Wednesday, December 24, 2014


The concept of standup I am totally down with. There you are, a clown, standing in front of a live audience, trying to make them laugh. If they laugh, you’re funny. If they do not laugh, your funny needs some work. It is the ideal feedback loop for a performer. 

And a great standup comedian, I mean, a really great standup comedian, is so so good and so three-dimensional, that even if she gets famous and does shitty movies or shitty tv shows, any shitty piece of shit she’s in you still love her, because she is so HERSELF. 

(Hilarious that I used a female pronoun in the above paragraph. How many female standups with extensive tv/film careers can we come up with? Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr… anyway. I’ll get back to all that woman stuff soon.)

When they’re good, they’re pretty much good forever. I was watching Louie CK’s show the other day. I don’t really like it, but I love him. He is so himself, and even though he is clearly an actor, he has built a powerhouse performable persona for himself. It can have different names and say different lines and have every different character motivation under the sun, but we will believe it and like it. Every time. 

So in terms of this Business We Call Show, in terms of creating any kind of persona that you want people to laugh at, it would seem that standup comedy would be the perfect vehicle for creation, giving a performer that three-dimensionality I’ve mentioned before. 

Except for all the reasons why it isn’t. Except for why the culture of standup could totally fuck you. 

Here’s something I’m troubled by: loads of comedians take improv and sketch classes. They have a teacher, a coach, a director. But the culture of standup is different. There are standup classes here and there, but not entire schools built around it like there are for improv and sketch. The audience is your only teacher, the standup world says. If they laugh, great. If not, go fuck yourself. 

It’s a hard and scary world, when you put it like that. Yes, of course it’s the right idea that the audience is your primary teacher. But if a standup comedian isn’t sure why an audience is laughing, or why they’re not laughing, then he is just beating his head with a failure stick over and over again. He may get his laughs eventually if he stays with it and grows a horrible lizard skin of self-protection, but he’ll get laughs a whole helluva lot faster, easier and without all those lizardy scales with feedback. And by feedback I don’t just mean laugh-related grunts. I mean helpful words from an outside observer

Another thing that troubles me about standup culture is that I’ve seen so many developing comedians focus primarily on their jokes, and not on who they are on stage. Great comedians have figured out some crucial things about how to make the audience root for them from the get-go. Not-great comedians have not figured that out, and no amount of brilliant joke-writing is going to change that. 

It doesn’t matter what you SAY. You can tell us about your fucked-up childhood, and even though it’s fabulous material, we won’t care, unless we care about you, in that instinctual way we can’t put a finger on. You have to do that to us, first, before we hear two words about that childhood of yours.

It’s real nice to be able to say funny things. It’s better to be funny before you even open your mouth. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Coming Out is a hard exercise for some people. It is wonderful for others. Having it be hard and/or wonderful doesn’t predict that much in terms of your future in this work. The biggest predictor is how honest you are willing to be about your own experience. 

Here are two stories about two different Naked Comedy workshop participants in two different cities. Both of them we’ll call Lucy.

Lucy #1 is in her mid-20s, wears a goofy t-shirt, loves improv. She looks very nervous before the exercise. She goes backstage and pushes her stretch pants up into bulky little shorts. We sing the clown entrance song for Lucy, and she enters nervously, eyes fixed on me.

“Good,” I say. “Relax your jaw.” (I will talk more about jaw release in a later blog entry. Together, we will worship at the altar of jaw release.) 

Lucy’s jaw releases and her mouth opens slightly. Suddenly her face appears to open up, and the audience laughs at how open and lovely she is. She looks surprised.

“They like you,” I say. “Do you know why?”
Lucy vigorously shakes her head. The audience laughs louder.
“Because you’re being honest,” I say to Lucy. Lucy tips her head and stares at me, taking that in. Her eyes are wide. Everyone in the audience is leaning forward in their seats, taken with her.

Lucy goes through the exercise, moving from one audience member to another, seeing and being seen. Each new person she sees engenders an entirely new reaction in her. Some people make her immediately light up with delight, others make her look curious, or nervous. But she is totally with each person, and the audience is engaged with every little way her energy shifts. 

“How was it, Lucy?” I ask her when her attention comes back to me. In this exercise, the person is not allowed to speak; she has to answer the question non-verbally. She smiles slowly, like she is still deciding how she feels. She tips her head left to right to indicate, it was so-so. Her eyes roll with the magnitude of what she has done, and the audience laughs again. She looks mystified at their laughter. 

