on clowning and humour

Now it’s becoming increasingly less known that I used to work regularly as a clown and family entertainer.

I slowed down/stopped performing as Rocky when the economy turned south and DH‘s health problems increased prior to his transplant.  I forwarded the bulk of my work to folks who relied on clowning for their living and just kept my “regulars” because it was the right thing to do.  Plus as DH‘s cancer progressed, it became harder for me to find reasons to smile, let alone laugh.

Thankfully folks like DB and MV helped ease me through that time and I began to find my smile again.  Working with DB on Balderdash and Humbug helped me laugh through a difficult time and DB‘s insistence on keeping me laughing was one of the things that kept me alive. 

This past year, with “assistance” from a local agent, I decided the time was right to explore comedic family entertainment again, however Rocky no longer represented who I was and the hiatus has continued.  A new character, named Phineas, has since been created and is currently undergoing the standard growing pains of any personality – which is weird, because I am he as he is me and we are all together…

Goo goo ga joob.

Anyways, my recent travels and experiences at the Western Region Clown Association’s annual convention made me review what good clowning was and should be.  Now, like most professional organizations, clowning conventions can be a mixed bag of people in a profession at different levels of the game, ranging from rank amateur, to skilled professionals.  However in a performance art, there are also levels of skill from “Oh gawd, stop doing what you’re doing right now, you’re awful and you’re frightening the children!” to “Oh gawd, stop doing what you’re doing right now because I’m laughing so hard I’m going to disgrace myself/have a hemmorhage!”

Unfortunately at most conventions that I have been to, there are more of the former than the latter.  Clowning is, for most, a hobby and very few people take this ancient art as seriously as it needs to be taken to be effective.  And clowning is an ancient artform, and in some cultures, such as the Hopi Indians, is considered to be sacred and a part of their religious practices.  Leave it to western cultures to turn something to the lowest common denominator.

<but I digress, I wrote a piece on Hopi clowning back in university, I’ll try to resurrect it, in all its naivety for a later blog posting> 

So what makes a good clown in my opinion?  Can you make me laugh!  And for me a laugh could be a snort, a rolling of my eyes or a guffaw.

So what makes a great clown in my opinion?  Did you make me laugh to the point of incoherence?  Was I able to talk/breathe/make a simple statement while you were entertaining?  If not, then JOB WELL DONE!

To date, I can count on two hands the number of people who have reached that lofty status in my experience:

  1. Mr. Rainbow – several times, the first time he made me laugh to the point of incoherence, he sang me the alphabet and made me totally lose my shit in the midst of a room full of strangers in Boston.  The funny thing was that he knew I’d be the only person who’d find it funny and directed it at me.
  2. Buttons – Watching him deal with a magic prop that essentially flopped before the audience and then dealing with the consequences…
  3. CLaroL – Dealing with a possibly upstaging 7 year old, handled deftly and in a funny and honest way.
  4. Bubba Sikes – perhaps one of the few Christian clowns that is actually funny and is able to deliver the Word in an entertaining way.  He completely slew me with a single well-timed look during, of all things, a worship service.  Normal IS boring!
  5. Mama Clown – for doing something she naturally does with truly unintended consequences.  She was initially embarrased then laughed it off, RAN with it and made her schtick even funnier.
  6. BB – A Big Apple Clown Care Unit hospital clown.  Quiet, unassuming and off the wall! His comedy banjo act is truly inspiring!
  7. Dooley – Another rare, actually funny, Christian clown.  He brings chaotic joy to his message and is always fun to watch.
  8. Ron Campbell – Currently portraying The King of Clowns in Cirque du Soliel’s “Kooza”, slapping me across the face with a rubber steak.
  9. Lovely Buttons – for her turkey camoflage puppet gag…incredible buildup with an unexpected ending!

So yup, in about 20 years of clowning nine clowns that I have personally witnessed perform have made me laugh to the point that I was unable to do anything but laugh…not a good average, considering all the clowns I have seen perform.  However there are folks attempting to remedy this, including many of the people mentioned above.  Many of these folks have been lecturing, mentoring and training up and coming entertainers of all stripes.  Younger entertainers, like Lovely Buttons, represent the future of family comedic entertainment and people like her are raising the bar for folks like me and other folks on this path.

And to quote Martha Stewart:  “That’s a good thing.”


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