There you are, poor clown, hidden away from the world. You want to come up and say hello, fly your freaky clown flag for all the world to see, but you are afraid of getting hit with big shoes and oceans of grease paint on your way to the surface. Don’t be afraid of what anyone will think, clown! Make the trek! It’s great out here!
The seminal clown moment—really, the building block for all of your work as a comedian of any kind—is Your Coming Out Party. It is when you come out to the world as the clown that you are.
To start off, you go backstage, you put on a hat. Sue Morrison (clown/bouffon teacher based in Toronto), who first introduced me to this exercise, explains it this way: When you clown, you are exposed to powerful spirits, and the hat protects you.
I also like the hat for other reasons. My Jewish soul likes the humility before a deity/deities that inspires the yarmulke. I also find that a hat neutralizes gender: I’ve got a big sexy mane I’m real vain about, but when it’s all tucked up in a hat, suddenly I’m just a person. Better for comedy.
For this exercise, I recommend a simple brimless hat that just covers your head and holds in all your hair. A skull cap, a ski hat. I think you Canadians call those things “toques.” A simple pull-on hat: no bells, whistles, brims or feathers. And no bangs when you perform, hat or not, no bangs ever ever ever.
Why no bangs? you ask. Great question! I’ve got one for you! WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU WANT TO COVER YOUR FOREHEAD, ONE OF THE MOST EXPRESSIVE PARTS OF YOUR WHOLE GODDAMN FACE? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU HIDING, CLOWN?
The most ideal hat is a pair of pantyhose. They hold all your hair (INCLUDING YOUR BANGS), they stay snug on your head, and later you can wear them out for cocktails.
I used to lead this exercise with clown noses, but I don’t anymore. Sure, there are some benefits to working with a nose. It is, after all, the smallest mask, and a mask is so helpful for transformation. Plus, you do look different with a big dumb red nose on your face. It accentuates your eyes; it takes away the sophisticated adult-ness of your fully formed nose, and gives you instead a baby-esque button.
And there is something powerful about truly “coming out” as a clown, standing in front of the world (or at least, an audience of fellow workshop participants) and saying, Yes, this is who I am. I will put something stupid and red on my face. I will do anything, anything to make you laugh.
But I don’t work with clown noses anymore. And I don’t think you should either. More on that later.
Instead of the nose, what I do now instead of the nose is this: I tell the person, go backstage, get your hat on right, and make an adjustment to your outfit that you think is amusing. This way, the clown is still “coming out” with an intentionally comedic costume of some sort—a symbolic clown nose, if you will.
When the clown is ready to enter, s/he knocks.
We the audience clap in rhythm and sing a “clown entrance song” for the clown. I like Stars and Stripes Forever. But any ridiculous, circus-y sounding song will do. It should feel like the audience’s pre-show sea chanty, getting us all excited for the entertainment to come.
Now the clown enters. Just enters. The audience is the first thing the clown sees. The clown finds her light center stage and stands there and sees us. The clown does nothing but see us. Silently.
Before you can do anything onstage, any kind of clowning, any audience interaction, any comedy of any kind, you must be able to do nothing. You must be able to stand in front of an audience, and see them all—not just the audience en masse, you must see the individuals that make up the audience. See each of them in their eyes, and let one of each of them see you.
This is the only way. The key to being totally loved on stage is first to be able to stand there and do nothing. Of course “doing nothing” is not really doing nothing; being present with us is the biggest thing you can possibly do. If you can do nothing and just be with us, and make us fall in love you (or more to the point, LET us fall in love with you) you are ready to be a great clown.
But first, take this hair clip, and get those fucking bangs off your face.