It’s a short distance from either the 1958 or 1968 KIRO-TV buildings, where Chris Wedes performed as J.P. Patches, to Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall, where Wedes was publicly remembered last Saturday.
The distance from the Patches show’s fictional City Dump to McCaw’s clean, modern splendor is far greater.
J.P.’s “little old shack by the railroad track” was a tiny, cluttered little studio set that felt like home.
It was a fun palace for a working-class town.
Within these flimsy walls, pretention was unknown, and funky, honest good times were the rule.
This “room,” barely wide enough to allow full-height camera shots of its inhabitants, was our portal to the infinite realms of imagination.
McCaw’s seats were filled with Patches Pals who’d grown up with the 1958-81 TV show, and others who’d known J.P. only from later personal appearances and home-video retrospectives.
The always affable Pat Cashman hosted, on a stage bedecked with J.P. set pieces and props (mostly re-creations). In between many video montages, Cashman shared his (and our) memories of the man, the clown, the Northwest icon.
One of the video montages was set to a recent song by Aaiiee!, a local ’80s-vintage band now gigging again.
This segment was included when KIRO telecast the memorial later that evening (commercial-free, but cut to an hour).
The telecast cut out a couple of other montage segments, on-stage tributes by John Keister (above) and Dori Monson, and a pre-recorded tribute by Joel McHale.
But home viewers did get the part with Duane Smart, the show’s longest serving “Mr. Music Man,” playing some of the music and sound-effects cuts that burned themselves into kids’ memories.
And they got to see the particularly poignant bit with Stan Boreson, who was both Wedes’ friend and nearest rival (he hosted KING’s afternoon kids’ show for 11 years).
Wedes’ partner in crimes against “good taste” was Bob Newman, who played Gertrude, Boris S. Wort, Ketchikan the Animal Man, and most of the show’s other characters. Newman sat at the front of the audience during the memorial, addressing the audience only in a pre-taped segment. That did not stop the audience from giving him at least two standing ovations.
Chris Ballew, in his “Casper Babypants” persona, closed with the snappy original piece “Meet Me at the City Dump.”
Which is exactly where, in our imaginations, so many of us still regularly go.
Yes, the J.P. Patches show existed to sell peanut butter, cookies, and tennis shoes to impressionable youth, and to fill little bits of time between those commercials and syndicated cartoons.
But it did so much more.
It didn’t invent, but it sure helped spread, a particularly Northwest brand of goofball humor.
It was at once totally childish and totally hip.
It was at once subversive and pro-social.
It mocked social mores (as the best clowning always does) while instilling confidence and reassurance.
It made every viewer feel just a little bit special, a little bit loved.