at birthday parties, Shakes and his clown buddies cruise the streets in a polka-dot convertible for mimes and beat them up.
Dark? Yes. Funny? Mr. Goldthwait calls it a cross between "Barfly" and "Sid and Nancy." "And 'E.T.,' " he adds.
Almost everyone in the cast is either a stand-up or a member of a comedy improv group. Mr. Goldthwait has known most of them for years, including Robin Williams, who has a small, uncredited part as Mime Jerry, a tyrannical French mime instructor.
"Shakes" -- shot in five weeks in East Los Angeles and Altadena and edited in Mr. Goldthwait's "rumpus room" above the garage -- is about much more than mangy clowns. It's an underhanded dig at celebrity alcohol and drug abuse and recovery.
"As a performer, I couldn't get on the cover of People magazine, but if I'd written a book that said I was shooting smack all during 'Police Academy 2,' I could probably parlay it into a media blitz!" Mr. Goldthwait says in the film's press materials.