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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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While the articles in this section are under the category of Professionalism, most of them are for all clowns, full time professional, part time professional and those who choose not to charge for money for their clowning for whatever reason. Professionalism is more of an attitude toward what you do than it is the money you charge.

 

                       Turning Pro (abridged) 

                                  Laugh‑Makers vol. 14 #6

 

At some time you may get to the point where you want to chuck it all, follow your heart, and turn into a full time professional entertainer.  I don't presume to know your situation so I can't possibly tell you if it is a good or bad idea.  It should be given very careful consideration and lots of planning.

For me, the decision came at a time when some change had to take place.  As someone with a real day job,  I had been clowning way too much and exhaustion was beginning to take a toll.  A major shift was going to take place at school and it was apparent that something had to give.  I was literally agonizing over the options.

Then, the principal threw out a safety net.  She had always been extremely supportive of me and advised me to go ahead and take a chance.  She said that if it didn't pan out to give her a call and she'd have me right back!  I pretty much had what I needed to jump.  Even then, I fretted that it was quite possibly the dumbest thing I'd ever done (out of countless dumb things).

Time proved the move a good one.  I probably should have done it two years before.  I was very lucky and had incredible support from my wife.  She isn't into clowning but she also knew something had to change.  It helped immeasurably that she also had a real job with real benefits and very rice pay.

It didn't take long before I had basically covered teacher's pay.  It also worked well for the family because most days I was able to be home for the kids after school and monitor their activities during the crucial pre-teen and teenage years.  I became a local celebrity and as one mother once put it, a Durham "rite-of-passage."

If you are approaching the decision about turning pro, evaluate the real support you have.  Is your spouse really behind you, humoring you, or keeping quiet because you do not like hearing someone pop your bubble?  Is the community really clamoring for more of your time?  Are there people in key positions who know you and are willing to help you?  Do you already have a steady list of loyal customers?

How are your finances and safety coverage?  Do you have the ability to replace not only the salary from your previous employment but also whatever benefits package used to cover you?  How's your health?  There are no paid sick days for the self employed.  Don't forget the added taxes for self-employment.

Do you have a plan for getting and keeping enough new customers to keep you busy?  Do you have a plan for increasing slack time business?  Everybody wants Saturday at 2 o'clock but you can only book it once a week.  Your time becomes your inventory but it is non-renewable.  Once its gone, its gone forever.

A lot of the enjoyment you got from part time entertaining came because it was something different from your every day life.  Whatever money you earned was probably gravy.  I'd be willing to bet you under priced the market because, heck, it's so much fun you'd do it for free!

How are you going to feel when you really can't say "no" when someone calls, and you have to miss things that used to get first priority?  Is competition going to turn you into another bitter old pro who moans and groans about those nickel and dimers out there who got the mall job or the company picnic because they were cheaper?  How are you going to feel when your old customers drop you and your new professional price tag for another part-timer.

It takes money to make money but only if it is judiciously and wisely used. Otherwise the taken money goes down the drain.  Are you really going to spring for a huge Yellow Page ad?  Are you aware of the very limited success rate of a direct mail campaign?  Do you really get the kind of "exposure" people promise when they want you for free or at a severely discounted rate?  Just how far down can your price be whittled when you need the money?  Are you ready to deal with people who can afford to pay but just love to bargain?  Under what circumstances are you willing to turn down work?

Lots to consider.  I hope you don't think I am painting a needlessly depressing picture.  Ask around, you'll find I'm just being realistic.  Starting to back off?  Shakespeare understood the human condition when he had Hamlet say "Thus, conscience doth make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought ...and lose the name of action."

I'm not saying don't do it.  I did it and I'm glad I did.  I've never been happier. Whenever I consider the classic question, looking back, what would I change if I could, the answer is nothing!  I'd be afraid to change anything for fear that it would not get me exactly where I am right now.

I'm just saying really consider the stark realities involved.  Formulate answers for all the tough questions.  Don't ignore any potential problem with the hope it just won't happen.

Keep in mind Hamlet was a wimp!  I'll leave you with advice from one of my favorites, Teddy Roosevelt.  "Far better it is to dare mighty things ...than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

 

Even if you don't take a dime for your clowning, you are still in the position of "selling" your free services to someone who might give you the opportunity to perform, whether it be the head nurse of a hospital pediatric ward, a parade organizer, or a school principal.

 

 

 

 

 

                            Buy What You Sell 

                                Laugh‑Makers vol. 15 #6

 

I was reading a book about salesmanship and the author told an anecdote about himself just starting out.  He was selling fine cookware that was not inexpensive but the kind that would give a lifetime of use because of the high quality of material and workmanship.  Things weren't going very well and he sought the advice of an older associate.

The experienced salesman's first question was "Have you bought a set yourself?"  The author's response was that he had not, that he planned to as soon as he felt he could financially swing it.  The older salesman pointed out that was the whole problem in a nutshell.  How could he honestly sell something that he could so easily put off buying himself.  Weren't these the same excuses he was getting from his potential clients?

The older salesman's advice was simple.  He needed to quit being hypothetical and get real.  He needed to buy the product himself, place himself in the same position he was asking his customers to get into, and really see what they see.  Then, from that perspective he would really be able to sell the product to people who were just like him. Needless to say the advice worked and the salesman moved on to fame and fortune.

As a live entertainer, do you spend your hard earned money on live entertainment?  If not, why not?  If so, do you do it because you are curious to see what others are doing or do you do it for the pure enjoyment of it?

As a live comic performer hoping to entertain an audience, do you spend money to see other live comic performers entertain you?  I know you have lots of tapes and watch a lot of sitcoms on television, but are you selling tapes and sitcoms or are you selling a live show?  If you are not committed to live performances, why would you expect anybody else to be?  Would you buy what you are selling?

One of the most gratifying compliments I get is that I really know how to work an audience.  I ought to, I've been in enough audiences to see what works and what doesn't. It is no exaggeration to say that in the last year alone I have spent over a thousand dollars on tickets to live performances for me and my family.  Live performance is what I do, it is what I sell, it is what I believe in and it is what I buy.

You are a clown, why should you buy theatrical tickets?  That's easy, to see some of the finest clowning you will ever see!  Check out A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  Check out any of the early Neil Simon plays.  Check out any French or English farce that may be playing at a college near by.

You do message or cause clowning that turns from funny to serious, where do you go to see that?  I just saw Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize winning play Three Tall Women, an extremely serious play that had moments of side splitting-laughter followed by moments of tears.  Did I expect this when I bought the ticket?  No.  Did I learn a lot as well as be entertained?  Undoubtedly yes.

I most often encourage family entertainers to volunteer at their local theater to learn as much stagecraft as possible from every possible aspect, whether it be on-stage or in the stage crew.  You can get a very valuable technical education this way.  Its not enough.

Become an audience member.  Learn what you like, what moves you, what pleases you, or even what irritates you as a paying audience member.  It will help you see the other side when you are selling yourself.  It will help you pick and choose material that will enhance your career and your financial standing.  At the very least you will be entertained and it will get you out of the house once in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know most people don’t believe me when I say that I wish there were more high quality clown entertainers in my area.  Am I crazy? Crazy like a fox!

