Jake Johnson, Donald Glover, Doug Jones, Emo Philips, Wilford Brimley
2 friends. 1 motel. 1000 clowns.
Tonopah, Nevada: a clown without pity.
A clown is just makeup. No… listen. A clown is just makeup.
Exhausted after a long day of driving, hetero-life partners Zach (Jake Johnson) and Donnie (Donald Glover) pull off the road in remote Tonopah, Nevada. The only place available to stay is the bizarre and terrifying Clown Motel, located right next to an old, creepy cemetery. Donnie, quite sensibly, would rather not stay there, but Zach is tired from a day’s driving. The two guys get a room from the strange man at the desk (Emo Philips), and settle in.
The TV gets this weird channel that’s grainy, sepia toned, and has a line of static. A strange clown man with a thick Romanian accent (Doug Jones) named Georgie Giggles does what appears to be a children’s show, but it’s just weird and unsettling. It makes Donnie nervous, but Zach finds it fun. Donnie goes into the bathroom, and he catches sight of some movement outside. Peering through the window, he sees a figure out in the parking lot. Moving closer, he starts making out details: frizzy green hair, brightly colored shirt — it’s a clown. A clown whose pants are around his ankles. And he’s moving around. As Donnie registers what he’s seeing, the clown slowly turns around, never stopping the pumping of his hips, he reveals that he is fucking a rather large ham. Donnie looks up and the clown is looking right back of him.
And the clown smiles.
Donnie freaks out, and tells Zach they’re leaving. A confused Zach acquiesces, but when they get to their car, the door opens and another clown comes out. Then another. And another. And another. The two guys flee from the pursuing clowns, only to be separated.
Zach hides in a thrift store while the gaggle of clowns starts hunting him, giggling as they make their terrifying way after him. He hides, managing to get the drop on one of them, beating him with a golf club. The clown seems to die, and melts into makeup. There was no body at all. Horrified, Zach turns to run… directly into the face of a clown.
Donnie runs off into the cemetery, where the clowns are apparently afraid to enter. He soon finds that the place is haunted by the ghosts of old prospectors who died of plague, and they want nothing more than to kill him. The lead ghost, Whiskey Bob (Wilford Brimley) is plumb tired of all these human shenanigans and thinks Donnie should be buried alive. Donnie barely escapes, grabbing Whiskey Bob’s old pickaxe and heading back toward the car.
In the parking lot of the clown hotel, which overlooks the haunted cemetery, the clowns set up a makeshift big top. Donnie approaches, hiding from the ghosts, to get a view. The clowns have Zach tied to a spinning wheel, and as they perform, they apply elements of a clown costume and makeup. He screams in pain as the items transform him into a clown. The clowns then vanish into their tents. Donnie cautiously comes out of hiding to save his friend, but when he brings Zach down off the wheel, Zach opens his eyes to reveal nothing but clown madness within. He’s now a goofy-voiced servant of evil, much like all clowns. The rest of the clowns start appearing all around, stepping out of tents, from behind cotton candy machines, out of carousels, and in one case, shot from a cannon. Donnie runs.
The clowns now in full pursuit, Donnie escapes into the hills around town where he sees a lone building. He goes inside, believing that he’ll be safe, only to find that this is the television studio where Georgie Giggles tapes his bizarre show. Imprisoned here are people that are deformed and insane, trapped in a hideous metamorphosis between human and clown. Georgie Giggles catches Donnie, and in the midst of an insane musical number releases his crazy half-clowns.
Donnie, in a last-ditch effort, fights back with Whiskey Bob’s pickaxe. When the bit of the pickaxe hits one of Georgie’s gold teeth, the prospector ghosts descend on the studio, at first believing this to be a gold strike. The clowns from outside reinforce their mutant brethren. It’s a battle royale between clown and ghost, with Donnie doing everything he can to survive. He squares off with a transformed Zach (now calling himself Sir Laughs-a-lot), and has to kill his friend with the pickaxe. Donnie weeps as Zach dissolves into a viscous pool of clown makeup. The walls and ceilings are decorated with bright sprays of color, evidence of the many slain clowns.
Morning dawns and Donnie goes out into the rising sun. He’s survived. But as the camera pans in… there’s a little makeup on his neck, planted during the fight. He’s already beginning his transformation…
The Clown Motel is entirely real and is really next to the cemetery filled with dead prospectors.
Donald Glover’s part was intended for Danny Glover, but due to a clerical error, the younger man was cast instead.
Jake Johnson’s part was written for Emily Blunt. After she turned it down, no one has any idea how Johnson ended up cast, but the film made more sense for it.
Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s It has a brief appearance in Georgie Giggles Giggle Hour.
Writer Justin Robinson refused to visit the set without a loaded .38 handgun.
The ham was actually made of packed SPAM as ham couldn’t get the right consistency.
The ham-fucking clown was played by Nick Nolte in an uncredited cameo.
Emo Philips improvised his entire part.
Wilford Brimley had no idea a film was being made, and expressed bafflement whenever his ghost makeup was applied. He was paid in moonshine, mining equipment, and several ounces of gold.
Boom mic visible: During the “Everybody’s Laughing On the Inside” number.
Crew or equipment visible: The camera briefly wobbles during the ham-fucking scene, as most camera men fled in terror when the clown smiled.
Factual error (possibly deliberate error by filmmakers): When Zach says that the door is locked and thus the clowns cannot get in, he is either forgetting or failing to mention that clowns can collapse their ribcages.
Factual errors: Santa Monica is not downtown.
Factual error (possibly deliberate error by filmmakers): A group of clowns is actually known as a “sodomurder.”
Georgie Giggles: It’s time for the Giggle Hour! (draws meat cleaver)
Whiskey Bob (repeated line): Gawd damut!
Georgie Giggles: Ham? (points to table covered in big hams)
Donnie: No thanks.
Whiskey Bob: Ain’t nuthin’ ever been funny ‘bout no clowns.
Donnie: There’s a clown outside fucking a ham!
Zach: I think you mean “making love.”
“Funniest movie I’ve ever seen!” — Issei Sagawa
“Offensive to clowns, and possibly prospectors.” — Steve-O
“Holy shit, that was a movie? I thought it was a nightmare I had!” — Jake Johnson
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