Clownvis Presley’s Pandemic Shows Draw Dedicated Crowds To Yaquis On Cherokee
Yaquis on Cherokee often uses the side of Earthbound Beer’s building — what they dub The Big Wall — to host outdoor watch parties featuring everything from election debates to curbside concerts. But for months now, a recurring crowd gathers at the southside bar for a very specific occasion: Clownvis Presley’s “Clownvis To The Rescue” live streams.
The character is the creation of St. Louisan Mike Leahy. When the pandemic canceled the show gigs he had lined up for 2020, Leahy quickly pivoted to a technological solution.
“I had a whole year's worth of touring planned, that's what I do normally. And in the normal world, I would do over 100 shows every year,” Leahy said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air.
On the 30-hour ride back to St. Louis from what was supposed to be a show in San Francisco in March, Leahy thought to put what live streaming skills he had to use.
“I got home, and the very next night I went live, and the first couple nights I would decide there live on the show, like, ‘I guess we'll come back tomorrow and do it again. This was fun,’” he recalled of those early days. “It came out of desperation, really — just like everyone else kind of needing to figure out what was going on at the time.”
Catch the 100th episode of "Clownvis to the Resucue" tonight at 9 p.m.
‘Building a community’
The watch party at Yaquis has become a ritual for Clownvis fans, old and new, to enjoy some company and comedy on Friday and Saturday nights during this pandemic. Josie Grillas became a fan of Clownvis about a month ago because of the broadcast on The Big Wall.
“It's been a really great way to hang out outside safely, socially distanced, but with really cool people and kind of building a community — even in the middle of a pandemic. So I just think it's got a cool audience and the people who like it are very genuine, and it's been fun getting to learn about Clownvis,” she said.
The “King of Clowns” keeps the audience engaged with music, cameos and skits with his co-host alien Squeeb. Fans can purchase Clownvis tour merchandise, raffle tickets and shoutouts during the live program.
“I didn't expect it to [go] so well that it could be comparable to touring,” he explained. “But really what I found is that ... there's a lot of people that just have their eyes and ears open to any kind of regular content that they can get their hands on.”
“I think there's a void there to be filled with people that just like a little old-school weird and wackiness and unpredictability without being forced,” he added.
On Friday’s talk show, Leahy joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about the birth of Clownvis Presley and some of his more memorable moments of fame.
He came up with the peculiar alter ego in 2006. At the time, he was a touring musician looking to make more money.
“I just kind of wanted to make 200 bucks every weekend without having to get a job. I've always loved clowns. I've always loved Elvis. But I was a little too skinny and punk rock at the time to be a good Elvis at a nursing home. And … I'm not really the best clown,” he recalled.
“But when I mix them together, I could get enough material out of it to be up on a stage for 30 minutes singing Elvis songs, and then I do a magic trick and it all snowballed from its own momentum very quickly and became its own thing.”
Hear more about Clownvis’ music, his infamous appearance on “America’s Got Talent” and his experience with being a comedian in a politically charged climate by clicking on the black “Listen” button above or selecting this segment in the St. Louis on the Air podcast feed.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.