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Mastering simplicity since 1981! Galumphing through life with an understanding wife since 1974! Making people laugh since birth (except for a humorless vice-principal in middle school who didn't think I was very funny at all.)

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CLOWN CREED 2000

 

Clowning is a performance art. We exist to perform. Our obligation is to prepare ourselves for effective and entertaining performances.

 

The primary expectation of our audiences is that we will bring humor into their lives. While delivering humor we can also do many important things such as teach lessons, praise God, help heal troubled souls, and many other worthwhile things. We do these things within the context of our art form and with the understanding that our primary purpose as clowns is to comically entertain.

 

Clowns are of human nature. Clowns are not representations of fictional characters. Clowns are not figments of the imagination. We are human, we are real and we are alive. The clown is an essential part of our human soul. We nurture and care for the clown in us so that it always continues to grow.

 

We respect and learn from clowning's rich past. We also understand that clowning has always changed and grown to adapt to the society of its day. We must not force artificial constrictions on the development and advancement of clowning simply in the name of tradition. Conversely we must not abandon tradition for the mere sake of change. Change should come as natural extensions and adaptations of our tradition.

 

Makeup and costume are merely two of the many tools we use in our clowning. They are not what define us. Costume and makeup styles do change and evolve over the years and will continue to do so. This is a sign of dynamic progress in our art form. No style of makeup or costume is ultimately right or wrong (except in a historical context). Its ultimate criteria today is it’s effectiveness in helping the clown comically entertain.

 

Character development, thought patterns, and styles of action are no longer predetermined by any particular makeup or costume design. Character development determines makeup and costume choices that highlight and augment character. Character development determines thought patterns and range of action appropriate to each situation.

 

Individuals, alleys or clown organizations may freely choose to impose upon themselves restrictions concerning costume, makeup or action. Failure to adhere to these self- imposed restrictions, however, does not preclude anyone from the enjoyment of participation in the art of clowning. Alley and organizational rules are applicable only to those who want to belong to that specific alley or organization and do not speak for the entire clowning world.

 

Clowning is one of the most free and open art forms. It can incorporate aspects of all other art forms. Clowns are free to show expertise or feign incompetence. Clowns are free to explore. Clowns are free to succeed or fail in their endeavors. Clowns are free to laugh and cry. Clowns are free to relate to young and old.

 

Clowning is, and ought to be, inclusive and not restrictive.

 

Joining me in signing Clown Creed 2000 were Marcella "Mama Clown" Murad, J. T. "Bubba" Sikes, Carol "CLaroL" Crooks, Steve "Peachy Keene" Long, Bruce "Charlie" Johnson, Bob "Bunky" Gretton, Teresa "Blinky" Gretton, and Randy "Simon de Clown" Christensen.

 

 

 

About Clown Creed 2000

The New Calliope vol. 16 #2

 

Clown Creed 2000 began as a crazy idea that a large number of esteemed clown educators should get together on a simple declaration.  It would serve as a philosophical base that would enable us to understand who we are as clowns, what is expected of us, and allow us to embrace our past while moving confidently into a very different future. So much has changed, so much has been altered, so much has evolved over the years so as to make even our own self-definition unclear.

As I gave it more thought, I recalled listening to and reading the writings of many of the top educators in the clowning field over the past few years.  While we were divergent in styles, activities, affiliations and personalities both in and out of costume, we all shared the same premise about who clowns are and what we are here to do.  In fact, in our individual ways we have all independently discovered, accepted and taught aspects of Clown Creed 2000.  While I may have been the person who put the words together on paper, it reflects the spirit of all of us who signed the creed.

Clown Creed 2000 addresses our past, our present and our future as performing clowns.  It doesn't cover everything about clowning.  It shouldn't.  It defines us but makes no rules to confine us.  In its potential effect, Clown Creed 2000 changes everything and changes nothing.  We don't wish to create a new organization or destroy an old organization.  We ask for no organizations to take any specific action.  We don't want to replace your rules with our rules.  We don't want followers.  We want good clowning.

This is a very individual creed.  Embrace it or toss it as you see fit.  Its essence is to help you follow your heart's direction.  Know why clowns exist and what is expected of us.  Take your clowning as far as you can, and do it as well as your individual talent permits.  Keep an open mind and an open heart.  While you're spreading around the fun, don't forget to have a little fun yourself.

