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Krusty The Clown's Entire Backstory Explained

Of all the hundreds of colorful side characters on The Simpsons, there's no one quite as memorable — or bizarre — as Krusty the Clown. He's the host of his own afternoon kids' TV show on Springfield's Channel 5, but he's far more than a red-nose-wearing, wacky physical comedian. From the beginning of The Simpsons, Krusty has been one of the show's most well-developed and complex characters. He's not a bright and sunny clown, nor even the cliched "sad clown" — he's angry, bitter, and takes a number of mood-enhancing and -balancing drugs. But he's also incredibly driven to be rich and famous, or at least stay that way. He's a TV fixture, but also an anachronism — TV clowns haven't really been a thing for decades, but Krusty still plugs away to the delight of kids like Bart and Lisa, playing Itchy & Scratchy cartoons while also maintaining an international merchandising empire and keeping up a life of debauchery. Krusty is a complicated man with an elaborate story — so here it is, boys and girls, the life story of Krusty the Clown. Hey hey!

Krusty rejected a life as a Jewish scholar

The 1991 Simpsons episode "Like Father, Like Clown" provides a lot of information and explanation as to why Krusty is the way he is. In short, he's got some major daddy issues. He comes to the Simpsons' house for dinner (his biggest fan, Bart, exonerated him from a robbery charge), and delivers the blessing in Hebrew. Lisa, ever observant, understands that Krusty is Jewish, and when she asks him questions about it, he breaks down in a crying fit. The rest of the episode is an extended riff on The Jazz Singer, both the 1927 and 1980 films, which starred Al Jolson and Neil Diamond, respectively, as young men who want to be entertainers and not cantors in their prominent synagogue. But in the Simpsons' version, Krusty has a falling out with his father because he rejects the old man's desire for him to study the Torah at yeshiva in favor of being a comedian and a clown. Krusty the Clown is just a stage name for the man born Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofsky in Springfield's Lower East Side (New York City's area of the same name has historically had a large Jewish population). Krusty's father was Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, and his mother was a woman named Rachel who died when the future clown was only 13.

Krusty was estranged from his father for decades

Before ultimately leaving a quiet but noble life as a talmudic scholar, Krusty the Clown did attend yeshiva as a child, however briefly. At first, he tried to make both his father and himself happy, attending school while also secretly booking gigs as a party entertainer. The parallel but separate lives collided one night when Krusty agreed to perform at a convention of rabbis. Young Herschel, his identity fully concealed by thick clown face makeup, did his act to the delight of the assembled rabbis, which happened to include his father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky. All was fine until another rabbi took Krusty's classic clown prop of a seltzer bottle and sprayed the young performer, instantly washing off his makeup and revealing his true identity to Rabbi Krustofsky. Embarrassed and angry that Krusty was clowning against his wishes, he disowned his son right then and there. 

Krusty, forced to leave home, began his career as an entertainer in earnest, working as a street mime in Tupelo, Mississippi (a reference to Elvis Presley's birthplace) and working his way up to TV star status. It's on an episode of The Krusty the Clown Show where Krusty and his father reunite after not speaking for 25 years. Bart and Lisa thaw Rabbi Krustofsky's icy heart after arguing that respectable Jewish people could also be entertainers — just look at Sammy Davis, Jr.

Krusty the Clown prevented a military action, and gained a daughter

In the 2000 episode "Insane Clown Poppy," Krusty signs copies of his book at a book fair and it is approached by Sophie, a young girl around the age of Bart and Lisa Simpson, who — with bright green hair, very closely resembles a certain clown — approaches Krusty and informs him that she's his daughter. To this point, Sophie had been raised entirely by her mother, who'd said very little about her father, only that he "was some pathetic clown." Sophie typed those words into an online search engine, which delivered Krusty.

Flashbacks explain how Krusty came to be a father, as well as the reasons why Sophie's mother, Erin, kept him out of her daughter's life. Erin was serving as a soldier in the early '90s Gulf War, and met Krusty when he performed on a USO tour. The morning after their brief but very physical encounter, she tried to leave to fulfill her military orders: Assassinate Saddam Hussein. Krusty, because his comedy act consisted mainly of hacky jokes about the Iraqi leader, tackled her as she fired her rocket launcher, which blew up a soldier supply load of Duff Beer instead. Erin strangled Krusty to the point of unconsciousness, and after becoming pregnant with his child, never told him he had a kid. Fortunately, Krusty and Sophie bond and forge a relationship.

Krusty's been on TV for generations

The Krusty the Clown Show has been a television institution since at least the 1960s. Originating from Springfield, and not an entertainment hotbed like New York or Hollywood, it airs on Channel 6 everyday at 4PM. Even in The Simpsons' early seasons in the 1990s, Krusty's show was an anachronism, a throwback to locally-produced kid-oriented variety shows of the 1950s and '60s, in which cartoons would be a major draw (such as The Itchy & Scratchy Show) in between corny sketches, a song or two, and, if the host was a clown (and not a cowboy or a sea captain), some clowning. However, multiple flashbacks to old Krusty the Clown bits throughout demonstrate that back in the '50s, when Krusty's act would have been in fashion, his show was very different, and has frequently evolved. Simpsons writers use The Krusty the Clown Show to mock show business and TV history, and at various points in history, the show has been a dead-serious public affairs talk show, a Tonight Show-type talk show, a Mickey Mouse Club-esque endeavor (featuring the "Krustkateers"), a variety show a la The Ed Sullivan Show, and then its final and current format, all the while hosted by a guy in clown makeup.