Afterwards, in the debriefing, Lucy says she doesn’t understand why everyone was laughing. “I was just reacting to what I was getting,” she says. 
“Exactly, Lucy!” we all say. 
Lucy starts to get it.

Here’s a story about another Lucy. Mid-to-late 30’s, tattoos, very into yoga and dance. We sing the clown entrance song for this Lucy, and Lucy enters the space with her t-shirt up around her neck and her sports bra showing. Great choice, Lucy! But she also has a big huge grin on her face, like Mama Rose was standing backstage whispering to Lucy as she entered, “SMILE, GYPSY. THEY WON’T LOVE YOU UNLESS YOU SMIIIIIIILE.”

“Go back,” I tell this Lucy. “Why are you smiling? There is nothing to smile about yet.”

Lucy leaves and enters again, less sure. Slightly more interesting. 

I ask Lucy to release her jaw.
Lucy’s mouth is still smiling, just close-lipped now. 

“Stop smiling,” I tell Lucy. Lucy glares at me.
“Good!” I say. The audience laughs. Lucy shakes her head, confused. I say, “That was honest, and the audience likes you being honest.” But Lucy doesn’t really see. She won’t relax, she won’t just be. Her jaw stays tight. 

As her eyes move from one audience member to another, we see her discomfort with being seen, and her inability to see us. She just doesn’t look interested in us. Her eyes move from one to another, completing the assignment, but not stopping to connect and wonder at the uniqueness of each audience member’s gaze. She can’t see past herself. Her eyes finally come back to me. She looks vaguely pissed off, or like a photocopy of a pissed-off person.

“How was that,” I ask. She shrugs, then gestures that it was “ok.”
“Really?” I say. “It was okay? You looked miserable up there.”
She shakes her head, shrugs, sticks to her story: it was okay. 

After the exercise is done and she has come out to debrief, Lucy explains that she has had some major dental work, and that was making it hard to release her jaw, and that was what was frustrating about the exercise.

But come on. It didn’t have dick to do with dental work. 

Lucy’s jaw was tight because she didn’t want to let the exercise in, because she was not comfortable being seen without a big fake smile on her face. Why? I’m guessing that Lucy was holding a lot of shitty feelings inside, so if she had released her jaw, she probably would have bawled her eyes out. And while that would have been awesome for the rest of us, Lucy was not ready to be that vulnerable on stage. On that day, she was not ready to be a clown. 

Remember: The word “CLOWN” could originate from the old English word “CLOD,” meaning wet earth. Clown is wet! So don’t worry about getting moist on stage. Moisture should be the goal!

Plus, when you cry on stage, you give everyone in the audience more than their money’s worth, no matter how much they paid. We love watching people experience things, and pain is one of our favorite things to watch! 

Friday, December 12, 2014


You love comedy. Maybe your dream is to write and star in your own web series, which will get snatched up by a major network but don’t worry you’ll still get to keep your artistic integrity. Maybe you want to do your standup show at Carnegie Hall, with an HBO special and a book deal and a podcast of you sounding clever, relaxed and very, very popular. You live to make others laugh, that much is clear.  And you know it’s essential to polish your craft. But why clown/bouffon? You aren’t sure how this work could help you. 

Okay, you say, I get why someone who wants to do live theater would do interactive comedy. But I want to be on TV and film! So wouldn’t it be pointless to put all that work into developing my relationship with a live audience?

Nope. In fact it is the difference between being a good and a great comedian. It’s all a question of your dimensions. 

If you are working on developing, say, a comedic character, and you are not considering how this character lives in front of a live audience—if, in fact, the character is not BORN in front of a live audience, and cultivated there—then you are building a flat square, when what you need is a cube. You need to create something that takes up space in the world, that has shape, weight. Something that comes from your heart and not your head. Something that jumps off the stage (or out of the screen) and touches us, grabs us, gets spittle on us. 

Developing a character with an audience adds that crucial three-dimensionality to what you do. Your character knows how to be still and just be, because she was born in stillness and self-acceptance. Your character knows how to breathe captivatingly, how to move through space charmingly, how to say that one thing that everyone will laugh at. Because every inch of that character has been tested in real time, in front of live human beings who either laughed or didn’t laugh, every step of the way. 

