The failure of Silicon Valley Bank has inspired its fair share of both hand-wringing and spirited ridicule since the locally based financial institution went belly up earlier this month. But East Bay resident Ed Holmes and his friends have been skewering the financial sector for almost 50 years.
Holmes founded the annual St. Stupid’s Day parade in 1979 to celebrate the archetypal fool and lampoon those who worship material gain. This Saturday, a gaggle of tricksters plans to return to the streets of the Financial District in a procession to parody big business.
Holmes, a self-described member of “the clown-fool biz” who performed in the SF Mime Troupe for years, told The Standard that this year’s parade will begin at high noon at the Transamerica Pyramid—in St. Stupid’s parlance, “the pointy building.” From there, the crew will proceed up Columbus Avenue to Washington Square Park.
At the center of the parade is a fictitious sacred figure called St. Stupid—the patron saint of parking meters, according to Holmes. Over the past half-century, the parade has amassed quite a few unusual rituals. Holmes said revelers typically stop at the San Francisco Stock and Bond Exchange building (now an Equinox gym) for a sock exchange. They also trek over to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to throw losing lottery tickets.
“We thank the Federal Reserve for turning our economy into a lottery economy,” Holmes said. “It’s a beautiful sight.”
The tricksters have also marched to 580 California Street to hurl pennies at the trio of spookily draped marble sculptures that preside over the Financial District. According to Holmes, legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once called the statues the “Station of Stupid.”
“We bring pennies to thank the banks and say, ‘Here’s a penny you didn’t get this year,’” Holmes said.
On St. Stupid’s Day, Holmes takes on an alter-ego by the name of Bishop Joey—a bastardized moniker borrowed from Joey Bishop, who is arguably the least-famous member of the Rat Pack. Holmes flips the first and last names to give himself a holy glow-up.
Stacy Samuels told The Standard he’s been marching with a trombone on St. Stupid’s Day for years. He said that mottos like “No more chanting!” are among his favorite things to yell as he rolls through FiDi.
“It’s the one holy day of the year,” Samuels said. “It’s the biggest religion in the world because everyone does something stupid at one point or another.”
Samuels said he’s also known as the banjo man at San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s games, where he’s been playing unofficial shows for more than 20 years.
“I’ll be there on Saturday with my cape and propeller hat on,” he said.
As Holmes told The Standard, he founded the parade in 1979 after studying the archetype of the fool in medieval folklore.
“I was slightly overeducated and came across this rich history,” Holmes said. “It turns out almost every culture has a trickster character.”
Back in 1979, April 1 seemed to be the perfect day on which to hatch his hoax, Holmes said. Dating back to ancient Rome, April Fool’s Day is a holiday shrouded in myth when people historically have played tricks on each other. Holmes said he was particularly inspired by a 1934 dramatic portrayal of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo’s French Gothic novel, where the village fools gathered in the cathedral and sang Gregorian chants in a “hee haw language.” After being unceremoniously cast out into the streets by the clergy, Holmes said the crowd devolved into a bacchanal.
The St. Stupid’s Day parade may not descend to that level of debauchery, but Holmes said “bare-butt mechanics” have been known to ride a printing press float across the sunken plaza on Market Street during the parade.
At its core, Holmes said St. Stupid’s Day is a satirical religious act born out of his own disillusionment.
“I thought to myself, ‘Where are the temples of society today?’” he said. “They are the financial buildings. That’s where people worship.”
Holmes clarified that St. Stupid’s Day is meant to mock the buildings of the Financial District, not the people, and that in past years office workers have come out to join the parade, donning clown noses and other costumes.
When asked how he feels about the parade in the wake of SVB’s collapse, Holmes offered this historical perspective:
“Every year, there is this sense of: ‘What the fuck is going with the economy?’ We always find a way to satirize the religion of business.”
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