                           Real Competition            

                         The New Calliope vol. 14 #5

 

It is no big secret that I am not a fan of clown competitions, but I've made my peace with them.  That doesn't mean I've changed my mind.  I've had my say and am content to let each person decide if club competition is right for them.  If the flame of clown competition is what it takes to get someone serious about improvement, so be it.

Don't call me a non-competitor though.  I do compete!  I don't compete under club rules or at conventions.  I compete every single day.  I work full time as a clown.  I don't compete for plaques or trophies.  I compete for my family's well being.

I know this sounds like its going to turn into one of those "I'm-a-pro-and-you-little-do-gooders-with-your-tiny-price-tags-are-screwing-things-up" diatribes that surface every couple of years.  Far from it.

I've long said that if the pro is losing business to the First of May than the pro must not be nearly as good as he thinks he is.  The public can and will pay for quality! The First of May has no obligation to clear out of the way for anybody.  The pros must constantly be prepared to prove themselves.  That is the nature of real competition.

The issue I want to address is how we sometimes compete in the public arena with total disregard for the long term best interests of clowning.  Too often we think of each other as the enemy.  We treat business competition like two dogs going for the same bone.  Most of the time it doesn't have to be that way.  Clowning, as a whole, would be better served if its commercial participants took a broader view in its attitude toward competition for the public buck.

When I was teaching economics, I ran across a study in which children of different nationalities were given a timed game to play.  In the game, each time a specific event occurred in the competition the winner was rewarded with real money and the game continued until time ran out.  Children from other nationalities figured out a way to have quick alternating winners thereby maximizing the total amount of money won. American children fought vigorously to win each contest minimizing the total amount of money won.

The stereotypical American attitude toward competition is that it isn't good enough to win, someone else must lose!  Victory must be rubbed in the face of the vanquished.  An old cliché is the boast of a new entrant into the market "I will run you out of the business."  There is the prevalent attitude among many that new business must come at the expense of others.  In some cases, where there is a finite demand for any specific good or service, this unfortunately happens to be true.  In other areas there is almost infinite demand and cutthroat competition is unnecessary.

It would be helpful if we knew the difference and acted accordingly.  For example, a good friend of mine had a weekly restaurant gig.  Once he got it, others began approaching the restaurant about getting the booking away from him.  There were the whispered promises "I can do it for less!"  Little did they know that the manager would tell my friend about the attempts.

The person who does this erroneously views this market as finite.  They think that the only way to get work is to take it from someone else.  Think of it like a boat of fishermen all with hooks in the water.  One snags a fish and immediately all the other fishermen start throwing lines at the already hooked fish.  If it wasn't so pathetic, it would be lunacy worthy of a bunch of clowns.

In this circumstance there is a better way for everybody in the long run.  Don't spend all your time figuring out how to split the existing market.  It is just as possible to expand the market!  If one restaurant is running a successful program with clown entertainers, other restaurants will notice and be more receptive to the concept.

The second entertainer would do better to concentrate his or her efforts on expanding the market to other establishments based on the success of the first entertainer. The overall market for clown entertainment will be expanded.  It may even lay the groundwork for even more expansion of the market.  Additionally, the price structure of the first clown becomes the benchmark to use instead of something to be undercut!  Trust me, there will come a time when you don't want to be trapped by the stigma of being the "cheap" clown.

Birthday parties are another area of almost unlimited potential market expansion. How many kids ages 3 to 7 are there in your area?  They all have birthdays!  There are probably enough to keep you and every clown in your area busy beyond belief.  It is almost insane to play the cutthroat game with birthday parties.

It may surprise you but I have a list of other clowns whose acts I think are good that I freely give out when I can't do a gig.  I am happy to help them out because I think that by being good they keep expanding the market and I benefit from that.  I also have quite a number of names I wouldn't give out for money.

There are finite conditions that will unfortunately pit everybody going for the same booking.  Trade shows are one example.  I have been doing a series of shows for six years now and the promoter has been approached many times by other entertainers. Occasionally he has brought in others for short tryouts.

In this case I'm not upset with the others for making themselves available to the promoter, that's business.  Unlike restaurants, there aren't literally hundreds of trade shows in my area.  In this case its not like fishermen in a boat. In this case it is a final pork chop on a plate with four hungry people.  Let the best man or woman win.  That's real competition and I'm a willing participant.  So far, I'm winning but I'd better be good to keep winning!  If at some time I lose out I will look to myself for a solution and not blame the new winner.

Actually, in the case of this particular trade show, the promoter’s satisfaction with me sold him on clowns but he couldn't find satisfactory additions.  He asked me for help and I brought him three other clowns, two of which he has kept.  He has also dropped or severely cut back the other non-clown entertainment since he found that we entertained the adults just as well as we entertained the kids.

Now the three of us are getting feelers from other trade show promoters.  I know that one promoter in Pennsylvania didn't get us but he did hire a different group. We sold the concept and clowning won even if we didn't personally cash in.  I'm sorry I didn't get the job but I'm glad I sold clowning.

Our real competition is not a cutthroat battle with each other.  It is a competition to reestablish clowning as a desirable entertainment form. It is a battle to overcome the prevalent mediocrity in clowning that bases our identity on our look and our handouts, not on our entertainment value.

If you are really good, I want you out there competing with me.  Sometimes you will win and sometimes I will win, but in the meantime we will expand the market and we will both win.  If you are really good, it is time to stop setting your sights on trophies and start aiming for audiences full of real people, not other clowns.  It may be the toughest but ultimately most rewarding competition you ever enter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show Business is two words. If you don't clown for money, or clown for causes only, you are still part of the business. We all have an interest in keeping the business alive and well.

 

 Catch 22                                    Laugh‑Makers vol. 11 #4

 

I started and quit reading the book Catch 22 several times.  I just didn't get it. Fortunately, I kept trying because there came a point when it all began to make sense.  I was in the Navy and began experiencing some of the inconsistencies and incongruities the book exaggerates for humorous purposes.

One example of a "Catch 22" situation is the book's hero (anti-hero?) who wants to turn himself in as crazy.  The doctor informs him that if he turns himself in as crazy, he obviously cannot be crazy, but then explains that he can't begin an evaluation to determine craziness except upon request.  Of course, requesting to be evaluated automatically determines the result!  Damned if you do and damned if you don't.  "Catch 22."

I'm reminded of this situation when I read things in various magazines by "working pros" saying that "you little guys" are fouling up the market by underpricing the pro, or by giving it away when it should be paid for.  One letter from a "circus clown" declared that the art is dying because of the amateurs.  An equally vehement argument rages that the little guys have no right charging professional fees.

Summing up this sticky "Catch 22" situation goes something like this: Work as much as you can to get as good as you can, but don't work for free, don't undercut the pro who does it for a living, and don't charge a pro fee. Is that clear?!?

I think the only logical conclusion to all this advice is "Get out of my way, don't work!"

Meanwhile, these same advice-giving pros work the lecture and convention circuit telling you that the only way to get better is to get out there and work!  As with most issues, truth permeates each position but what is being left out is the whole truth. Let's examine the different aspects of this mire.