We invite you to use Clown Creed 2000 as a guide for your own development.  If you teach clowning, we invite you to use it as one of your teaching tools.  Red Skelton said he preferred to be referred to as a clown because "it is the top of the profession. You can do anything, sing, dance, act, and make people laugh or cry."  Clown Creed 2000 emphasizes breaking through artificial restrictions using anything and everything to achieve our intended goal of lifting the spirits of our audiences.

And finally, please concentrate carefully on what we are really saying in Clown Creed 2000.  After many years of writing columns I am used to immediate response criticism that is unfortunately based upon misreading what I have written.  I've been told more than once that I'm no good until the second reading.  What can I say?  It’s my style. If the wording is problematic for you, then talk to one of the many signers.  They go from north to south and east to west.  At least one is at practically every clowning get together nationwide.  It is a truly illustrious crew with first hand experience in every aspect of clowning.  Each one is an open, sharing educator.  They may not always tell you what you want to hear, but they will give you experience tested guidance.

 

 

 

First Of May Advice 

Laugh‑Makers vol. 13 #2

 

"Hi, I'm a brand new clown and I was just wondering if you had any advice for me?"

I love getting asked that question because I have an answer.  Oh boy, do I have an answer!

The folks who ask have usually just finished hearing me teach at a convention and have never read any of my columns in Laugh‑Makers.  I think what they expect is a quick superficial word of cheer, much like when you expect to hear "fine" in return when you say "How are you?"

Instead, I try to distill 5 years worth of this column's advice into a quick conversation.  What I have to tell all new clowns is long and complicated.

Writing this column has always forced me to focus and choose exactly the right words in the right order (as I type this now, I am in my fifth revision) so what follows is exactly what I would like to tell all beginning clowns.

As you go along in clowning there will be no lack of people who will give you extensive lists of rules and regulations, what you can and cannot do, what you must be, how you must look, how you must dress, how you must act, etc.  Run, don't walk, away from these people!

Over the years, I have heard different people firmly state, with no equivocation, that "real" clowns either don't talk, don't eat or drink, don't go to the bathroom, don't show any skin, don't do magic, don't sing, don't use certain colors in their makeup design or don't take money for their clowning.  If you can imagine it someone firmly believes a clown can't or shouldn't do it.

Statements from these people come through the prism of their own experiences and bias.  In our free society, each and every one of us is free to make our own ultimate determinations. Yet, it seems some people are not content to simply say, "I don't eat in costume," or "I never charge for my clowning."  Their personal choices seem to have no validation unless they can be forced on someone else.

There are no ultimate rules in clowning! Repeat that to yourself many times. There are no ultimate rules in clowning!

There are alley, club and organization rules that you may or may not choose to follow based on how badly you want to belong to that alley, club or organization.  That is a personal social issue, not a clowning issue.

All is not anarchy.  While there are no ultimate rules in clowning, there is a rich, extensive, multi‑textured, multi‑cultural history to learn from.  This history will help you learn where we've been, what we've done, how we've done it, what we've done successfully, where our failures are, and how we are evolving.  You'll learn that clowning is a vast smorgasbord that can appeal to any taste or appetite and not a prix fixe menu with limited options.

The alleys, clubs and organizations that create extensive rules for clowning are basically trying to take this lumpy, inconsistent, bubbling stew, fascinating for its variety, and turn it into a creamy, inoffensive, consistent product that becomes ultimately uninteresting because of its unrelenting sameness.  I call it the Disneyfication process.

Don't be afraid to be different.  The key to success is making choices that fit you, that you feel comfortable with.  If that leads you down a new path, go with it.  Clowning is expanded by people creating new paths or rediscovering long, unused old paths.  This is good!

As you develop as a clown, concentrate on the essence of clowning, which is humor, comic character and public performance. Humor is the primary expectation of our audiences and our raison d'etre.  Without comic clown character you are an imposter in a costume (however wonderful or even prize winning that costume may be).  Without public performance you are merely fantasizing.  In my humble opinion (take it or leave it), performances in front of clown only audiences don't count.  We are not here to humor ourselves.

