I'm Lovin' the All-American Tennis Clown

There were a lot of clowns at the All-American Tennis Shootout.

Last Friday's All-American Tennis Shootout at the Austin Convention Center featured the No. 4 player in the world, James Blake; his brother Thomas; reigning U.S. clay court champ Mardy “Go” Fish; and the No. 1-ranked doubles team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan. But the real man of the match was the one-and-only Ronald McDonald.

I'm not talking about any Ronald McDonald. I'm talking the Ronald McDonald. The mustard-and-ketchup clown of reknown. The man with the fries to go with that shake. The world’s No. 1-ranked corporate fast-food buffoon.

After hitting the bar for the first of many suprisingly tasty margaritas (and thanks to our media passes), we saw Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers going into the backstage dressing room. We gawked for a moment, but erred on the side of decency in not harrassing them drink-in-hand.

Staggering back to the sport court, we spotted a redheaded stranger sitting in the front row, minding his own business – which is maybe the last thing you'd expect a corporate clown to be doing at a sporting event, but we decided we needed some pictures with the bozo, so we sauntered over for a closer look, and a half-hour long conversation.

Turns out, this clown has been working the Kroc-o-deal for 30 years, eats as many burgers as he wants (good thing he's got health insurance), and lives in a cozy burb called McDonaldland. We asked him how many backup Ronalds there are floating around, and he replied: "That would be the easiest thing to do, wouldn’t it? To have a bunch of us. But corporations, being corporations, they don't make things easy for their employees. They run me around. I'm everywhere." Candid.

Just then, Chronicle Senior Editor Shawn Badgley sashayed through the door, and as I introduced him to our newest friend, Ronald said, “it's good to see you again, Shawn,” obviously referring to that time the Badger ate four Big Macs in one sitting at a Golden Arches in East St. Louis, and Ronald had to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Ronald then told us that over the years he'd had his hair stolen three times by ingrate teenagers and that he is the Ronald you see in TV commercials. Wow. The Ronald McDonald. Seriously. Google-Image it. It's him.

In between awkward human-to-clown exchanges we all marvelled at the prematch family-style entertainment: A rodeo clown-meets-tennis-Harlem Globetrotter who did a Jerry Lewis-inspired tricks routine.

“Hey, Ronald. You could get that job. You've got corporate clown experience."

“Oh, there are a lot of corporate clowns.”

“Name one.”

“Ken Lay.”

Ba-dum-crash.

I continued.

“Those are big feet, man."

"You know what they say about guys with big feet dontcha? They wear big shoes.”

He's hotter than McDonald's coffee tonight, folks. Don't get burned!

As the banter got even franker (his salary, where he really lives, what kind of convertible he drives), Ronnie's McHandler started to get nervous and asked us who we were with.

Austin Chronicle sports blog.”

“Never heard of it.”

Then the PA announcer called out to the crowd to give Ron some love; he took a bow to heavy applause and split.

That's when the grimace appeared. Not that purple lard ass who runs with Mayor McCheese and the Hamburgler, but the grimace on my face when the event turned racist. During the doubles match between the Blake brothers (who happen to be African-American) and the Bryan brothers (who are as white as Ron's face paint), they changed sides, and the line judge said, "The brothers lead." Which "brothers," exactly? The Bryan brothers or the "Brothers" brothers?" We took pause but only thought it a slip of the tongue.

Then, between the doubles match (which the [A]ryans won) and the singles match between James Blake and Mardy Fish, they again brought out the tennis clown, only this time he was dressed in a kimono. Traditional Japanese music was piped in as he did a bucktoothed "Samurai Tennis” routine. Ching chong ching chong. What year is it, 1945? Someone said “I hope there are no Asians here." Yeah, except for the full row of slack-jawed ones sitting three rows behind us. How embarrassing. Then someone said, “Eh, it's Texas,” and we let it go.

As for the tennis itself, I'll give it a C. Blake admitted they weren't at "peak fitness," and Fish said they were working out their "beer bellies." They let the ball boys play a few points, and the intensity level was somewhere below jocular, featuring lots of giggling, goofing off, and Andy Roddick impressions. There were about five hotly contested points all night. Now I know what the word “exhibition” means.

Bottom line, the Fish floundered 4-6, 5-7, and he wasn't even the biggest clown at the event.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

All-American Tennis Shootout, Mardy Fish, Ronald McDonald, James Blake

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