First is the issue of underpricing the full time pro. Lets define whom we are talking about. If it's the anything-for-a-buck-greasepaint-geek who promises the sun, moon and stars in a hyperbolized Yellow Pages ad, my advice is don't even take them into consideration and don't associate with them professionally if you can help it. They get the type of client who thinks a clown is anyone or anything in greasepaint. My experience is that they sow the seeds of their own destruction. They tend to overcharge a gullible public and you can't help but under price them sometimes. You'll find their rates (along with their professional standards) are quite flexible.

A better example to consider is the working pro who takes the profession seriously and does what even you consider to be a fantastic job worthy of a higher fee.

I've read more than a few bitter articles by "big name" clowns who claim they lost a mall job to "locals" who undercut them.  I've read others complain that they can't compete in the company picnic arena with alleys that provide a ton of clowns for virtually peanuts.  I've been caught in the situation myself and know the feeling.

I don't find myself able to blame the "locals" or the alleys, however.  It’s up to me to sell the consumer on my difference, and to convince them that, in their case, thrift or quantity do not necessarily make up for quality.  I repeat, it is up to me, my marketing skills, and especially my reputation.

In fact, sometimes the consumer is better off with quantity or thrift at the expense of quality.  I've turned down jobs where I would not have been used effectively (e.g. standing on the side of the road waving to get attention; I did it once, never again!).  I very frankly have told callers to save themselves a lot of money and dress up a couple of teenagers.  Funny thing though, I usually get called back by these people on other occasions when they need a real entertainer.

On the other hand, as you develop as a clown, you need to keep in mind your public reputation and the public's perceptions about the relationship between quality and price.  Basically, the general public automatically perceives a high price as indicative of high quality and a low price indicative of low quality.

If you severely undercut the prices of others, the cumulative effect will be your reputation as a low rent substitute for a real pro.  Perceptions are hard to change and when the time comes that you are polished enough to deserve a high fee, you will find resistance by past clients to use you at a higher fee.  You may be forced to go after a whole new group of clients.

One recommendation is to find out what the anything-for-a-buck-greasepaint-geek charges and slightly undercut him.  No doubt you will do a better job and get a reputation as a real bargain as opposed to a cheap substitute.

There is also the issue of gratis work.  If you get the reputation for doing things free, that is exactly what you will be expected to do.  For those of you who do not clown for money…there are many of you and I do respect your decision in this matter…at least get into the habit of establishing a concrete value of what you are giving away.

For example, a friend of mine, who does a lot of gratis work in the area as well as paid work, recently did a company picnic with another clown for $1000, the money going to a hospice organization.  Their clowning helped advance a social cause of their choice, and the company paid market value for all the services they got.  All winners…no losers. They did not foul up the price structure for other pros in the area.

If you are willing to work for free, and want to help causes, donate your services at community charity auctions and put down a good legitimate commercial value of what is being donated.  Do not leave the value part of the donation form blank. The people bid commensurate with the stated value.  Items that have no stated value tend to get very little bidding interest.  If you have donated a birthday party at the stated value of $100, the charity will probably get more at the auction.  The mother of the next birthday child (who heard about the rousing success of the donated party) will probably be aware of the $100 fee and expect to pay that.

By the same token, if you don't clown for personal financial gain but, due to your popularity, are in demand at private functions, charge the private party at market value and then donate that money wherever you so desire.  Again, everybody wins.

Of all the competitive pricing situations we've been talking about, charging a pro price for an amateur show is probably worse for you and for clowning in general. Overpaying, or the feeling of being gypped, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the consumer for a long, long time.  It can eventually lead to the failure of the overcharging act or product.  The worst possible word of mouth is that an act wasn't worth it or, worse yet, a rip-off.

Actually, in my area I attribute some of my success to an overcharging anything-for-a-buck-greasepaint-geek.  He's great for my business.  I've gotten many calls from people who were going to call the other guy because of his Yellow Page ad, but whose friends vehemently discouraged them and told them about me.  Associated businesses (party and balloon delivery stores, etc.) don't recommend him either because it would reflect on their own reputations.

Overcharging is bad for clowning in general because of the public's perception of price related to quality.  If a consumer gets burned on a high price for a mediocre show, they assume mediocrity is the norm.  Much as I hate to admit it, to the general public, a clown is a clown is a clown.  Interchangeable entities.  I spend considerable sales time trying to break this perception and prove that I'm not just another costumed face, but a polished professional entertainer.

The only ethical obligation the little guys really have to the pros is not to represent themselves to the public as something they are not.  They are not the same product at a lower price.  This is a gift to themselves and their reputations over the long haul than any deference to the pro.

Meanwhile, a word to the working pros who complain so much.  Life is tough! Business is tough!  The reality of the marketplace is that you constantly have to prove to the consumer that you are indeed better than the alternative and worthy of the fees you charge.  You need to do this in a positive manner that enhances your reputation and not in a mean-mouthing way that sullies yourself as much as you intend to hurt your competition.  You can't just expect to bully people out of the market because of your name and your price tag.

If you lose an account you used to have to someone else who charges less, you need to look at the possibility the consumer didn't think you were worth what they paid the last time.  Maybe you weren't as good as you led them to believe, or you were overqualified to handle what they really wanted, or they simply wanted to sample the market.  If they return to you after sampling your competition, maybe they found out that you are indeed worth it.  If they stick with your competition, you've got a real problem. Don't blame misfortune on other people.  Study yourself

My final word to the full time pro, the aspiring pro, the weekend warrior, and the non-profit clown is that we are equally capable of fouling the water.  We are also capable of peacefully co-existing while providing a wonderful service to the community at large. It's up to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trade Shows                            Laugh‑Makers vol. 16 #1

 

Here's the scene.  There are two trade shows going on at the Charlotte N.C. Merchandise Mart.  One is in conjunction with the national convention for the World Karting Association.  The other is a recreational vehicle and camping show.  My boss is promoting both.  They both open at 10:00 a.m. and they both come through the same door.

People start arriving before 9:00 a.m.  By 9:30 a.m., the lobby is packed wall-to-wall with roughly 250-300 people getting pretty tired of waiting.  The line outside is getting longer and longer by the second.  It is a remarkably warm clear day for January.

The cart racing conventioneers are predominately males, age 15-30, who probably think Jeff Foxworthy routines are a documentary on their lives.  The recreational vehicle crowd is mostly retirees.  There are probably a maximum of ten "kids" under age 10 among the entire group in the lobby.

What happens next?  Send in the clowns!

This scenario may seem to be out of a nightmare or, at the very least, odd but I assure you it is completely true.  Welcome to trade show clowning!

So, what do you do?  If you try to do kid show entertainment for a crowd like this they will literally eat you alive!  Heckling to a lot of these people is a sport!  What did I do?

I waded right into the center of this crowd and did some comedy songs and ad-lib conversational humor aimed at the demographics of the audience.  A little while later Calvin Klown came out on stilts.  He waded right in and we went right into a no prop, no set up skit (no room for anything) that always gets good laughs.  Tutu then waded in with some "sign" humor and that was our cue to start another skit.  By the time that ended we'd covered 25 minutes and the doors opened 5 minutes early.

