Skippy Spiral, Savannah's clown and performance artist, has been adding to his resume of talents.
He's kept busy creating music for "loners and outsiders" while continuing to expand his comfort zone. Through his intriguing, taboo art form, he longs to deprogram his view of himself and his connection to society and privilege. I recently sat with Skippy on his porch while he watered his plants to learn more about the clown inside the man known as Nicholas Ganas.
You can catch Skippy at one his many upcoming gigs around Savannah, and he has also put together "Solo Artists of Savannah," a showcase of local singer/songwriters every first Tuesday of the month at The Sentient Bean.
How has the response been from audiences after experiencing a show combining your unique spin on performance art and music?
So as a clown, this simple image can evoke joy, or fear, or a combination of the two. Clowns are such a simple image, bringing out feelings in people they are not expecting, because clowning is in a sense very lighthearted. I am here to entertain you. Then at times, it’s taken in a very dark manner.
I think these two varying emotions fall on people’s decision on how to interpret what they have experienced. l definitely have the luxury of really not caring what people think, aside from my friends or fans. So the majority of time, I am performing for myself, and hopefully the audience knows they are wanted.
Do you think the preconceived thoughts people have about clowns has an impact on how they approach you and the music?
That is an interesting question. Much of being an artist and a performer is your approach and presentation. Artists such as Andy Kaufman, Tiny Tim and Charlie Chaplin had very unique styles and execution of their creativity. They taught me the importance of execution as an artist; to have varying influences, bringing all the different elements together, all while finding a way to not be rigid in expressing myself.
What I find interesting about those well-known performers was all three of those guys had the courage to look at audiences with the question of, what can I do to make the audience think? That is what good art does for me, when I go to a good show, changes my perspective. Which is why I use spiral imagery so much, tapping into the subconscious mind, using meditation, that kind of stuff because a simple image can have depth, and do a lot for the mind, which is how being a clown comes into play.
Where did your main influence in clowning come from?
I love my grandfather; he is the reason I am a clown. It is a form of ancestral worship. I saw him transform into this clown. At the time I didn’t know he was the same person.
Being a clown was his retirement plan. He worked at an electronics factory for 30 years, was a boxer who hated fighting, but did so for money to survive during the Great Depression. He was a labor law lawyer for period of time as well. He had a varied and interesting life. So when he retired, he wanted to be a clown, a birthday clown who used magic, balloons, etc. I remember this very kind, loving grandfather who would leave and then "Chi-Chi" would show up. Chi-Chi was a character who brought joy and happiness to me as a child, but Chi-Chi would leave and my grandfather would come back, saying things like, "Oh Chi-Chi was here?," you know, playing into the role. Then as I got older, I connected the dots and was kind of bummed when I figured out who Chi-Chi was. The fantasy was gone.
I think Chi-Chi is the reason why I call my record label Dead Clown Records. I saw this decline in his performance as he got older, due to his dementia. The family would ask if Chi-Chi was going to come by, and sadly he would say no, which had a big impact on me. Then, at his funeral, his clown friends showed up in full clown costume. That’s amazing. The surreal imagery of that moment made a profound impact on my life.
Your music is inviting not only from a listening standpoint, but visually as well. Is this a discipline of practicing more performance art or just expressing yourself in the moment?
For myself, the somewhat therapeutic videos of under-the-radar cover songs I recreate is another way of trying to improve as a musician, and to remind myself I am doing this for fun. For me being an underground artist fuels my creativity more than covering the mainstream or Top 40 hits. Being under the radar gives me the opportunity to sound different, as well as being a cathartic experience, and who knows, maybe my videos will brighten someone’s day.
Is being an independent artist difficult in a city such as Savannah?
I like the freedom of creative control. I have the freedom to be able to try different stuff in different venues. There are artists and musicians who want to be put in categories, labeled to get big, whatever they have to do to a certain degree to brand and sell their work. I’ll take freedom over money any day. That’s why I have a thousand records in my apartment right now. I didn’t want the imprisonment of distributors or producers telling me how to get my work to the masses.
Once you get more than one person involved, it becomes an avalanche of opinions and then you get another person involved etc., the project becomes about everyone else’s agenda. It’s all underground. I like the simplicity of Savannah. There’s not extra hoops you have to jump through. You don't have have to play the game of knowing somebody who knows someone who knows this person, and so on. Venues have a great attitude: if we have a slot available, you seem like you’d fit this bill, let’s have a great show.
What do you hope you can change in the world surrounding you, immediate or distant, with your music?
I think people should take note of the narcissism of the culture we live in today while taking in performers in a certain way. I think audiences want to feel as if they are wanted by the performer. Yet, the audience can turn away if the artist is trying to do something different than they were accustomed to, they can get angry and turn away from the performer. So contradiction with an audience is hard because you need the audience, without relying on their validation.
I am grateful for anyone who becomes a fan over time. I tell those fans, thank you so much for coming to the show. It means a lot and I am glad I can connect with those fans who take the time to show up repeatedly. Seeing a person enjoying my music is fulfilling.
As a loner and an outsider, I take pride in gaining fans who also consider themselves loners and outsiders and while in the shared space of my music, maybe we do not feel so alone anymore. Which is a big part of being a clown; it is the epitome of being an outsider.
People can say blindly, "I hate clowns" without having any explanation of why you feel this way. This is what I find so fascinating about what I do. I want what I do to come from a good place. I want to feel empathy with my friends in the LGBTQ community, minorities and women who are discriminated against simply for living as they are. If my music can make an impact to change views, and I can take my white maleness out of the equation by being a “creepy clown” in order to empathize with my friends, I can deprogram my privilege.
I am a clown because we live in a terror circus dumpster fire. It makes all the sense in the world to be a clown because everything is such a scary joke right now. So, if I can write a song about the scary joke we live in, and leave something behind when I am gone, then the impact is there for the audience to either learn from what they have heard, or they can simply enjoy the show. This is what I have learned from my empathy experiment of deprogramming my privilege as a clown the best way I can.
I am still by no means going to be able to understand what it is like to be a disenfranchised person. But if I can be more empathetic toward my community, I can accept people as they are and connect with anyone without a label in front of them. If people can handle my image as a clown, you’re golden, you’re in it, you’re making an impact and a connection.