Consider the strength of the character you develop through interactive comedy. It is like the toughest tree in the Arctic circle. It has known adversity and triumph, darkness and light. It has no fear of existing in front of people, because it could not exist without them. It has a palpable trust in the universe, and that pulls people in, every time. 

Any terrifying audition you walk into, any hot-shot casting agent’s office, any high-stakes performance opportunity you can name, any performance opportunity at all, that character will be ready to roll. 

You wanna be great at comedy? That’s why clown, clown. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

COME OUT, CLOWN! (the first exercise)

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. 


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. 

Friday, November 28, 2014



1. When I first arrive at a party, I am more likely to head toward—
  1. the food and/or drink
  2. the bathroom 
  3. Did I go to the bathroom before I left my house? Have I eaten recently? Contextualize! Then we’ll see if I’ll take yer stupid quiz. 

2. I prefer to be in charge.
  1. false
  2. true
  3. Again, this feels pretty situational. You might be over-simplifying. It’s a comedy blog not Cosmo; please give us some credit for being more nuanced takers of quizzes. 

3. I like—
  1. being tickled
  2. tickling
  3. Who’s asking?  How tall are you, anyway? 

4. I would rather die by—
  1. water
  2. fire
  3. Don’t let me die! 

5. I would most like an audience member to say this to me after watching me perform:
  1. “You are so lovable!”
  2. “You freak me out!”
  3. Wait, is this audience in Calgary? 

6. The audience is—
  1. a new community, a group of great new friends just waiting to happen!
  2. a pack of mindless sheep who will never fully understand what’s so special about me. 
  3. Did we establish whether this audience is in Calgary? 

7. I perform—
  1. to give love
  2. to get love
  3. for fun, shitface. 

8. I am more interested in—
  1. bodily functions
  2. political satire
  3. I’m sick of this quiz. These distinctions feel arbitrary. You are pointlessly, patronizingly reductive. Give me a cacao nib. 

9. How would you rather be seen?
  1. Open, generous and peaceful. 
  2. Smart, strong and focused. 
  3. I’m not taking this quiz anymore! La la la la la! Cacao nib!!!!

10. The love of my life—
  1. makes me laugh
  2. thinks I’m hilarious
  3. wrote this quiz, HAHA JK WHERE’S MY CACAO NIB


If you selected mostly “a”s, congratulations! You are a clown!
AS A CLOWN, you are an open-hearted and giving person, who likes others to take the helm. You want to go where the audience leads you, and you are perfectly content doing fart comedy. On stage, you are what we like to call “stupid”; that is, you are human. You love Gene Wilder and the color blue, and you like it when someone else kisses first, because that is the universe fulfilling its wish for you. 

If you selected mostly “b”s, behold! A bouffon!
AS A BOUFFON, you’ve got a mission: to fuck shit up. You are angry and rightfully so, you have a point, and the audience will be better for you having made that point. You don’t suffer idiots, don’t wait for the phone to ring, and pay for your own margarita. You find Jerry Lewis fascinatingly disturbing, like a car wreck. And, bitch, you love olives. 

If you selected mostly “c”s, Whaaa? YOU ARE THE MESSIAH! 
AS THE MESSIAH, you instinctively understand that the distinction between clown and bouffon is more like a spectrum and less like a binary interactive comedy formula. We are all complicated performers with complicated relationships to the audience. Now, here, you—a trailblazer in a new era of naked comedy—you are one of those confoundingly brilliant performers who defies categorization. Please carry my babies. 

Maybe some of my personal interest in the spectrum idea comes from the fact that no one seems to agree what to call what I do on stage. Some say, “It’s bouffon!” and I say, “No, actually it’s more clown, with some aspects of bouffon,” but really, who the fuck cares. That’s the point here. Who the fuck cares.

Because most people are somewhere in the middle anyway, somewhere on that spectrum between Loving and Needing the Audience as Our Best Friend, and Hating the Audience And Wanting To Hurt Them A Little. We are all scraps of dark and light. We are all interlocking knots of hope and cynicism. The most important thing is awareness about one’s own totally unique relationship to and feelings for the audience, and that shit can shift. The point is to stay on the horse, and keep dancing. 