Next, Calvin and I went outside for an hour and a half for crowd control, trying to split one huge line into two more manageable lines leading into separate doors, and trying to maintain line integrity while trying to be funny enough to make people forget they have been waiting up to 45 minutes to get in.  In a 2 hour period, about 3,700 people pass by.  When the lines finally dwindled down we went back in the building for the normal business of entertaining the attendees and vendors until 9:00 p.m. when the show closed for the evening.

I'm often asked by other clowns what I do at Trade Shows.  They are usually looking for specific routines and bits.  Sure I do a bunch of them, but that is not the best answer I have to give.  The best answer I have is in terms of needs and goals.  The bits and routines are simply devices used to achieve those goals.

Start with the needs of whoever hired you.  In the case of the N.C. Recreational Vehicle and Camping Show it is the promoter, Eric Berg of Apple Rock Inc.  Early on in our association he told me my job was to entertain the crowd when it is busy and entertain the vendors when it is slow.  As the promoter, he has to keep both groups happy.  I am one of his tools in achieving this goal.

Other needs have included the type of pre-show entertainment described above when the crowd gets too big too early.  One of his shows includes two different buildings and he has made it the job of the clowns to make sure people got to both buildings.  If for some reason foot traffic is skipping a certain area of the building, he positions us in that area to entice more people there.  Acoustics are often lousy in huge buildings so he uses us as secondary announcement sources as we walk down aisles repeating necessary announcements.  It is also expected that we will perform these additional functions not only effectively but also in an entertaining and comic way.

The promoter also wants the majority of people at a show to know and remember that entertainment was provided for them.  To do this I need to establish a clear strong entertainment presence.  It is not enough to be seen.  I have to make comedic contact with as many people as possible during the day.  I can't be just some guy in a costume distributing trinkets and stuff.  I have to make it very clear that I am an entertainer and, when I am anywhere nearby, you can expect some kind of comic entertainment.  A lot of my bits are interactive, requiring some sort of response from the audience member.  That way they didn't watch something, they participated in it!

In my first year with the RV shows they also had a roving magician.  The magician just couldn't establish a presence.  Only those people who happened to see him do a trick knew he was there.  He was a very good magician by the way, but not effective in terms of the promoter's goals.  After the first year he was gone.  Everybody who left the building knew I was there!  And I'm still there.

It is essential that I establish early that I am an entertainer for all ages.  I am not there exclusively for the kids, there are very few kids!  I have lots of laughs for adults. Adults usually won't come up to me so I go right up to them and start in on a bit that may be a joke or a song or a trick.  At trade shows, if you don't have material for grown ups you are in the wrong venue.  I'm not talking X or R rated material.  I'm talking G to PG rated adult humor.  Clever puns and wordplay are an example.  Occasionally you can dip into the kid show stuff but most of the time you need to have adult level humor prepared.

Entertaining the crowd all day is the easier part of the job since you can recycle your bits again and again.  Entertaining the vendors all day is another matter.  They will be with you all day or all weekend or through a series of shows and want to see new stuff all the time.  The more improvisational you are the more you will be able to keep the vendors happy since you are constantly changing.

Speaking of vendors, they have their own set of needs and goals you need to keep in mind and work around  Some will want you near their booth and some will want you to stay away.  You need to establish early which is which.  Even for the ones who want you near, there will be times they want you to move on so they can conduct business. Some vendors will want you to camp out at their booth.  That's fine if they are the ones paying you but if you are hired by the promoter, you need to keep all of them happy. There are probably a couple of competitors at the show who won't appreciate you staying at one person's booth.

Since I'm very improvisational, I try to pick out something at each vendor’s booth that I can publicly promote each time I pass by or visit the booth. One table had it worked out that when they wanted to give somebody a free weekend at their campground they had a signal they would give me and a I'd lose the quasi-shell game I was playing with customers and they won the weekend.  I've been told by vendors that I have been instrumental in quite a number of sales of widely varied products over the years. "Just part of the job, Ma'am!"

I also try to work with other entertainers who might be working the show, like jugglers, magicians and especially musicians.  I try to work with and not interfere with someone else's act.  An example would be a number of comic musical bits a bluegrass banjo player and I worked out to do each time I passed him by.  95% of the day he is doing his thing and I am doing mine but 5% of the time we meshed our separate arts into some pretty funny bits like "Dueling Banjos" between his banjo and my nose whistle ( a bit that has never failed to stop people in their tracks and get both laughs and applause.)

Another important thing to do is get to know where things are, especially in a large trade show.  Believe it or not, you will get asked a lot of informational questions like where is the snack shop, where are the rest rooms or where is a particular dealer.  You can come back with a funny line, but it helps if you know the real answer to follow up.  Think of it from the questioner's perspective.  There are a lot of people around and it’s hard to tell who works there and who to ask questions.  They are pretty doggone sure you work there so they ask you.

You may need to confine your act to minimal space.  Don't clog the aisles.  Don't give a full show to a standing crowd in the middle of things.  At the R. V. Show, when it gets really crowded, I will climb on top of one of the R.V.s and sing semi appropriate songs and parodies ("Up On The Roof, " "If I Were A Rich 'Clown, " "Somewhere Over An R. V. ").  Believe it or not, this always gets laughs!

Above all, if you are going to be there all day or more than one day, pace yourself!  It is a marathon, not a sprint.  Making it to the end of the show without getting carried out on a stretcher is a high priority.  I still chuckle about the first trade show experience of a fellow clown who shall remain nameless.  He was filling in for me for two days because I had booking conflicts.  He gave it all he had the first day, and did the second day in mime ...and not by choice.  His voice was completely, totally shot.  My only regret was that I wasn't there to see Calvin Klown in mime.  So much for anonymity.

All in all, trade show clowning is a very tough sell, for the opportunity to entertain a challenging crowd, working a grueling schedule.  It will either kill you or turn you into a seasoned unshakable family entertainer.  I love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someday, somebody is going to offer you money to teach clowning.

 If you agree to do it, and don't just lightly agree without thinking about it, you need to have a plan. Here is a good start.  Also, you have my permission to copy and distribute Clown Creed 2000.  Finally, I hope that you would eventually recommend this book to those who seem to be taking it seriously.

Clowning 101                           Laugh‑Makers vol. 12 #1

 

I teach an introductory clown class to public school students through a program called Creative Arts In The Public Schools.  The program is a hands-on teaching program and not a performance opportunity.  All types of performance and fine arts are represented in the program.

I have been with the program going on 6 years.  I've taught the gamut from 12th grade drama classes to all seventh graders in a middle school.  The predominant call for my services comes from third grade teachers.

To be successful in a venture like this you really have to know what you want to teach, what you can realistically teach and, probably most importantly, what you cannot do.

Can I teach kids to be clowns in a week?  Absolutely not, no one can.  To insinuate that I could would be incredibly demeaning to the art of clowning.  Then what do I teach them?

I want them to understand that clowning is a performance art that requires knowledge, thought, talent, and lots of hard work and practice.  I want them to know where to start should they want to begin the journey that leads them to clowning.  I want them to respect clowns and have high expectations for clowning as performance art.  Is this possible?  I think it is.