The skills you learn in your development are meant to be used to the greater end and are not ends in themselves.  Once you are past technical competence with makeup and have a costume that suits your needs, keep your mind open for improvement but move on to more important presentational matters.  Balloons make you a balloon artist, but they don't make you a clown.  The same goes for magic, juggling, puppetry, face painting, stickers, or a heart full of good intentions.

Be kind to yourself.  Give yourself a chance to get better.  Get out there and take some entertainment risks.  Learn from everything you see and do.  Adjust as necessary. Do something new.  Stay true to your own philosophical guides.  Don't force your beliefs on others.  Make 'em laugh!

There, aren't you glad you asked?

 

 

The next two articles show the development of one of the key beliefs upon which I base my whole clowning life.  "The 'Human Clown" hammers all around the issue without hitting the nail square on the head.  Years later in the middle of an alley lecture in Richmond Virginia I had that 'Eureka!' moment, and the key element of my whole philosophy of clowning revealed itself to me.  I will never forget that moment, and will never be the same again.

 

 

 

The Human Clown

 Laugh‑Makers vol. 11 #3

 

I've been sitting and stewing again about a philosophical trend that bothers me quite a bit.  When this happens, I usually gather my thoughts and write a column which, in turn, triggers passionate response both positive and negative.  My wife finds this cycle quite humorous since I am normally known for going out of my way to avoid conflict.

The premise I'm concerned with involves whether or not a clown is "human" or  “of human nature."  There seems to be a philosophy developing in the USA that clowns must hide any ties to human origin and become the quintessential "living cartoon."

I've heard the cartoon analogy before and must admit I like it.  I think clowns should study what makes cartoons successful, and incorporate those aspects of entertainment into their own acts.

Being cartoonish is one thing but, in my estimation, you cannot be a cartoon come-to-life.  There are too many ways to prove the assertion false, from a stray hair working its way from under your wig, to the wearing away of makeup at the end of a long day, to somebody pulling off your nose, to the need to eat, drink, do necessary bodily functions, etc.  Upon discovery that what you assert about yourself is not true, you become a common liar.

Nothing I have ever come across in the history and development of clowning claims or implies that the clown is not human.  On the contrary the origins of modern clowning lean heavily on absurd characterizations of recognizable human types.  The origin of the word "clown" comes from comic characterizations of the rough, rude ill-bred, but quite human country bumpkin.  The character clown by definition is an exaggerated, recognizable human type.

I have no idea where the premise of non-humanity for a clown got started, but it seems to be spreading these days unchallenged.  Clown competition rules seem to lean to this philosophical base.  Of course, competition rules are like 55 mile per hour speed limits, theoretically pleasing but only followed when the cops (judges) are around.  It both amuses and baffles me that in clown clubs “skin” has become a four letter word.

Can you be both clown and human?  Of course!  What other choice do you realistically have?  I think it is better to present yourself as a human clown to the public at large.  You can take on any challenge to your authenticity by accepting your own humanity and, at that point, emphasize your bona fides as a human clown.

I'm sure you've heard the taunts as every clown has:

‑"You're not a real clown. "

 ‑"That's not your real nose. "

 ‑"That's not your real hair, its a wig. "

 ‑"I see your skin"

 ‑"You just have makeup on. "

 ‑"You're really an adult dressed up. "

‑"I see the string holding your nose. "

Most of these taunts, based upon some real observation, blow the premise of the living cartoon out of the water and, if you are clinging to that premise, you too are sunk. They need not even phase the human clown and challenge becomes opportunity.

What happens when you are well known (in and out of costume) because you do other public theatrical performances, or teach, or have children whose friends all know you?  What happens when an adult recognizes you out of costume and points you out to their child saying, "Do you know who that really is?"

You can address these sticky situations with solid workable solutions from the human clown perspective that will save the day and solidify your reputation as a "real" clown.  I'm talking from experience.  I've always presented Mr. Rainbow as a human clown.  A minimalist with regard to makeup and costume, I do not go to any extremes to hide skin or human traits. Mr. Rainbow is an exaggerated character to be sure, but definitely part of the human race.

The inevitable taunts casting doubts on your authenticity are easily handled as long as you are willing to take on any challenge with humor and with determination to control the argument.  Following are some examples:

"You're not a real clown!"

 "Are you K. O. razy, of course I'm a real clown. Hey guys, he thinks I'm a fish or an octicklepuss or somfin' silly like that!"  Notice that I've gone from the defensive to the offensive in a humorous non‑threatening manner (and thrown in a bad pun to boot!).

