Clint Clark can certainly identify with Crumpet the elf, the character he portrays in David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries.
The irreverent one-man production is a theatrical adaptation of Sedaris' hilariously dry, self-deprecating account of his stint working as a Christmas elf at Macy's department store in New York City - a job few self-respecting men would take.
Clark, 24, is an employee at McDonalds, a job that requires him to wear a similarly ridiculous uniform and act unnaturally cheery, much like Crumpet, a helper elf in Santaland who must deal with screaming children, obnoxious parents and disgruntled coworkers. Sedaris highlights (and chastises) all of this in the Christmas chronicles that helped propel the humorist out of obscurity and into the public sphere.
"Like Sedaris, I make this my own," says Clark of his approach to his current job in the fast-food industry. "I'll crack a couple of jokes in the drive-thru, and if I can get them to laugh by cracking a couple jokes, I'll keep it going so that by the time they get through the line they're in tears," he says.
Clark's ability to carry on a jokey, running monologue is as important at work as it is in his 70-minute solo performance, which required him to memorize nearly 1,200 lines of text, a feat that took him about three weeks.
The memorization wasn't the hard part, though. The real challenge, Clark says, is keeping the performance fresh throughout its 14-show holiday run. Under director Brad Hills, Clark says he is able to do so by connecting with the audience.
In one scene, Crumpet breaks up the monotony of the day by loudly announcing the presence of some celebrity, causing all the gathered Santaland visitors to bail in favor of an autograph from the famous person. During the show I attended, Crumpet looked at my bald, sideburn-wearing friend and exclaimed, "Look! Phil Collins!" In another performance, Clark says he pulled a similar move, identifying a woman in the audience who resembled Goldie Hawn. This sort of audience appeal works particularly well in the intimate setting of the Balcony Cafe portion of Innovation Theatre Works, a theater venue on the south side of town.
Clark's favorite part, however, is when a parent whose patience has worn thin requests that he reprimand Riley, a spoiled child in full temper-tantrum mode, with the threat of coal as Santa's lone gift.
"I said that Santa changed his policy and no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you're bad, he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn't behave himself, Santa was going to take away his TV and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark."
Clark's building intensity upon delivery of the above lines, as well as the image of Santa "trafficking" in anything, left the audience in stitches. Also silly were the numerous drug references and cuss words that came from the mouth of an elf dressed in candy-cane striped tights and curled footwear.
I just like his misanthropic nature, says Clark of Sedaris.
"The stupidity of the world and what's going on around him, that's what he's based a large part of his work on," he says, "It's a nice change to point out and make fun of it, especially around Christmas, when everything is supposed to be merry and jolly."