The first class day is the key to the entire week's success.  The day opens with a 7-10 minute silent routine involving my entering the room and introducing myself.  An amazing array of obstacles get in my way.  The door causes me problems, so does a student's chair, so does my balloon bag,  so does the chalkboard, etc.

It is a nice little routine that literally has them rolling in the aisles.  It finally ends with me saying very plainly, "I am a clown, or did you figure that out already."

After a few introductory remarks about what the class will be about and what we will be doing the subsequent days, I say that first of all if we are to study about clowns we have to determine what the definition of a clown is.  "I don't like the dictionary definition, so let me ask you this question.  If you were at a street festival and saw a clown on the corner, how would you know it was a clown?  What would you see that proves it?"

The answers over the years almost never vary from the following list: makeup, wig, balloons, funny, magic, red nose, big shoes, juggling, costume, unicycling, balancing feathers, etc.

I put an "X" beside makeup, wig, red nose, big shoes and costume, and ask what they all have in common.  The kids always come up with the answer, "that's what a clown wears."  I then put a check beside balloons, magic, juggling, unicycling, and balancing and ask what they all have in common.  The answer comes "That's what a clown does."

I then circle the only thing left on the list, funny, and ask what that means.  The answer comes back, "That's what a clown is."

This then becomes the defining feature of a clown.  Any other side element of what a clown may wear or do becomes secondary to what a clown is (or should be) in the mind of the audience.

Since that is my defining feature of a clown, that is what I had better well teach or I am not being true to myself, or clowning, or fair to the students.

The rest of the day is on comic formulas and the use of comic formula to create humor.  My entire opening routine, fresh in their minds, is analyzed in relation to the comic formulas I have just taught

We then brainstorm on specific normal occasions that can be made funny using comic formulas.  Believe it or not, third graders are very capable of understanding and using comic formulas.  I have learned a great deal from them over the years. 

I think I may have forgotten to tell you one very important point about the class. I never get into makeup and costume for the kids. I have found this to be a distraction and non‑supportive of the main points I am trying to get across.  I don't want them to accept me as a real clown because I'm wearing something.

Probably the biggest point I want to make for the whole week is that it is not the costume or makeup that makes you a clown.  I've made the defining feature of a clown the ability to make things funny, independent of costume and makeup.  Since that is the defining feature, I had better convincingly demonstrate a command of it.  I don't want them to think that it was the makeup or costume that they were laughing at.  It was me, the clown!

During the brief course the kids are introduced to makeup in an academic sense on the second day and get their hands on makeup on the final day, and only for purposes of basic technique.  I don't care much how their faces turn out, just as I don't care how proportional their first balloon dog turns out.  Once they have some basic technique, they can worry about aesthetics later.

They also get introduced to clowning skills like juggling, ballooning, puppetry, etc., but each day starts with a review of comic formula, and each skill in introduced with the reminder, juggling makes you a juggler, magic makes you a magician, how you do it makes you a clown."

At the end of the week the kids have an appreciation for the creativity and thought that should go into being a clown.  They have a philosophical base, a set of priorities, and a fundamental understanding of how to proceed should they desire to do so.  That was my goal in the first place.

If only adults were this easy to teach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Hog Day" was my title for this article.  Cal Olsen, editor at The New Calliope, ran it under the title, "The $16.50 Seven Hour Walkaround. "  I got a lot of mail from people asking where could find these tricks.  These are almost all very low-end items and with the exception of the Magic Frog blow string, they are marketed to kids. The Magic Frog was something I found at a close out store, tried it, discovered its supremacy to other styles, and bought all they had. You can either start scrounging around close out stores to see if they have any or contact me.

Hog Day                               The New Calliope vol. 15 #5

 

I just finished 7 hours walkaround at an outdoor festival in 95 degree heat.  I was supposed to do 6 hours but somehow during the day something happened to my watch and it went back almost an hour so when my watch read 4:00 and I quit, it was really 4:55.  I didn't catch the discrepancy until I got home and my wife asked why I was so late.  Anyway, that's not what this column is about.

This story is about what I did for the almost 7 hours.  A little background is in order.  Hog Day is a county festival that draws one of the larger regional crowds in the southeast according to a trade group that tracks such things.  One part of the set up is an area for non-profit organizations to set up booths, publicize themselves and possibly make money selling things.  Each year I have been there, there has been a group (or groups) doing face painting or balloon sculpturing for profit.  That really means that if I were to engage in either of these two common clown activities, I would be hurting the earning potential of booths of people who paid to be there.  In past years I have been assigned a time to do a small show at a specific spot but not for the past two years.

Are you starting to get the general picture?  What I was supposed to do for 6 hours was wade through the crowd and clown.  I carried no bags or suitcases or bulky set ups.  Under these circumstances, one of the more interesting and enlightening questions would be "What was in my pockets?"

I'm so glad you asked!  In my pockets (in addition to my wallet and car keys) I packed;

-   a Chinese yo‑yo with a one hundred dollar bill paper design. Approximate retail cost $1.

-   a magic age cards trick (6 cards). Approximate retail cost $1.

-   a 5 foot length of soft cotton magicians rope. Approximate retail cost 50 cents. 

-   a crystal coin case magic trick. Approximate retail cost $1.

-   a small ring and spring magic trick. Approximate retail cost $1.

-   8 one million dollar bills. Approximate retail cost $2.

-   a nose flute. Approximate retail cost $3.

-   animals card trick (11 cards). Approximate retail cost $2.

-   Magic Frog blow string toy. Approximate retail cost $5.

-   ‑ a quarter

-   ‑ 6 real $2 bills.

And that's all!  Seven hours entertainment value gotten out of about $16.50 worth of props. That is less than one normal prop that is good for a lot less time. Of course, if you've been reading me for years in Laugh Makers then you know my mantra, "Its not the prop, its not the costume, its not the makeup, its not the balloons or tricks... its the clown underneath it all that matters!"

I'm not counting the quarter or the $2 bills.  The quarter was for use with the crystal coin case trick.  I keep $2 bills in my pocket whenever I clown just in case I have to buy anything or pay for anything like parking.  It is fun to watch the faces of shopkeepers and gas station and parking lot attendants when I pay for things with $2 bills.  One young clerk took it back to the manager to see if it was real!  The $2 bill fits into my clowning wherever you are philosophy.

I did impromptu clown magic shows busker style in the streets with the rope and the animal cards and the crystal coin case.  Just because these tricks are cheap and easy doesn't mean they can't be done well and provide entertainment.  Occasionally I would do just one trick for one family.  I even did a small clown magic show while having my feet massaged by a masseur giving free foot massages on behalf of a local health club.

I used the million dollar bills to entice people to play along with my "soft" sucker gags like the ring and spring.  The winner gets a million dollar bill!  I found that to use real money gets people too involved and intent on winning and disappointed if they don't.  I don't get that kind of reaction with the million dollar bills.  Of course without an interesting potential prize the players won't stay and play.  The million dollar bill fills that void.  I only lose when I want to lose and sometimes I want to lose so I carry more than one.  Other "soft" sucker gags I used were "name that tune" with the nose flute (using songs with same tunes but different words), and heads or tails with the quarter (coin disappears at the end so it is neither heads nor tails).