 

"That's not your real nose!"

"Of course its my real nose, I got a receipt for it and everything. "

 

"1 see the string holding it on!"

“Well, how do you hold yours on? OOH... Yuck! You've got one that sticks on that you can't get off. I like these better ‘cause when they get all dirty all I gotta do is flip it up and wipe. You gotta stick your finger up those little holes and wiggle back and forth and sometimes they get stuck and you gotta walk around all day with your finger stuck and your mommy says 'Get your finger out of your nose!' and you say 'I can't, its stuck' and they gotta call the fire department to come & get it out .... "

 

You see where I'm going.  I've turned a defensive situation into a storytelling opportunity.  I am also not challenging the veracity of what they know they have seen. Yes there is a string holding up my nose.  I would be foolish to deny it when all I have to do is explain it.

 

"That's just a red wig!"

"Do you like it? I could switch to purple or chartreuse or deep mauve though I don't know what that looks like.  Anyway, I think I'll keep red.  It runs in the family.  My mommy bought red hair, my daddy bought red hair, all my brothers bought red hair except one.  He didn't buy any hair so that's why we call him Baldy .."

 

"I see brown hair under the red hair!"

 "Wanna know a secret? There's gray under the brown, and white under the gray an under that is my brain and under that .... " I usually work my way down to my belly button.

 

" That's just makeup on your face!"

 "Makes me look pretty good too, don't cha think? ....Don't cha wish you had a camera to take my pickleture?"  Now I mug unmercifully as if I'm in a Vogue photo session.

 

When I am introduced out of costume by a parent to their child, "Shhh! I'm disguised as a regular person now cause I gotta go buy some milk and when I do that in costume everybody talks to me and we start being silly and pretty soon the milk goes sour and have you ever put sour milk on you Cheerios?  Its really yuccchy, so don't tell anybody, O.K?"  Also, since I've slipped into Mr. Rainbow logic, I use his voice, which is a bit different from my own voice.

 

"You're just a man dressed up!"

" Of course I'm dressed up! If I didn't have any clothes on I could get into a lotta trouble not to mention I'd catch a cold and sneeze and have to blow my nose but I couldn't because my handkermechief is in my pocket and I didn't have my pocket because I didn't have any clothes on!"

Let me close with an observation I've made over these many years about what audiences of any age really expect and want from clowns.  They will accept clowns that talk or don't talk, that do or don't do magic, balloons, skits, juggling or any of the carnival arts.  They will accept American style maximum makeup circus clowns, local clowns in jumpsuits, or European style minimalists.  The audience will accept any type or style of clown that fulfills their basic need to be light-heartedly entertained.  That is where the clown's concentration needs to be.

I think the premise of the non‑human living cartoon is an unnecessary distraction to clowning and, when easily disproved by any inquisitive youth, disillusioning and wholly unnecessary.

 

Post Script: Then again there is the argument I call my Miracle on 34th Street defense.  In the movie Miracle on 34th Street. Santa wins in court when postal employees deliver letters addressed to Santa to him, and it is a Federal offense to deliver mail to the wrong person.  I use the North Carolina Department Of Motor Vehicles.  It goes something like this; "I am a real clown and I can prove it.  Do you see the way I am dressed in public?  Well, only two people dress this way in public, clowns and crazy people.  So, I'm either a clown or I am crazy.  Now, according to Department of Motor Vehicles regulations section 7, paragraph 2, sub paragraph 4, it is against the law, to give a crazy person a drivers license, and they gave me a drivers license, so by the power vested in the state of North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, I am in fact a real clown.  E pluribus unum!"  If they insist on seeing the drivers license, I show them the laminated copy of Elvis Presley's license I got in the gift shop across from Graceland.  That gets a laugh from the adults nearby.

 

Now, for my "Eureka!" moment.  Not counting Clown Creed 2000, I think this next article is the best column I've ever written.  Feel free to disagree if you want, its all subjective.  If you are a member of Virginia Alley 3, Richmond Virginia, maybe you remember the evening in the article.