Krusty has had a couple of TV sidekicks

Similar to pretty much any long-running TV host, Krusty the Clown employs the use of a sidekick. But unlike Conan O'Brien and his Andy Richter, or Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, Krusty has gone through quite a few. He's temperamental, selfish, and fragile — it's tough to get along with the clown, let alone make a daily TV show with the guy. Krusty's most famous sidekick, as of the 1990 episode "Krusty Gets Busted," was Sideshow Bob, a tall man with wild hair who bore the brunt of Krusty's brand of physical comedy, getting hit in the face with pies, shot out of a cannon, and other such slapstick bits. Sideshow Bob, secretly an extraordinarily dignified individual with refined tastes, grew so tired of his station that he robbed the Kwik-E-Mart dressed as Krusty, thus framing his boss and getting him thrown in jail. Until Bart exonerated the clown, Bob took over Krusty's show, turning it into a dull education series called The Sideshow Bob Cavalcade of Whimsy. Bob ultimately gets thrown in jail and redirects his hatred to Bart, and attempting to kill him becomes his life's work for years. Krusty restores his show to its former glory, replacing Sideshow Bob with a similarly respectable performer named Sideshow Mel whom he also abuses in the name of comedy.

Krusty the Clown is a man of many vices

Krusty the Clown has a lot of money, a skewed image of life due to fame, and a host of psychological issues. As can often happen to someone with even one of those factors, Krusty has developed a number unhealthy outlets — in other words, the man has a lot of vices, at great detriment to his finances and health. He possesses an almost pathological need to accrue and waste money. He's a fan of omelets made with the presumably expensive eggs of the endangered condor, and lights his cigarettes with hundred-dollar bills or the rare and valuable Action Comics #1, the first to feature Superman. Krusty is also clearly a gambling addict who unwisely bets on events with virtually assured outcomes, such as an opera and a Harlem Globetrotters game — he once placed his entire, vast licensing fortune on the showboating exhibition team to lose. He's been bankrupted before (the IRS seized Krusty Burger), and he once spent his "last ten bucks" on a racehorse.

The TV clown even snorts moon rocks, which he claims to use as a mood stabilizer. Those can't be cheap, and it's only one of the substances to which Krusty is addicted. To deal with the stresses of his high-profile career, he turned into a chain-smoking alcoholic who was formerly also hooked on the powerful painkiller Percodan.

Krusty makes and endorses a lot of shoddy merchandise

Krusty isn't as popular as he once was, but he's still a viable enough brand that he can license his name and image to appear on countless pieces of merchandise. While all of it is crummy, some is standard tie-in junk like toys, dolls, talking alarm clocks, candy bars, and cereal (although Krusty-O's may contain a sharp metal piece on occasion), and a lot of it is wildly inappropriate or dangerous. Krusty fans can purchase Krusty Brand Seal of Approval certified sulfuric acid, imitation gruel, "Chew Goo Gum-Like Substance," a radon detector, vodka, and pregnancy tests.

The centerpiece of this ancillary empire is Krusty Burger, of which Krusty the Clown is both owner and mascot (allowing Simpsons writers to skewer the fast food industry, like the similarly clown-fronted McDonald's). It's a house of horrors unto itself, selling food-adjacent or health-endangering treats like "Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverages" (or shakes), the "Whatchamacarcass Sandwich," "Gravy Scrapems," and "Bacon Balls." Krusty Burger was selected to offer the "Official Meat-Flavored Sandwich" of the 1984 Olympics, and Krusty authorized a contest in which customers won free food whenever Americans won an event, but it was all rigged to feature games dominated by the Soviet Union. After the U.S.S.R. boycotted the '84 games, the Americans won all kinds of medals, leading Krusty Burger (and Krusty personally) to suffer major financial losses to the tune of $44 million.

Krusty the Clown has some major heart issues

Perhaps as a function of his advanced age, self-destructive habits, or some combination of the two, Krusty the Clown suffers from a host of medical problems. In a flashback to an old clip from The Krusty the Clown Show, Krusty suffers a massive heart attack during a live broadcast and falls to the ground clutching his chest and gasping for air (which the studio audience full of kids laughs at, presuming it's a bit). While later outfitted with a pacemaker, he's experienced a few cardiac events, once showing off a surgical scar to Homer and noting that his terrible heart problems permanently altered his appearance — his pale white face coloring evidently "ain't makeup." In the 2007 episode "Little Big Girl," Krusty laments a "massive organ failure" problem, and he tells Sophie, the daughter he didn't know he had, that diabetes runs in the family.

The reason Homer Simpson and Krusty the Clown look alike

Even though he's fictional, Krusty is the last children's TV clown, outlasting even Bozo the Clown, the Chicago-based TV institution upon whom he's clearly a fond homage. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening pulled from other sources, too. Groening grew up in Portland, Oregon, where James Allen, a clown with the stage name of "Rusty Nails," hosted a long-running kids TV show. "Krusty" sounds an awful lot like "Rusty," although the fictional counterpart is much more miserable. Rusty "was very nice, a very sweet clown," Groening said in Planet Simpson (via Oregon Public Broadcasting). "But he had that name, Rusty Nails, which I found incredibly disturbing as a child because you know you're supposed to avoid Rusty Nails."

The physical appearance of Krusty the Clown was inspired by someone much closer to Springfield: Homer Simpson. Look closely: Krusty and Homer have the exact same build and facial features — Krusty is literally just Homer with clown makeup, and early on, Groening toyed with making the clown Homer's alter ego. "The original idea behind Krusty the Clown was that he was Homer in disguise, but Homer still couldn't get any respect from his son, who worshipped Krusty," Groening told Entertainment Weekly. "We were in such a rush in the beginning of the series that I thought, 'Oh, it's too complicated,' so we just dropped it."