I used the Chinese yo-yo to have something interesting and visual to do while walking around.  There is something about a Chinese yo-yo that grabs attention.  I also use it to bop helium balloons held by the kids.

The Magic Frog blow string frog toy is one of the most versatile things I own. It is visually interesting, has a magical effect, has audience participation possibility for all ages, and is the basis of one of my funniest walk around gags.  I've used other blow string toys before but the Magic Frog has gotten the strongest audience reaction.

Is that all?  Heavens no!  I danced with people, sang accapella, told strings of connected jokes (I call them joke parades) and had countless conversations on countless topics that I was able to add a comic touch to.  I was exhausted but also exhilarated.

What did I do at Hog Day? I just clowned around!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So you want to perform at festivals?  Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.  Here is another festival experience article.

 

A Tale Of Two Days               The New Calliope Vol. 16  #5

I just finished two days at an outdoor festival. The days couldn't have been more different and are illustrative of some of the highs and lows of clowning at festivals.

Saturday I was booked from 10 to 6. I was still getting over a viral infection that had laid me pretty low. Fortunately everything went very well, too well as a matter of fact.

When things go too well at events like this I have a tendency to not take proper care of myself. I forgot to take some necessary breaks, I neglected to keep fluids in my system, I forgot to take ibuprofen through the day, and I didn't eat (yeah, I know, its hard to imagine me forgetting food). I should know better but I got carried away. The festival organizer came by to say what a great job I was doing. That just made me want to keep it up.

Just as I was finishing the last of three stage shows and it was time to leave, it started raining. When I got in my car to drive home it all started catching up to me. My back was stiff and sore. My body was aching. The driving position hurt. The rain got harder and the traffic got heavier. I was too exhausted to eat and my head was about to split. After about 25 minutes the ibuprofen finally kicked in and I was hurting a little bit less, but, it was still raining, my back still hurt and I had 25 more minutes of driving ahead.

It was a happy pain. I'd made literally hundreds of successful comedic clown contacts. I had been in the old proverbial "zone" and everything went right. My ad-libs were quick and funny and my timing was impeccable. I don't know about you but at times like this I'm proud of myself.

My wife and I got home about the same time. She was tired too and we struggled to get some food on the table. I find it hard to eat when I am this tired. I went to bed early but spent hours tossing and turning because of my body aches.

Sunday I got to the festival in a happy mood from the previous day's successes. It was a very different kind of crowd. Things were going well until a roaming group of 10-12 year old boys decided to have some fun picking on me as I worked one particular gag through the crowd. I tried to ignore them, but they just wouldn't be ignored. I tried to lose them but it's hard to hide when you're a clown. I tried going very low key so they would lose interest in me but to no avail. I deflected several attempts to grab my nose and to rummage through my pockets.

Finally, as I was doing my running gag with a family, I saw one of the boys reach from behind and try to grab my prop. I very smoothly put a vice grip on his arm and held it. I concluded my bit with the family and they moved on with me still holding on tight. I looked at the kid and said very softly but sternly "Don't grab my stuff, OK?" That is usually my final move before looking for the police or some other form of security. The offending kid moved away with his friends but spent time yelling at me from a distance. Unfortunately I had to use my vice grip maneuver three times that day.

Another sour spot was when an older teen boy saw me and physically picked up a teenage girl and headed for me laughing and saying "Hey come here, she's scared of clowns!" The teenage girl was obviously terrified and was screaming. I left the area quickly.

Some days the jerks are out in full force. This was one of those days. It seemed every time I turned around some teenage boy was intending to do something to me. What an incredible difference from the day before.

I finished Sunday physically better off but mentally and emotionally drained. I felt that it had been a horrible day and I was not very happy. I tried to remember the good things that had happened. It had not been completely disastrous. A two year old had walked right up and sat next to me and started chatting. Her mom came up and said the little girl was scared of just about everything and was absolutely astonished that she would come to me. That is the kind of stuff you should remember and focus on but the run-ins with the jerks certainly put a damper on my attitude. What a bittersweet day it was.

At conventions many times people come up and ask if these types of things ever happen to me. Unfortunately yes. You get through it by getting through it and pray that there are more "Saturdays" than "Sundays" in your future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there is Hospital Clowning, what some people call Caring Clowning. The following article started out as personal therapy. I wasn't altogether sure what I would ever do with it. Everybody copes with sad experiences in different ways. Sitting and writing didn't exactly make me feel better, but it did channel my emotions into an outlet that brought everything to the surface.

Gabye                                         Laugh‑Makers vol. 13 #4

 

Mr. Rainbow went to the hospital today for his regular visit to the outpatient pediatric oncology clinic. The play therapist on duty headed me off and pulled me into a private side room. She wanted to let me know that Gabye died yesterday.

Gabye was a wonderful 16 year old girl whose cancer had returned. Mr. Rainbow had visited her a lot over the last few years. I still use the key chain she made for me as a going away present when she left the hospital the last time her cancer was in remission.

The day she died I was making a musical tape of Mr. Rainbow songs for her. She got a real kick out of my songs and she was scheduled to be isolated in the bone marrow unit. I thought the tape would help her pass the time.

I had a picture of her in my pocket that she had given me during my last visit. I was going to surprise her by making a button out of it and putting it on my costume.

The special thing about Gabye was that she made me feel better each time I visited I'm so used to pushing out the entertainment and dominating the situation in my character that it was a little strange to have one of the kids reciprocate and come right back at me in a pure sharing of good company.

Most of the time room visits with kids in the hospital have a definite time span and it is obvious when to pack up and go. With Gabye there never seemed a good time and each time I left, I left grudgingly.

Visiting hospitals may seem a natural thing for a clown to do. You may think it is something you should do. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it is not a decision to take lightly.

If ever there comes a time in your clowning when you must have a realistic set of performance goals, an overall abiding philosophy, a well developed character, flexible but definite structure, concentration, focus, and a clear set of parameters within which to operate, it is in hospital clowning. A big heart is not enough because its guaranteed to break. You then find yourself unable to carry on.

Laugh-Makers a while back did a whole issue (Vol. 9, no.2) on hospital clowning. In it I found one of the most useful philosophical guides for hospital clowning. Kim Winslow of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit said, "we are not there to treat their illness... We're there to treat their wellness ...we're there not to appeal to the sick part but to the part that's still just a child and wants to play."

I surmised long ago that no matter what physical shape the body is in, inside there is a child looking at a clown. I may be looking at a burn victim but I have to see through the patient and see the child. The child doesn't see what I am seeing.

Certainly there are obstacles to overcome. There are physical handicaps to overcome but between the two of you you'll figure out something. I remember the time a girl wanted to be the helper who held the magic wand. She had no arms. I said "sure" and held out the wand. She leaned forward and took the wand between her chin and neck and the show went on. In subsequent visits she used to chase me down the hall in her wheelchair steering with her chin.

There are times when you have to have an extremely strong stomach, especially around burn patients, in intensive care units and in orthopedic hospitals. When I feel that a situation is too much even for me, I concentrate on the eyes and play to the eyes.