 

 

 

The Biggest Question

The New Calliope vol. 14 #4

 

The question I will ask you to answer a little later on came to me while I was doing a lecture for an alley.  One of the things that I love about teaching is that, unless you are on automatic pilot, it makes you think and rethink about what you are teaching. You find yourself constantly coming up with new and crisper insights that will either reinforce what you believe or occasionally change your mind completely.

My topic that evening led me to address the subject of club rules of makeup and costume and their relation to public clowning.  Still floating through my mind was a talk I had attended a couple of weeks earlier at a major regional convention by a very dynamic lecturer.  He talked about the things you should and should not do in order to "maintain the illusion."  You've heard the litany, don't eat, don't show skin etc.  He made a very convincing emotional case, but I just couldn't buy into it.

It was near the end of my talk weeks later when, all of a sudden, it struck me!  The point was so incredibly obvious yet I've been talking around it for years without actually hitting the real mark.  What illusion?

Maybe it's time to ask yourself this question.  Do you believe that clowns really exist or are they mythical characters like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny?  These three are all lovingly preserved childhood myths but none of us believe that they really exist in anything more than a spiritual sense.

If your answer puts clowns in the mythological category, then no wonder you take astonishingly great pains to hide any link to humanity by covering every square centimeter with makeup, clothing and gloves.  You really do have something to hide.  If you do not believe that clowns really exist then you cannot really be one!

I know what you're going through.  When I play Santa I take extraordinary pains too.  I am not really Santa and a small slip can truly disillusion.  I hate that feeling.  I have had exceptionally good luck playing Santa since 1969 and each year I try to be even more real.  Every year I also get more worried about my ability to help perpetuate this wonderful myth.  I take what I do seriously enough that I go through severe angst every December.

When it comes to clowning however, it's very different.  I believe in clowns!  I believe clowns really exist, that they are real and alive and all around us.  I believe that I am one and nothing can change that.  I am what I am, and what I am is totally independent of makeup, costume and props.

Well, there it is in all its simplicity, the most important question you must address before you go any further.  Do you believe in Clowns?  Take some time for thought before answering.  Your answer affects every step you take from here on in.

If you really truly believe in clowns like I do, than costume and makeup take on a whole different purpose. They cease being things to hide behind and become merely items of adornment.

If you really truly believe in clowns then you are able to break out of the stereotypes that dictate how you must act and that force you into being a one dimensional caricature.

I believe there are real clowns all around us, clowns that have never put on a red nose or applied the greasepaint.  I'm sure my Uncle Bill is a real clown who just never got around to formally recognizing it.  He is a retired government worker and former WWII POW.   He has always been the unofficial fun master for his family and associates. If he were to ever put on a costume and makeup, he wouldn't have to change a thing and the only conceivable comment from people who know him would be "what took you so long."  People say I take after him a lot.  I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands more like him.  I believe in them all, with or without the nose.

I hope you are able to believe in clowns.  I hope you are a clown.  I hope you are a full dimensional clown and accept no artificial boundaries that keep you from developing to the fullest extent possible.  It is a great way to galumph through life.

If you don't believe in clowns, I'm sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

What do you really need to know so you can go out and educate yourself appropriately? I'm so glad you asked!

Entertainment First

Clowning Around vol. 12 #1

 

When I was a teacher many moons ago, I had a principal who would assign all the student teachers to me for a couple of days during their internship. She did this for two reasons. First, she wanted them to see alternative teaching methods, and my methods were about as alternative as you can get. That is another story for another day.

The other reason was that she wanted me to share with them some of my observations about teaching. As you can tell, she was a pretty alternative style principal herself.

One of my observations about the education of teachers was that the skills that made these interns good students were not the skills that would make or break them as teachers in the classroom. Their scholastic experiences made them adept at a series of personal proficiency skills (i.e. student skills). Many of these skills were truly irrelevant to the daily running of an everyday classroom with the normal complement of diverse kids, 99% of whom share the common bond of wanting to do as little work as possible for the highest grade possible.

I had one student teacher go to her university advisor about how to handle a particular disciplinary problem only to be told "if I knew how to handle that I'd still be in the classroom myself!" You may think that is terrible, and it shook her up quite a bit, but I thought it may have been the best eye opening thing that could have happened to her.

One of the most common comments by student teachers when they were given the whole schedule to take over is that "they never taught us how to handle situations like this!" Welcome to the real world.