This I know: using either of the terms “clown” or “bouffon” in front of people who don’t know what they mean is a bad idea. People who don’t study/perform clown/bouffon always assume the worst. When you speak to others about what you do, call it “comedy”, call it “this weird shit I do on stage”, call it “fucking crazy, you have to come.” FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T CALL IT CLOWN. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014


The story goes like this: in the Middle Ages, the freaks were exiles. The deformed, the mentally handicapped, the insane, the different. They were not welcome in the village. They lived in the swamp. But they watched and learned. They studied the “normals” who hated them. And once a year, for the Feast of Fools, the freaks were invited into the village to perform a special show for all the regular folks. And what a show they put on! It was a dazzling song, full of songs and skills and spectacle. But it was also tinged with the hate of being spit on and treated as less-than. A good freak had to toe the line: how you trick the audience into paying attention to you, and still manage to make fun of them.

Like clowns, bouffons have to be taking the temperature of the audience at all times. But unlike clowns, a bouffon does not consider the audience his best friend. The bouffon has an agenda. The bouffon wants the audience to know: you are not as smart as you think you are, you are not quite as cool as you want to be, there is someone more clever in this room, and that someone is MOI

A good bouffon is a good clown, with an axe to grind. 

Hopefully you’ve seen a great drag queen at some point in your life. She had stubble and her wrists were too thick, but goddammit there she was, in glitter and wig and eyelashes out to eternity. And she had a comeback for every drunk heckler she met, and she sang like a dark angel, like some beautiful genderless voice of truth that is undeniable, that tugs at everyone’s heart equally. You knew she didn’t give a shit about you, but she liked your adoration. She let you stay and listen, if you behaved yourself. She might have been a target of mockery somewhere offstage, but in this dingy cabaret, she was queen and king and god and goddess. 

Bouffon is a beautiful inversion. The bouffon laughs at you. You may think you’re laughing at the bouffon, but you’re actually laughing at the bouffon laughing at you.

So which one are you, clown or bouffon? How can you tell? Wait for it; there’s a quiz coming! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


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! 

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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

SANA'S LETTER, August 2014.

Sana lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and wears a hijab. She wrote to me a month before the Edmonton Naked Comedy Lab and asked if I required workshop participants to get literally naked. I answered no, that spiritual nakedness is the only workshop’s only requirement. She signed up. After the workshop, during which she was quite funny, she wrote me this email: 

Hi Deanna,

I had much fun at the workshop. I found it fascinating, and I gained a great deal. I think you're a gifted teacher. Thank you for sharing with us.
I am still grappling with the experience as a whole, trying to make sense of it, trying to understand if it's something I would explore further. I'm trying to understand the underpinning philosophy, I suppose. I mean, why? Why do people find such stupid shit funny? And why would one choose to do such stupid shit? Is laughter, in and of itself, enough of a reason? Is there subtext at all to this humour? I'm especially curious about the darker end of the humour spectrum. 

She asked me if there were books she could read, or any writing I’ve done on these subjects. This blog is for her, and for me, and for anyone who is part of the conversation about comedy that is vulnerable and present and honest and deeply human, about why that kind of comedy works so well, and why it can be so empowering and fun for the performer to perform comedy in this way. 

I have entirely too much to say on this subject, so really, this blog is for me. Thank you, self, for giving me this wonderful gift of a blog! Thank you Sana for inspiring it! And thank you, dear reader, who is here in this moment on this journey with me! We are exchanging among ourselves the most adorably wrapped of gifts, in tiny woven Japanese boxes like the kind they serve sticky rice in. 

This first blog entry comes to us from Room 6 of the Green Springs Inn, a cedar plank motel with attached cozy diner 16 miles outside of Ashland, Oregon, in the Cascade mountains. I have been on tour for 3 months, in Alberta and BC and Oregon and Washington. I have only stayed in a few motel rooms, but this one is the best. Earlier tonight, I had rhubarb pie in the cozy diner while I listened on my headphones to a podcast about a murder investigation. I feel like I am inside Twin Peaks tonight. Tomorrow I am on now my way to San Francisco. My weekend’s shows coincide, apparently, with the World Series, with the Niners in it and everything. We shall see how it all goes. I am feeling mostly pretty zen. 

Here are some of the questions I’m going to meditate on, let’s say in the next few months:
  • What is Clown, what is Bouffon? Which one are you? What does it mean to work on the Clown-to-Bouffon spectrum?
  • Wet dreams: how Naked Comedy seeks to fondle, ingest and penetrate other Comedy realms 
  • Lessons of Touring
  • Just answering Sana’s g.d. questions already; she wrote that email in August! 

Thanks!!! More to come!!!!