Today on the tray: Peter Peanut (aka Chuckles the Clown)

September 13 is National Peanut Day. While it’s an occasion for celebration, I can’t help feeling a pang of sadness. I associate peanuts with the loss of The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Chuckles the Clown, who was tragically killed by a hungry elephant while dressed as one of his trademark characters, Peter Peanut.

Richard Schaal as Chuckles the Clown
A rare appearance of Chuckles the Clown, played here by Richard Schaal

The fatal mauling happened offscreen, which is a good thing, since it wouldn’t have been very funny to watch.

Though he was often mentioned in the series, Chuckles lived most of his life offscreen, appearing only three times, with a different actor portraying him each time. He doesn’t appear at all in the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode, which was ranked #1 on TV Guide‘s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

peanut costume
We never saw Chuckles dressed as Peter Peanut, but I imagine his costume looked like this.

Here’s what happens in the episode: Upon hearing of Chuckles’s grisly death, Lou, Murray, Sue Ann, and Ted can’t help making jokes about the absurdity of the circumstances. This offends a disapproving Mary. (Hey, Mary, everyone grieves in their own way, okay?) The peanut-elephant jokes continue for a good chunk of the episode, with Mary getting increasingly agitated by what she perceives as her friends’ lack of respect.

That sets up the classic funeral scene where Mary unexpectedly finds herself trying to hold back fits of laughter during the eulogy. At first she just lets out a little snort and tries to make out like she was just coughing. But soon she is guffawing, while the somber mourners, including her friends, give her stinkeye.

The minister saves her by telling her that her laughter is entirely appropriate: “Tears were offensive to [Chuckles]; deeply offensive. So go ahead, my dear. Laugh for Chuckles!”

Naturally, at this point, Mary begins to weep uncontrollably.

Funeral scene, “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show (October 25, 1975)

So go ahead and laugh—or weep—and have a happy National Peanut Day!

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