Of all the films screening at the Galway Film Fleadh on the West Coast of Ireland, one stands out as having the sort of wild premise that should instantly pique the interest of anyone with a penchant for comedy of the more ridiculous variety.

Apocalypse Clown — getting its world premiere on Friday before screening at Canada’s Fantastia Festival later this month and ahead of its U.K. and Ireland release on Sept. 1 — may boast the most “WTF?” film plotline of the year, as it’s set in the aftermath of a mysterious blackout that plunges Ireland into anarchy and follows a group of washed-up clowns, brought together following a mass brawl at a funeral, who traverse the country in chaotic and sometimes bloody fashion for one last shot at their (far-fetched) dreams. A quiet arthouse drama, this is not. 

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From director George Kane — who has spent the last 10 years helming episodes of British TV comedies including Crashing (written by a pre-Fleabag Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Back, Brassic, Wedding Season and most recently, Apple TV+’s upcoming Dick Turpin series starring Noel Fielding — Apocalypse Clown’s mismatched troupe of big-shoed performers span the breadth of on-screen clown depictions. There’s Funzo, the slightly psychotic horror clown (something considered taboo in the film’s clowning world); Bobo, the washed-up, booze-soaked children’s entertainer clown; The Great Alphonso, a pompous and sleazy big top circus clown (and former TV celebrity); and the pretentious, classically trained, stripey-topped mime clown, Pepe. Clowning may be their lives, but they’re all largely terrible at it (there’s a particularly hilarious scene in which they reveal their real, rather ordinary, names). 

Written by Kane, Demian Fox, Shane O’Brien and James Walmsley and shot in Dublin and Kildare, the original story for what eventually became Apocalypse Clown was going to see the ragtag bunch of characters head to Africa as part Clowns Without Borders, the very real charity helping bring some joy into the lives of refugee children around the world. Sadly, the pandemic put a hold to that idea and the story had to be scaled back a little. And, as Kane admits, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the premiere, that idea was “like a drunken Cannes pitch” (although he’s not averse to using bits for a sequel). 

Is there anything at all you’d liken Apocalypse Clown to?

I don’t know what the Venn diagram would be. I tried before and was thinking it’s a bit Tropic Thunder in some ways, and there’s a bit of The Three Amigos and Zombieland in some ways. And there’s a bit of Withnail and I in there when it’s the bleak, actor monologues. Essentially, I was trying to make a $2 million Roland Emmerich film with clowns in Ireland. People have been waiting for it!

You won the top prize for best international feature in Galway in 2012 for the music mockumentary Discoverdale. Must feel perfect to come back a decade later with this, your first scripted feature?

Yeah, it’s perfect. And the project actually began in Galway back then, because that was where James Walmsley kind of said, “We should do something about Clowns Without Borders.” It was like a drunken Cannes pitch. So it’s perfect that 10 years later, it coming back to where it was conceived.

Are you going to get any clowns at the premiere?

I did suggest hiring some clowns just to be around in Galway, hanging out in strange places. 

I feel like clowns only ever appear in films in a, usually low-budget, horror setting these days. It’s nice to see them in a comedy. 

That’s obviously dealt with in the film; the whole scary clown thing, which is like a taboo. But to me, in some ways it’s incidental that these people are clowns. They could be actors, performers — people who just cannot let go of a profession that is kind of melded into their identity, even if they’re not necessarily born for it. It’s a bit like at the end of Waiting for Guffman, when those brilliant people suddenly have their dreams reignited by absolute failure and you’re like, “Don’t give up your job as a dentist, you shouldn’t be doing that.” There’s that sort of anti-upbeat ending where they decided they’re gonna stick with it. I mean, the opening lines of the film are, “They say you should never give up on your dreams, but what if you should?” So I think that kind of sets the tone pretty early on.

There are some very English jokes that international audiences may not understand, including one about Rolf Harris. 

We just had the freedom to make it — if you’re having to deal with a studio, those kind of jokes don’t get through. So I like that it’s very niche at times. But I also think it’s accessible. It’s very dark, with plenty of psychological jokes in it, but it’s colorful and fast and I think endearing. I think you kind of grow to like these guys. But they’re all terrible people. 

I do love the idea of a ridiculous comedy based on Clowns Without Borders… 

It was so funny. But naive in a lot of ways. So we kind of started to doubt ourselves and thinking, should we be doing that. But there’s some great stuff in that that I think could form part of the sequel. 

For the last 10 years you’ve been directing some great British TV comedies, but with Apocalypse Clown now coming out are you hoping to do more film?

I don’t think you can do that exclusively, but I think the next logical step would be to make a bigger budget studio comedy. But I don’t think any are going to be as interesting as this.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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