There are times you find yourself in situations you couldn't possibly prepare for. I've sung to kids hooked up in every orifice of their body, unable to respond to me except through the indicators on the monitors. I've performed for the newly sightless and the newly limbless. I've performed for the dying with the family around. It isn't a place for a First of May with a new costume who thinks it might be neat to spend a little time with some sick kids.

I respect those who know they can't handle it and don't do hospitals just as much as I respect those who do. It probably takes more guts to admit that there is something you have problems handling. I can't say that I will always be able to handle it and I hope I have the courage to admit it when it happens.

Losing Gabye made me go through a period of self examination as to whether or not I still had what it takes. It hurt, a lot, but Gabye taught me that not only do I still have it, I probably have even more than I thought. Thanks for everything Gabye. I love you. See you soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Years later, same experience, same hurt, same therapeutic writing exercise, and hopefully a few more insights into Hospital Clowning. If you get into this kind of work you'll need to find a way to reconcile things. Writing works for me because I don't really talk about it much. As of this writing, I've only ever given one lecture on Hospital Clowning and that was a gut-wrenching experience. That is not to say I won't talk about it, but it isn't easy for me. Too many images rush back into my head at one time.

Amber                                  The New Calliope vol.16 #3

 

I don't know what Wednesday, April 7, 1999 was like for you. In central North Carolina is was a bright, beautiful, warm spring day with flowers blooming all around. It was all wrong. It should have been raining. It should have been a dark, dreary, cold, miserable day. My friend Amber died that morning.

One of the core things I do as a clown is hospital clowning. It seems strange but in all my years as a columnist in the various clown magazines I've only done one article on hospital clowning, and that wasn't really intended as an article when I wrote it. It was intended as personal therapy to come to grips with the loss of a young friend named Gabye.  Since then I've had more than a couple of very tough losses to take. Brandy, Abby, Daulton, Chris .... Too many. Very hard to take.

I think I haven't written about it much because it is such a personally emotional subject. You'll find some tips about hospital work here, but this article is as much for me as it is for you. Please excuse me as I talk myself through this one more time.

The in-patient kids are usually one time exposures, and they are not usually dealing with potentially terminal illnesses. The out-patient oncology kids are around for a long time, sometimes years, with remission and occasional relapses. There is time to develop a relationship with the kids and the families. It can be a very tough crowd to maintain an ongoing entertainment persona with. But that is exactly what must be done. That is exactly what they need and want. Deep heartfelt loss is a natural byproduct of the situation.

I've been doing regularly scheduled hospital clowning for over 13 years now. The huge pediatric entertainment program at Duke Hospital started around me in the mid-1980s when the wife of a surgeon (whom I had just done a birthday party for) called up and asked if I would do hospital visits. I said sure, thinking it would be a freebie. Next thing I knew, the hospital contacted me to say the lady had endowed a pediatric entertainment fund specifically to hire me. The program and fund have flourished and today there are up to 10 regular professional entertainers who visit the pediatric wards there.

A couple of years later, North Carolina Memorial Hospital, called out of the blue to hire me for regular visits. They said they wanted a professional they could count on. I've been on contract with them for over 10 years now. Up until recently, when I recommended COAI artist-in-residence and experienced hospital clown Jackie "Little Lolly" Garner to them, I was the only clown they officially allowed. I've been told by a number of people who wanted to volunteer to come that they are politely declined with "Thank You, but we have Mr. Rainbow." It is at the same time gratifying, touching and frightening. They have come to depend on me. I'm scared of having a bad day when I'm not at the top of my game.

I didn't charge them much, a token amount really. Coincidentally, without any prompting on my part, they both voluntarily doubled my pay after a couple of years. They always tell me I deserve more. If they want to give it to me fine, but I'm not going to ask for it. I just couldn't.

The truth is, if they stopped paying, I'd still visit. Its the assured regularity they are trying to maintain. Some of the oncology kids schedule their treatments around my visiting schedule (I now refer you back to my previous comment about being scared of having bad/off days.)

Both hospitals initially followed me around watching me like a hawk. Today I have just about free roaming privileges. Some places like burn units and ICUs and bone marrow units and pediatric psychiatric units need to be asked first. I'm sometimes shocked at the places they send me in. I'm sometimes shocked at what I see. It just can't show through the persona though. They don't need that. To be another solemnly compassionate adult is not why I'm there. Don't eliminate it from the repertoire but don't lead with it either.

To do this kind of work demands a multi-layered, fully developed, well rounded clown personality that can adapt to the very different room-by-room, child-by-child demands. The clown personality must be strong enough to cover the plain human underneath and keep going when the plain human would have had quite enough.

You must be aware of everything, especially subtle unspoken things. Oh, trust me on that one. Quick assessments of complicated situations is a must.

I'm never expected to visit each and every room. I've been told to use my judgment and if it seems I should stay for a long time in one room to just go ahead and do it.

The last two times I visited NCMH I spent some wonderful moments in Amber's room. She was having a very hard time, but she always welcomed me warmly.

As I finish up this column, I've got my makeup on. I'm getting ready to head off to Duke Hospital. David is waiting for Mr. Rainbow to take over. Thankfully, in times like this, he always does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Thousand Words         The New Calliope vol. 16 #2

 

The best marketing tool I have used over the years is my photo. It is no exaggeration to say that I distributed over 40,000 copies of my first post card. I finally retired it after 12 long years. It was still effective but I just didn't look like the young fool in that picture any more.

I finally got another photo to replace it. It wasn't easy. I'd have replaced it much sooner if I'd found one that was right. I'd had plenty taken by plenty of people but they just weren't right.

How can you tell a right picture from a wrong picture? That's easy, and I don't need to even address that. The trick is learning to pass on adequate pictures and keep trying to get the right picture.

They say a picture is worth 1000 words. The key to success is getting a photo that says exactly what you want it to say. What do you want to say about yourself with your picture?

Whenever I see a clown picture, the first thing I look at is the eyes. I look to see if the eyes show excitement, energy, and have that special twinkle that says "this clown is a lot of fun." I don't expect the recipients of my photos to think this consciously. I want to make sure that first reaction is unconsciously positive and just screams "fun"! The costume doesn't do that. The makeup doesn't do that. The exuberance radiating from the eyes does.

The smile and the eyes must match. That seems obvious but so often it doesn't. During a photo shoot, it is easy to get so caught up in the posing and positioning that the mouth shows smile and the eyes show intense concentration. It ends up looking exactly like what it is, a fake smile in a lifeless pose. Your 1000 word pictorial essay in this case is starting off with an opening paragraph that says "Hi, I am a person in a costume waiting for this guy to take this picture."

Body positioning is the most inexact of all the elements of the photo composition. I've often lamented "Why was I facing that direction" or "Geez, sitting down was a lousy idea," or " Oh man, I look like a sumo wrestler in a leotard."

A final lesson I learned is that a technically perfect photo may, for any number of reasons, not be the right photo. Conversely, a photo with technical flaws may turn out to be exactly what you are looking for. More on that later.

Is it any wonder that a professional photographer takes hundreds of photos just to get one that with a little touch up can be professionally used. Ever done the old 100 photos for $6.95 at the local discount mart and been sadly disappointed with the results? In my experience, the photo sessions offered at conventions often get adequate results but it is the proverbial faint praise I offer. In addition, everybody's photos end up looking roughly the same.

