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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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At 95, Betty Levy (aka Bubbles the clown) has spent decades refining her shtick

Betty Levy, aka Bubbles the Clown.

It’s 4:45 p.m. at the Brentmoor and the nightly comedy show is about to begin. It commences after the soup or salad course, which kicks off the dinner meal at 4:30 for residents of this retirement and assisted-living community in Ladue.

Betty Levy pulls her chair back from the table where she is seated with three friends, grabs ahold of her Rollator Walker, and makes her way from table-to-table to do her thing. That thing would be joke telling. She moves among the half dozen or so tables telling her joke of the day to diners seated at each. Make no mistake: Betty is a masterful joke teller.

Now here is where I would insert one of Betty’s jokes for you to enjoy. But the thing is that many of them — or at least the four or five she told me — are not exactly fodder for a family publication. As a jokester who favors storytelling with a punchline rather than one-liners, Betty’s repertoire leans toward off-color more than dirty, and sometimes revolves around members of the clergy, or makes mention of certain body parts. Regardless, her jokes are laugh-out-loud funny and delivered with crisp precision and impeccable timing.

A few other things about Betty — she not only performs tableside and on-stage doing stand-up but also as a clown named Bubbles. 

And on Saturday, Jan. 27, she’ll turn 95 years old. 

Betty Levy, aka Bubbles the Clown.

She plans to mark the occasion with a three-day celebration, including a pajama-themed night at Blueberry Hill and a joke night Saturday at a restaurant in St. Charles County. She instructed each of the 19 family members attending that they must tell a joke, preferably one that’s humorous.

At 95, Betty shows no signs of slowing down. She lives independently, walks daily for a half-hour either outside or on a treadmill and makes sure to eat healthy and drink plenty of water. Five years ago, she needed a heart valve operation but there was concern about the surgery because of her age. 

“Doctors examined me and said it was OK because I was so healthy,’” she recalls. “I came home a day after the surgery. A year later, they put in a pacemaker, and I came home that very same day. I got through both without any pain or problems.”

Her balance, she says, can be a little off, which is why she uses a walker, though ambling about in her apartment she seems to move just fine without it.

It was during one of these ambles she retrieved her Bubbles costume, which she sewed 40 years ago. A self-described shy child growing up, she got into clowning by accident, when she was in search of other volunteer work.

“I was reading this article in the Light one day and it says, ‘Become a clown and entertain the sick, the young and the old.’ They had a class at the J, so I signed up.”

Eventually, she and others from the class volunteered by entertaining at hospitals, nursing homes and daycare centers in full clown regalia. Betty also performed magic tricks as Bubbles, which required her telling stories, a skill her son thinks she honed then, and which has helped with her golden years comedy career.

When she moved into the Brentmoor nearly 10 years ago, a resident named Adele would go from table-to-table at dinner welcoming everyone. Adele enlisted Betty to join her. 

“One day I said to her, ‘We’re going to do something different; we’re going to tell jokes.’ She said, ‘I don’t know how to tell jokes. I said, ‘You can read them.’ So that’s how it started. After she passed away, I continued telling them.”

Betty’s jokes aren’t original. She finds them on the internet. But she works to make each one her own, even down to the rhythm of the delivery.

She was making her rounds at dinner one night when a Brentmoor resident and his visiting son found themselves enthralled by her mannerisms and delivery. So enthralled, in fact, the son asked Betty if she would perform at his upcoming gay bachelor party in the Central West End.

“She was in front of 200 people and nailed it,” says Betty’s son, Stan Levy, 71, who lives in Cottleville. “I have videos of her in action on YouTube.”

From there, more gigs followed. Stan, who frequents a cigar bar in Cottleville, suggested to his mother that she perform her stand-up during a break at a Texas hold ‘em tournament the establishment was hosting.

“What was supposed to be a five-minute break between rounds ended up being 30 minutes because the audience didn’t want her to stop,” says Stan, who also had his mother perform at his 70th birthday, in front of 100 people.

Stan admits that he’s more than a little surprised at his mother’s comic prowess, especially since she was so serious-minded when he and his two sisters were growing up. He said their father, Harvey, who was married to Betty for 60 years before he died in 2010, was the comical one.

“I never thought in my wildest imagination Mom would wind up doing this,” says Stan, who along with his parents and sisters grew up attending United Hebrew Congregation. 

“This is how meticulous and organized mom was,” Stan continues. “When we were growing up, we each had chores of cleaning our room and another room in the house. If we did not clean them to her standards, she pro-rated our allowance.”

Betty says she’s “mellowed” with age and has learned to live each day fully. “My wisdom is ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ I talk to myself if I start to dwell on anything. If it’s something I have no control over I just talk myself out of it and go count my blessings. I enjoy life so much I want to keep on living.”

More than anything, Stan says, he and his siblings, as well as Betty’s 10 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, marvel at her independence and joie de vivre.

“She has been proactive in every major decision of her life, which has made it very easy for her children,” says Stan. “When she was living (in Creve Coeur) after my father passed, she was really tired of cleaning the place and cooking. So on her own she looked to find a place where she would feel comfortable. She researched it and then afterwards she made an announcement, ‘I’m going to go to the Brentmoor.’ She has loved it and never looked back.”

Stan says she did the same thing when she decided to stop driving at age 90. 

“She sold her vehicle through Craigslist to the first person,” Stan says. “The only thing that surprised us and really made us nervous is that when the gentleman came by to test drive the car, she insisted that she go with him. And we were like, ‘Mom, are you really serious that you would get into a stranger’s car?’ And she said, very clearly, ‘He was a minister. How bad could it have been?’ ”

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About the Contributor
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].