So, what has this got to do with clowning?

Many clowns try to develop by mastering things that, in the overall scheme of things, are secondary skills. Then, in the heat of public performance, all of a sudden the educational deficiencies become glaring.

The essential ingredient missing is the ability to be entertaining. This is incredibly obvious yet the most often overlooked educational area of clowning.

The ability to make balloon animals does not mean an ability to entertain people. They are separate skills requiring separate preparation. You will readily accept the premise that the ability to entertain does not necessarily encompass the ability to make balloon animals, yet you will assume the reverse order makes you an entertainer.

Some people are entertained by the process of making balloons. People have always gotten a kick out of watching builders do their thing so, in that sense, the process itself can be entertaining. I myself am fascinated by acrobatic pizza makers who flip dough in the air. If you want to settle for that low a level of entertainment, so be it.

The ability to technically perform a magic trick does not automatically translate into the ability to make the trick interesting or entertaining. The quintessential "bad" magician relies on the trick, or the mystery of the process, to be the essence of the entertainment.

The ability to actually speak the lines of a skit does not necessarily mean you have the ability to make those lines interesting and entertaining. Contrast the level of entertainment provided by the local middle school doing West Side Story versus what a professional cast can do. The words and music are the same, yet the entertainment value is very different. The technical proficiency to memorize and say lines in the right order and to not knock over any furniture as you move is not enough.

As you are developing as a clown, keep in mind that the technical skills you learn like makeup and balloons and magic are not the skills that will make you successful in the open arena.

The student teacher needs to develop non-student skills in order to succeed. Those skills are the ability to assess individual student situations and adjust accordingly, the ability to motivate and instill confidence in students and the ability to recognize and use educational opportunities wherever they exist.

Student clowns need to develop non-process skills in order to succeed. They need to develop acting and improvisational skills so that they have the ability to turn any situation into an entertainment opportunity. They need to forego that next balloon class for that overlooked theater arts class.

Clowning is first and foremost a performance art, not a series of separate carnival skills. Never forget that, because it is the key to your future success as a clown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clowning involves certain commitments yon need to understand and accept. The next article makes you aware of one these things you need to understand and commit yourself to. This one can sometimes be a bit of a burden but it comes with the territory. Get used to it.

 

You're On!

The New Calliope vol. 14 #2

 

A few years back I was working a series of big trade shows with a magician when I noticed that I was working twice as much and twice as hard. After the day was over I kidded the magician about how easy he had it. Nobody knew who he was or what he was supposed to do until he announced himself and began doing some tricks. When he was finished, he put his cards and other magical paraphernalia back in his pocket and disappeared into the crowd until he chose to reveal himself again.

I, on the other hand, had no such advantage. As soon as I'm seen, people have an expectation and I had better be prepared to deliver. As long as I was in sight I was "on." Hiding in plain sight was not an option.

While this may appear to be a disadvantage to being a clown, it turned out to be a very big advantage. The next year, the magician was gone! It seemed that the magician couldn't make enough of a presence. Some people knew that a magician was there, but everybody knew that the clown was there. I have just completed my seventh year with this particular trade show group, and it has turned out to be very lucrative. Now the promoter has 3 clowns working the shows.

When you choose clowning as a profession or part time avocation there are a number of things you must commit yourself to, not the least of which is the recognition that if you are seen, you're "on." I don't care what you're doing or hoping to do, if you are doing it in sight, you must do it as a clown! This can sometimes present some very challenging but not insurmountable problems.

If you are a magical clown and need to set up things before your act, the best way to do it is out of sight. Circumstances, however, do not always allow for that. You might consider making the set up a part of your act, or at least make it seem that way.

You can cover your actions with a steady stream of stories or jokes that may or may not have anything to do with the magical items that you are moving. Storytelling doesn't always begin with "Once upon a time..." Storytelling can also begin with "Do you see this table, I got it in a little ice cream shop in Goofystan. Have you ever been to Goofystan? They've got yellow elephants (pronounced 'ellowphant) there. Its a really cool color yellow too, not canary yellow but a shade called mellow yellow. Yep, in Goofystan they have mellow yellow ellophants. And only the boy ellophants are yellow, but they don't call them boys, they call them fellows, so if you see one of these mellow yellow ellophants you know right away it is a fellow mellow yellow ellophant. And if you see one of these fellow mellow yellow ellophants it is polite to say hello so you say "Hello fellow mellow yellow ellophant ...." The kids will get interested in the story and before they know it you have moved in your full magical set.

