R.I.P. J.P.P.

It’s not often that so many people are moved by the death of someone whose real name escaped them until now.

J.P. Patches, aka Chris Wedes when out of costume, was a Puget Sound area icon. His improv comedy television show ran from the late ’50s to the early ’80s, delighting generations of Washingtonians large and small.

His slapstick antics, particularly those involving his “girlfriend” Gertrude (Bob Newman), were good, clean entertainment. Many clowns are creepy, but he never came across that way. Some clowns seem like they’re hiding behind their makeup; J.P.’s/Chris’ true self seemed to be magnified through it. There was such a refreshing honesty about him.

What a legacy this man left. He was a father and a grandfather and a virtual uncle to tens of thousands of other children. He liked to remind us to mind our manners, but he also reminded us to be silly and laugh. In reading the comments on some message boards, people talk about how his show was an escape from the abuse and dysfunction of their childhoods.

My main J.P. Patches memory is a traumatic one. The joke in my circles is that J.P. Patches tried to kill me. As a wee one, I saw Patches perform at a public agency’s Christmas party. There were few celebrities at that time kids in this area would have wanted to see more than J.P. Patches. Only Ivan the Ape in his manic depressive concrete prison at the B&I likely held similar status.

Arriving home after the party, I popped a purple and yellow butterscotchy candy into my mouth. As we neared the front door, I started to choke on it. I realized that it was stuck in my throat. That’s a frightening feeling for anyone, but especially for a little kid because you don’t know what to do other than try to cough like you’re attempting to blow your lungs out through your sinuses.

Next thing I knew, I was hanging upside down smarting from a blow to the back. My dad had grabbed my ankles, whisked me off my feet, and smacked my back so the candy popped out. It wasn’t the Heimlich but it worked. I was shocked by this turn of events and felt suspicious of the bag of candy although I’m sure it didn’t go to waste.

In retrospect, although my memory of Patches’ actual performance is limited to a snapshot of him on stage and the lighting and layout of the room, I’m thankful to have had a chance to see Julius Pierpont Patches perform live. It’s a vivid early childhood memory, like seeing Mickey Mouse at Frederick & Nelson, except that I wasn’t trying to take on a kid eight years my senior who kept shoving me out of the way so his sister could see.

You know you’re growing up when your childhood icons start taking their shows and personas to the other side. Right now it feels as if he inadvertently exited through that hole he warned so many other people not to fall into. Hopefully angels caught him and walked with him to his eternal reward.

R.I.P. J.P. You and your gang were so cool, and for so many kids, a bright spot in dark times. By practicing personal hygiene and having good manners like you taught us, your legacy will live on through droves of your Patches Pals.

It’s hard to believe you were mortal like us.







Any idiot can learn to juggle chainsaws. It’s the day-to-day balloon animal making that wears you down. –Anton the Clown


©2012 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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