Those who knew him on a first name basis called him “Ho,” and when being respectful some others addressed him as “Mr. Ho,” but to the rest of us he was simply “Ho Ho the Clown.” Ho Ho the Clown was a fixture in the Oklahoma City area, both on and off television, for much longer than I’ve been alive. For almost 30 years Ho Ho made regular (often daily) appearances on Oklahoma City’s KOCO-TV Channel 5. Along with his sidekick Pokey the Puppet (a sock puppet played by stage manager Bill Howard), the two of them entertained, educated, and befriended children several days a week for several decades. And because Ho Ho’s was on the air for so long, his legacy spans multiple generations of kids who grew up watching him.
In real life Ho Ho the Clown was Ed Birchall, although most who knew him say that other than the makeup there wasn’t much difference between the “real life” Ed Birchall and Ho Ho. Ed spent his time off screen entertaining at birthday parties, making public appearances, spending time at hospitals with sick children and attending the circus.
It seems everyone who grew up watching Ho Ho the Clown on television or who interacted with him in some way has a story to tell about it, which is what brings us to 1994’s Ho Ho: A Touch of God’s Gentle Love. Shortly after Ed passed away in 1988, the Daily Oklahoman asked readers to submit their own stories and poems regarding Ho Ho the Clown — and they did. The paper received over 400 responses, many of which made up the first edition of this book. The third edition of this book (the one I purchased) contains submissions from the previous two editions along with several new letters, poems and photographs.
While Ho Ho: A Touch of God’s Gentle Love does not contain any words from Ed Birchell himself, you can get a pretty good idea of what kind of man he was based on the hundred or so memories contained within. Several of the stories were written by those who met Ho Ho when they were children; others are from adults who talk about the effect that Ho Ho had on their kids, whether they were sick in the hospital or had simply run into Ho out in the public. The thing I found amazing was how many unpaid visits he made to people’s houses. Based on the submissions in the book it seems like he was always dropping by people’s houses to check on sick kids.
Perhaps the most revealing stories came from those who worked with Ed and tried to “get Ho’s goat” so to speak. Both in and out of makeup Ed Birchall did not like to discuss smoking or drinking, as he knew the influence he had on small children. Occasionally other grown ups would mention those things to him on the air. For the most part Ho Ho would ignore them or change the subject. At least one person commented that talking about smoking on drinking on air would make Ed very mad, “although he could only stay mad at someone for about five minutes.”
Along with the stories, the book also contains roughly two dozen photographs and poems as well. The pictures are all in black and white and show Ho Ho with random children you don’t know. A few of the pictures show Ed Birchell out of makeup. The quality of poetry ranges from mediocre to downright cringe-worthy. I’ll give both the photos and the poetry a pass based on the subject matter. This is one instance where “it’s the thought that counts.”
Overall I enjoyed Ho Ho: A Touch of God’s Gentle Love. Before reading it I did not know just how many years Ho Ho had been on the air and how much of a staple of the Oklahoma City community he was. By all accounts he was a truly special man and one that is greatly missed.
(Note: Across the internet I found multiple spellings of Ho Ho’s name, including “Ho Ho,” “Ho-Ho,” and “HoHo.” Because Ed once said that “his first name was Ho and his last name was Ho,” I went with the spelling used in the book, which was “Ho Ho,” even though the front cover of the book appears to use “HoHo.”)