Minorities in cartoons: Krusty the Clown

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Krusty the Clown (real name: Herschel Krustofski), a character on the (very) long running TV series “The Simpsons.”

Background

Krusty’s a parody of the type of weekday afternoon children’s TV show hosts that were popular in “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening’s youth, but had largely vanished from TV by the 1990s. His voice (done by Dan Castellaneta, also the voice of Homer Simpson) is based on the version of Bozo the Clown that aired on WGN in Chicago until the mid-80s.

Krusty’s the favorite after-school TV show of Bart and Lisa Simpson, plus the other kids in Springfield. (Krusty’s show being the usual home of the “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoons also helps.) However, everything about Krusty reflects his being a cynical, money-grubbing, and burned-out entertainer. Despite such, Krusty keeps plodding on, unable to resist the spotlight.

Like the Joker, Krusty’s white face and green hair are permanent facial features, save in a few early episodes. Krusty chalks up his appearance to having had a heart attack.

Krusty’s widely beloved despite his less-than-stellar lifestyle habits: heavy smoking; infidelity; illiteracy (in the very earliest episodes); gambling (which got him in trouble with Springfield’s mob); and shamelessly willing to market anything with his face on it. Krusty’s merchandise is decidedly subpar, including his sleepaway summer camp in one episode. Krustyburger, Krusty’s fast food chain, also makes regular appearances on the show.

The third season episode “Like Father, Like Clown” reveals that Krusty’s Jewish. His estranged father is a prominent rabbi in Springfield. Comedian Jackie Mason voiced Krusty’s father.

One of my favorite Krusty episodes is “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” the fourth season’s finale. In the episode, Krusty’s show is threatened with cancellation due to low ratings and competition from a rival station. The competition’s strong enough that “Itchy and Scratchy” defect to the newcomer’s show. As a result, Krusty’s forced to show “eastern Europe’s favorite cat and mouse team,” “Worker and Parasite.” Cue 20 seconds of the completely bizarre cartoon, done in a style parodying the worst of 50s/60s-era eastern European-style animation. Afterwards, Krusty’s shocked reaction shows he did zero screening ahead of time.

Other media

Worker and Parasite have gone on to appear in a few of the “Simpsons” comics, as has Krusty himself. One miniseries focused on Krusty trying to get a theme park up and running, to disastrous results.

(Updated 11/26/16)

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