One of the lessons I learned from my first successful promotional photo was that today's answers may not answer tomorrow's needs. My first post card featured me along with some rather complex balloon animals. I wanted the postcards primarily as a handout to kids at a party and to use instead of a business card. My biggest selling point, or so I thought at that time, was my ballooning ability. I've come a long way since then.

The problem that eventually developed over time was that the photo begged the question, "Can I have a balloon?" And, invariably, people asked for the big complex balloons on the card instead of the normal balloons that keep a line moving. As time went on, I often wasn't at places to do balloons at all, but my full color 1000 words just screamed the word "balloon" over and over again! I learned to live with the problem but swore to fix it in my next promotional photo.

I got a call from one of the portrait photographers in my area. He wanted to add some interesting photos to his portfolio for a contest and offered me a free sitting and copies of the prints. These came out more than adequate, but no one photo stood out to me as the definitive photo of Mr. Rainbow. They contained a lot of specialty shots that included singing, magic, Christmas and general mayhem. I made a collage of many of the prints for a larger full color promotion piece. I have had very good luck with that collage. I had one promoter say it was the best photo collage of an entertainer she had ever seen and, based on it, hired me for a festival!

Finally Lady Luck smiled on me. I was having something run off at a videographers and came by in costume after visiting the hospital. The videos weren't ready and his wife suggested he take a few photos of me while we waited. He had a setup I'd never seen before. We were able to examine on the computer screen each shot after he'd take it. This setup was fantastic! We were then able to scrutinize the effectiveness of each angle and sight line for every shot. Stuff I thought would be good looked horrible, and we changed our focus immediately instead of shooting a roll of shots taken of me in a fatally flawed position.

Shot by shot we were able to zero in on the best composition of the photo. After that it was a matter of catching just the right facial expression and especially the right look in the eye. The right picture finally got taken and it was absolutely obvious. It was also not a perfect picture. I can point out at least 4 flaws, but it said exactly what I wanted my photo to say.

Oh and by the way, this article, not including title, is exactly 1000 words.

 

 

Both post cards and the collage are included in the back pages of this book. The address and phone number are out of date. I occasionally trim the bottom of the collage to eliminate the phone number because agencies who also market you don't want anybody to call you directly. I designed it with the phone number on the bottom for that reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guerrilla Marketing             Laugh Makers Vol 17 #1

 

One of the toughest obstacles to overcome in any business is making yourself known to the public. That is what advertising is all about, getting yourself and your name in front of the public in such a way that they will pay attention. Advertising costs on the Super Bowl are approaching two million dollars a minute because it delivers a huge audience paying attention to the commercials. As a matter of fact, these days the commercials get media coverage themselves. I know I very often pay more attention to the commercials then the game.

Needless to say, Super Bowl advertising is too rich for my pocketbook and far beyond my needs. As a matter of fact, the cost of a local Yellow Page ad has eaten many a new clown alive. How about other ways of getting yourself and your name in front of the public?

So many non-profit groups and even many businesses will try to sell you on the "exposure" angle in getting you to work for free or for a ridiculously low price. The common warning from most experienced working pros is that it "exposes" you to lots more people who will want you to work for free. As for working cheap, do what you have to do to get experience, but in order to eventually get paid more you may need to cultivate a whole new audience. It is rare that the same people who got you for cheap will pay you higher fees, even if you have gotten better. Also, watch out for committing to regular "exposure" bookings on Saturdays because that's when the same people (whom you have been trying to expose yourself to for a higher price) are going to want you.

What you probably need is a marketing strategy that doesn't cost you very much and gets you exposed to the right people. I happen to have a modest recommendation. Don't I always! I use a strategy I call guerrilla marketing.

The premise of guerrilla marketing is to pop up in public, in costume, just about everywhere, doing regular everyday things. I'm talking about things like doing your grocery shopping in costume. Maybe not for the big trip every other week, but the quick trips to get small amounts of stuff like milk and bread. Keep in character, freely chat with others around you, pick up your groceries and go. Have business cards in case anybody asks.

You want to create the impression that you are a working clown just so doggone busy that you don't have time to change and run errands. Nobody needs to know that you got dressed specifically to hit every grocery in a 10 square mile area. Sodas at one, bread at another, cereal and toothpaste at another. One way to really make the shopping trip cover story believable is to have coupons.

Don't do an act or obviously solicit yourself unless you want to be unceremoniously asked to leave. This would leave the opposite impression from what you want. Stay in character, but don't overdo it and cause a problem. Nobody will have a problem if you are especially nice to the kids you run across in the store. They'll expect that. Just don't overtly solicit yourself, I can't stress that enough! Remember your cover story and the goal. One lady I know took this advice and actually got a semi-regular gig with one of the supermarkets!

Another way to get in front of the right people in a cheap but effective way is to get up and get dressed on Saturday mornings (as if you had a party to go to at 10 am) and visit yard sales associated with schools, day cares or churches. Take a couple of bucks with you to buy something. The premise here is that you are a little early for your party which is close by and you need to kill a little time. If they have a bake sale (they almost always do) get some goodies for later. They are so happy to sell that stuff. Once again, externally you are there to kill a little time, but really you are there to be seen and noticed by a crowd with excellent commercial potential. Don't forget to leave! That cements the impression that you are a really busy clown.

If you want to get the attention of a restaurant for possible employment, guerrilla marketing may help. Restaurant managers are invariably busy and a tough sell unless they think it was their idea to hire you in the first place. Call ahead for a take out order and get there early so you have to wait around, or just drop in and place a take out order. Obviously, you are in costume for this! The cover story (stop me if you've heard this) is that you've had a very busy day and you are too tired to cook. You don't want to stay and eat in costume and cause a commotion so carry out is the option you chose. Your real goal is to be seen and maybe catch the attention of a manager as you playfully interact with the other people waiting. It almost begs the question "Should we have a clown here occasionally?"

If you get the manager's attention, don't try to overtly solicit a booking or make a deal right then. The manager is probably busy and won't give you a good hearing. Arrange to call to set up a meeting when there is more time to "explore the possibilities."

Another guerrilla marketing technique is through radio stations. Find out which radio stations enjoy hearing from interesting callers for on-air fun. Always identify yourself as your character. Don't expect anything other than to get your name mentioned. Have something funny to say and get off quick. I wasn't too surprised to learn that Mama Clown in Florida does this too. We've both had the same experience of having the DJ actually paging us to call while on the air on a slow day. I've had a number of people ask if I was that clown they heard on the radio. For this you don't have to be in costume. Call an oldies station and request "Everybody loves a Clown" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys every chance you get.

Give it a try. See how comfortable you are doing it. It could save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you have the kind of act that will get you continual word of mouth referrals once you finally get your foot in the door. That is the best marketing you could ever have in this business. Guerrilla marketing may just get your foot in that door.

 

This is a situation where it helps if you only have one character. Advertising research shows that it is continual exposure of the same single consistent product that works best. If you are exposing multiple characters, you may be selling clowning but you may not be effectively selling you! You want them to be used to seeing you, and when they think "clown" you want them to automatically think you. If you are multiple characters, just who are you anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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