Tuesday, November 18, 2014

IN WHICH, FOR REASONS AS YET UNCLEAR, I ATTEMPT TO DEFINE “CLOWN.”


Now I’m back in Hollywood for a while. The coffee is just not as good here as it was up in the Pacific Northwest. It’s fine, it’s just nowhere near AS good. But it’s sufficient for our purposes today. 

So between you and me, I’m a clown. I do and lead workshops in interactive comedy. I work on the clown-to-bouffon spectrum. What does “clown” mean? What does “bouffon" mean? What does “clown-to-bouffon spectrum” mean? What does a “wet cappuccino” mean? Does a pumpkin latte have pumpkin in it, or just pumpkin spice? 

Let’s touch on some of these questions! 
LET’S START WITH CLOWN.

Like a lot of anxious Americans, I was terrified of clowns when I was a child. Garish, oversized, loony… like the kids’ menus that I also hated: designed for kids, but some kind of kid I did not recognize—an idiot that grunted only at primary colors, flashing lights and hot dogs. Clowns were not for me. 

But I’ll tell you what was for me. Every year my family went to the Renaissance Faire in Sterling, New York. And I will always remember the monk.

I was 7. My family and I were wandering between stalls that hocked chicken legs and faerie wands, and suddenly, a monk in a hooded robe was in front of me, right in my face. He had dark dark brows, and dark dark eyes, staring and scowling and almost touching he was so close to me. So I stared and scowled back. We began to circle each other. A small crowd formed around us, interested and entertained. They laughed at Little Girl and Monk, mano a mano, just scowling into each others’ faces like crazy. 

That monk was a true clown. He came out into the “audience,” pulled me into the show, and we had a blast together. And then he was gone. 

Can’t that be what “clown” means? Just someone really funny, who’s being funny on purpose, for everyone’s pleasure? 

There are a lot of reasons why the way I define “clown”—vulnerable, often physical, always interactive comedy—is not the way everyone understands it. Remember, back in Europe hundreds of years ago, all the circuses were one-ring. Clowns in those circuses could be more present with everyone; they could do small, subtle things. But in the USA everything always had to be bigger, and so in the late-19th century American circus impresarios created the 3-ring circus. Clowns in those circuses had to be more exaggerated, just to be seen. Shoes, noses and hair got bigger, colors got brighter. And thus we have the horror show of circus clowns that infect the popular consciousness today. A kind of clown that was never meant to be seen up close. 

I don’t blame anyone for being afraid of clowns. I’m still wary of most people who use the term “clown” freely and unreservedly to define what they do. Really, in this day and age, you’re calling yourself a clown? In PUBLIC? Do you have any understanding of how to connect with an audience in a way that invites laughter and play? Does balloon twisting count? No, and fuck you, clown. You are a butcher, when what we need is a surgeon. 

A clown worth his salt is a clown that really sees the audience, takes in their reactions, makes damn sure most of the audience is on the ride at all times. If the audience is not with the clown, the clown is honor-bound to do something else, or leave. 

If no one is laughing, that is not a good clown. If your inner-child is crying, that is not a good clown. 

There is something kid-ish about a good clown, for sure. A clown is in touch with her most simple self… really, really simple. A clown is a hopeful goofball who delights in something pointless, and whose delight is infectious. We root for the clown to succeed, but she may not. Like so many of us, the clown is not master of her universe. Unlike many of us, however, she remains eternally optimistic. And we love that about her. 

The universe flows through a clown. He seems porous, available; he is a plastic bag blown by the wind. 

LIKABLE. A clown is fundamentally likable. Can we just say that? 

Anything to add? How do you define clown, the good kind? Who's a clown who really does it for you? 


And if they say there’s real pumpkin in the pumpkin latte, then, yes, you should get that latte. Even in Hollywood.

2 comments:

  1. I like to think these days that a clown performs a show in conjunction with audience. It can be FOR the audience. But not so much TO the audience. But the best preposition is WITH for me. It's a journey hand in hand. My favorite clowns allow the audience to add to the piece. Even if in the most subtle ways (though it can feel like the audience has impacted the show greatly, I know I've seen some shows enough times to know that the audience's impact is sometimes minimal. It just feels greater from the skill of the performer).

    But a clown must be open. Open the the moment. So that even a well timed physical punch line is hidden because we are just in this moment so deeply.

    The two keys are vulnerability (openness) and compassion (listening) for me.

    That is all for now

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    1. There is no better preposition than WITH. You are so right. Thanks for this beautiful post, Jared.

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