When the time comes that you have to take a break, you must get out of sight. Even then, be prepared for the inevitable inquisitive kid that follows you to your lair. When you catch them, even with your wig and shoes off and a mouthful of food, stay in character as you ask the child to leave. More than likely, it is the character and not the costume that attracted them, and seeing you out of costume has not necessarily ruined anything in the mind of the child. You dropping character, however, will.

If you don't think I'm very serious about this clowning whenever you are in sight, I've got a good story about a time when nature called and the only facility was a public rest room. Ask me about it sometime when we're together. Lets just say I left 'em laughing, but then again, I'm a clown. That's what I'm supposed to do!

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to go forward when yon are constantly facing backward. I'd been concerned for a long time that the circus base of the past had eroded beneath clowning, yet it still held a grip on our psyche. When Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Clown College closed I had my opening to address the issue. I'll know we've completely come through and are facing forward when clowns who based their careers in hometown clowning are inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame as a natural matter of course. The recent induction of Richard Snowberg is quite encouraging.

 

Moving On

The New Calliope vol. 15 #3

 

Here is the announcement as I got it off the internet:

"A clown glut is the reason behind Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' decision to pull the plug on its famed Clown College. Organized classes in clowning around will now only be made available to working pros; amateurs need not apply. A Ringling Bros. exec says his clown employees gave him a standing ovation when he announced the move. "

 

I'll try to do this as delicately as possible while still saying what I want to say. There seems to be a lot of shock and sadness in parts of the clowning community over the demise of Ringling's Clown College. Some even feel anger with the corporate "suits" that killed the school.

Concern for the school is fine but the real question is what will the overall effect of the loss of Clown College be on clowning's future? The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Whether Ringling's Clown College was intended as an effort to save a specific clowning tradition through a concerted effort to share the secrets of the art, or was simply a prolonged promotional stunt, it succeeded all too well in drawing attention to clowning. Today, there is no lack of places to go to learn whatever you want to know. As a matter of fact, the curriculum of other places like Advanced Studies, Mooseburger U., Laugh Makers Conferences, and Clown Camp have become superior educational experiences to prepare students for the future of clowning.

That is an audacious and no doubt contentious claim but hear me out. The emphasis is on "future."

It has been clear (at least to me) for some time that the future of clowning is in hometown and stage venues and not in the circus. A simple look at numbers proves that. It is in the former that long-term career possibilities realistically exist. But there is more good news. It is also in the former that we are advancing our art and, in fact, that is where our best talent is working.

I have talked with many Clown College graduates over the years. What comes through loud and clear was that the focus and training they got at Clown College was for circus style presentation and circus style alone. The ones who were able to make the successful transition to the hometown kind of clowning where they could continue to make a living have unanimously told me that they had to develop those skills on their own. I've known quite a number who just couldn't successfully make the transition. Up close skills and circus skills are not interchangeable, and up close is the future of clowning.

Here is an unfortunate anecdote. I was doing one of my hospital visits recently and the recreational therapist told that the Ringling advance clown had been by the week before. She said "you know, he was all right in the waiting room with lots of adults but he just didn't seem to know what to do in the kids rooms. He seemed lost." I was genuinely sorry to hear that but not surprised. I said "maybe he was just having an off day."

It's a little sad. Imagine going to a school, no matter how esteemed the name and reputation of the school, to learn a trade or art in which opportunities are withering and will continue to wither and in which advancement is virtually non-existent.

Even worse, imagine also that when it finally came time to promote and highlight someone in that particular art form, the powers that be completely overlook the fruits of its own school's labor to highlight someone else. Ringling's hiring and extensive promotion of David Larible was a real statement about the lack of esteem in which RBBB held its own graduates. Don't get me wrong. David Larible is a wonderful performer, but is he as singular a talent as he is hyped to be? Hype is the operative word here and, with the circus, hype is the name of the game. These are the people who made a goat a unicorn.

I am not intending to disparage in any way RBBB clowns. They do their jobs well. Unfortunately, they have been underestimated and artistically abandoned by their controlling corporation. They have not, however, wasted their time. They have had a wonderful life experience that few share. I feel the same way about my time in the Navy.

