Lady Gaga is renowned for her outrageous originality, challenging standard notions of pop, celebrity, femininity, and the power of the Internet. Turns out, however, the very name "Gaga" is second-hand, first coined by a performer who has been singing, provoking, dressing up in ridiculous outfits, and piling on the make-up longer than Gaga's been alive. Her name is Gloria Walz aka "Gaga" and she's an 81-year-old clown.
Walz has been performing in hospitals and nursing homes in Pinellas County, Fla. for almost a quarter century, after attending a class on "Christian clowning" offered by her church one Saturday.
"My husband was going fishing and to play golf all day, so I thought I'd go see what it was all about," Walz told AOL Jobs. She was working as a secretary at a hospital at the time, and decided to bring her new skills to the workplace, storing her hand-made costume next to her scrubs in a locker.
Walz only discovered her namesake when she caught her appearance on the American Idol finale in May. "Now that Lady Gaga is using it, my friends say, 'You ought to sue her,' I said 'No, no no,'" Walz told WTSP.com.
The name Gaga came from taking the first and last letters of her name - Gloria - and doubling it. "Even a baby could say it," she said. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, ripped her name from the 1984 song "Radio Ga Ga," by British rock band Queen.
Walz and Lady Gaga's styles of performance are slightly different. The retired secretary was not particularly impressed by the American Idol song-and-dance number, where Gaga, in armor-plated lingerie, grinded with a half-naked man. "American Idol was a clean show, and her performance there was not very clean," Walz said. "I think our TV nowadays has really gone too far."
Walz's shows are more PG. She asks the patients riddles: What has ears but cannot hear?What's no good unless you break it? What has teeth but cannot eat? And then pulls out a prop from her bag of tricks: An ear of corn. An egg. A comb.
"I really believe that laughter is very good medicine. It even says that in the bible," she explained. "A really good hearty belly laugh releases endorphins that tell your brain you don't hurt. It's like magic to me."
While Gaga and Lady Gaga have different approaches to their craft, there is a similar spirit about the two of them - a desire to cheer up the world, and the power of character and costume to do that.