Times have changed. The era of the great circus clowns existed at a time when they were valued and cherished by their organizations and allowed to be more than just filler. Can we say that today?

In my early years clowning I thought I'd better look into Clown College. I was a bit older than the normal applicant but I decided that clowning was what I wanted to do with my life. I thought maybe I should seriously consider Clown College. I needed advice so I went to Leon McBryde. He knew me and knew my work. I asked him how hard I should pursue Clown College. He told me it would broaden my skills but it wouldn't make me a better clown. I stopped pursuing it. I can pick up skills anywhere. Evidently, Ringling has come to the same conclusion, and they're right.

Wave good‑bye to Clown College with the same regret with which we waved good-bye to the 33 1/3 rpm LP album. It served its time well but this is a new era. Don't worry about the future of clowning. We are growing and thriving. We will continue to do so as long as we keep looking ahead, keep adapting to change and keep moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

If what you have read so far in this section is starting to sound a bit repetitive (O.K. more than a bit), I have the following responses: First, the basic foundation, upon which we base everything we do, cannot be stressed enough. If a foundation is faulty, the creation will eventually fall. Second, remember that these articles were written unsequentially over a ten year period for three different magazines, all of whom like to have new articles written exclusively for them.

You've got to admire the number of anecdotes I have though. You ain't seen nothin' yet, this is only the first section of the book!

 

ID Please

Clowning Around vol. 11 #12

 

To use an old southern saying, I've got more stories than Carter's got little liver pills. The following story has the added advantage of being true.

I was teaching at the Canada Clown Capers in Toronto and taught the opening session on character development. Things seemed to be going well and the audience was very receptive. Things continued to go well the next day and I seemed to have won over most of the attendees. Then I got into makeup and costume and got ready for the evening show.

Let me back up to tell you that I do not wear an elaborate or ornate costume. It is based on a pair of overalls from a local store. My makeup is not European minimalist but neither is it full-blown greasepaint in the American club style. It is rather a simple auguste design with no base makeup. I wear no gloves and do not even try to cover my skin.

Back to the story.  I came into the room before the show and a number of the clowns were openly disappointed. Three gentlemen in particular came to me to express their disapproval. "If I wore that at my club I'd be tossed out." I responded that I don't clown for a club. "You'd get murdered in competition." I told him I never compete. Finally one of them said, "But man, think of the kids." I said, "I'm always thinking of the kids. I never stop thinking of the kids."

It was time for the show to start. The disappointed gentlemen went to their seats, and I went backstage (OK, backstage in this case was a side hallway).

I was second or third on the bill and happily the routine went well, much to the surprise of my audience helper who was openly trying to sink me in a serious bit of upstaging (Note: If you ever decide to teach and perform at clown conventions, this happens a lot! Why? That's another story for another day.). Actually the routine went quite a bit better than well, I received a standing ovation.

When I got off stage, the three who had gotten on my case before the show were there to congratulate me. One of them said, "Now I know why you don't need makeup."

I tell that story to make this point.  If there is one major flaw in North American clowning it is our reliance on exterior accouterments for our identity.

A nun is not a nun because she wears a habit. What makes her a nun is the personal commitment to all that the religious life stands for. The habit is simply one small exterior expression of that commitment.

Think about any other profession where the uniform is part of the professional persona. The exterior makes for initial easy identification but it is not the definitive proof of being.

Clowning is a specialized performance art whose main focus is humor. I have found throughout my clowning career that audiences will accept any manner and any style of clowning as long as the true identity is established not through costume and makeup, but through theatrical character development and use of humor.

That is how I won back my critics in Toronto, that is how I face my local competition as a full-time professional, and it is what I try to teach others.

What does this mean in terms of managing your own education as a clown? What do you need to be a better clown? More balloon animals to add to your repertoire? A bright new vest? Another new character? The latest Supreme magic trick?  Probably not.

 The things you probably need are more ad-lib improvisational skills, basic theatrical skills that would include mime, vocal characterization technique, and working knowledge of the elements of humor and formula humor techniques.

As you go about the business of bettering yourself in clowning, concentrate on improving the quality of what you do, not the quantity. Let the quality of your clowning be the proof of your identity, not the facade of makeup and costume.