Thursday, January 22, 2015


Philippe Gaulier, something of an international treasure, at least in the clown world, told us to bring in suitcases. It was optional, and so most people in the class, so traumatized from being yelled at pointlessly and barely getting any stage time, opted to not. Myself included. But I remembered Gaulier saying dreamily, in his old-frenchman way, A Clownalways has a suitcase…”

The clown Gaulier dreams of in his old-frenchman dreams is a vagabond, and of course that vagabond has a suitcase falling apart, marked with age and experience and wonder.

I did not have The Suitcase when I was in Gauliers workshop. But I have it now.

It was intended by the manufacturers to be a keyboard case, but since it houses my streetlight and often a lot of bubble wrap, it ends up looking like pretty suspicious at Baggage Claim. The bag itself is restitched in several places (Thank you, Mom), it has zip-ties instead of zipper handles, it resembles a big olragtag corpse sack. I am very fond of it.

My costume is a big old trenchcoat that was made for me by Mollie, a wonderful costume designer in NY, 8 years ago. She made it from a pattern of an actually nice trench coat she saw in a fancy store. Its been mended a lot since then (again, thanks Mom). My pants and tie are Goodwill. The shirt used to be a shirt I just wore as a normal person, til it got too yellow in the armpits and became my costume shirt. The body stuffing is the same stuffing Ive been using for a while now; I just switch out the stockings that house it when they fall apart.

Im not sure I realized, when my character Butt Kapinski was born, that having a cheap-and-dirty-ass costume was going to be super convenient. But it really, really is. I can roll around in it, sweat in it, wash it in a washer, dry it in a dryer, and voilà. Throw it in the body bag and hit the town.

On the touring circuit, I have friends who have been worn down and bummed out by high-maintenance costumes, costumes that demanded constant refurbishing or hand-washing or mending. It is a pain in the ass, and not what you want to be focusing on.

So I recommend the vagabond aesthetic, because it is easy and because it invokes a great tradition of schlumpy travelers going from place to place spreading laughter and joy and then getting out of Dodge or Calgary or wherehaveyou.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Many teachers of clown work with noses. Virtually all my clown teachers expected us to wear noses. But I suspect that this will change, as clown work finds its way into more mainstream comedy and theatre training. 

Why a nose to begin with? Clown work is about transformation and liberation. The point is to free yourself up to let something visceral come out of you, something that your “normal” self keeps buttoned up. Any kind of mask work can be transformational, and the clown nose is the smallest mask you can wear. 

And, to be fair, there are two kinds of clown noses. There are the clown noses that are cherry-red, store-bought, made-in-China situations. And there are handmade leather or latex noses that have shape, artistry. Of course, the former should be abolished immediately. A symmetrical, factory-made thing on a naturally-asymmetrical face is just weird. Handmade noses can have an appeal, but I still think they have to go. 

I had a great nose, for a while. It was handmade, latex, dark red.  I designed the shape and had it built for my face by a clown-enthusiast in NY named Dan. It was a stumpy, Karl Malden nose, as opposed to the sexy Jewess nose I sport in my daily life. I thought the nose made me look uglier, funnier, less feminine, more child-like. Plus, that was earlier in my clown life, and I felt like I needed the nose to transform into the character. Jeff Seal, my clown brother in New York, calls noses “training wheels.” There was certainly something to that, for me. 

Here’s what I ultimately realized though. When I used to perform in cabarets as Butt Kapinski, in nose, people afterward would say, “Hey, you’re that clown! Great job, clown.” When I stopped wearing the nose, people afterward would say, “Hey, you’re that detective! Oh my god, what was that?” 

The best thing you can do in a 10-minute cabaret slot is stoke curiosity. Plus, the less you outwardly ally yourself with any specific theatrical or comedic tradition, the more dangerous you are. And by dangerous, I mean awesome.

I know I’ve said this already, but I cannot stress enough what a good idea it is to keep your clown identity ON THE DL. Here on this blog we can talk all we want to about clown and bouffon, and then we will go out into the world with our sneaky lapels up and pretend we have never heard of clowns or bouffons at all. 

At times I feel like a self-hating clown. The nose issue definitely brings this feeling up. Whattup, clown—why you in such a hurry to distance yourself from the art form that gave you wings? I knowwwww! It feels fucked up.

And of course there is a beautiful tradition that I am totally side-stepping in this blog—of handmade masks and noses, of clowns being clowns with makeup, looking like clowns—and if that is how you want to work, go for it. It can be lovely. 

But I’m not sure it can be really funny, in this day and age. I haven’t seen it be funny, anyway. Or, rather, to be fair—I’ve seen people be super funny in clown workshops, in noses, but when it's showtime and a performer steps onto a stage in nose— it just feels like the audience energy takes a crap on itself. I for one am interested in clown/bouffon work that crosses over, that can be called comedy. I’m specifically interested in us getting laughs, not just from kids or clowning nerds, but from normal people who think they hate clowns. 

The truth is, I always kind of thought Booker T. Washington had some valid points. Infiltrate society quietly; that could be a way to bring about real change. 

Take the training wheels off your face, and see where you go. 

Friday, January 2, 2015


Drop your jaw. This is one of the keys to my teaching practice. More than any other instruction I give, drop your jaw gets the most immediate laughs and a-ha moments. Why is jaw release such an important aspect of this work?

Remember when you were a little baby? Opening your mouth was the first thing you learned to do. You realized that good things came to you if you opened up and sucked. As a toddler, you continued on your merry way, jaws wide open, ready to put whatever you could straight into your face-hole. It was how you learned about your world, and it was delicious. 

At some point, though, somebody told you not to do that anymore. Maybe it was that time you ate the garbage. Maybe someone thought you “looked stupid” with your mouth open. Whatever it was, you learned to stop letting your jaw hang loose. 

So your jaw got tight. Anger started to collect there. Sadness started to seep in. Those subtle little muscles around the bottom half of your face got constricted and short and boom just like that you were an adult. 

The bad news is, jaw tension causes headaches and grinding and worry-lines and everything we don’t want. The good news is, remembering to release your jaw several times a day can make an enormous difference. The even-better news is that jaw release can be your secret weapon as a comedy artist.

Okay, so how do you do it?

Start at the back of your head. Crazy, I know, but starting back there is actually the best way to experience a deeper jaw release. Find your occipital ridge (those two bony bumps at the back of your head). That is where your skull connects to your spine, and some attachment points for your jaw are back there too. Rub those bony bumps, and as you do so, visualize your jaw falling away from your skull. I also like to send the back of my skull higher in the air (like someone is pulling me up from the back of my head), all the while letting the jaw fall. 

Once you feel that separation between your jaw and skull, move your attention to the front of your face. Get a few knuckles in those spots where your jaw hinges are. You know the spots. Dig in there, dig up under your cheekbones, use your knuckles to mush up your cheeks. 

Do that a lot! Many times a day. It will make a difference. 

Students are always asking me about jaw release. Not because they don’t think it works; everyone can immediately see that it works. But why is it so fucking effective as a comedy tool? That is an ongoing conversation.

There are many answers. When you release your jaw, we see your eyes more (probably because your cheeks have less tension too). Opening your mouth is vulnerable, and we the audience love your vulnerability. Plus, when you stand on stage and release your jaw, we in the audience find ourselves confusing you for the cutest baby in the world, and all we want to do is love you.

An awesome workshop participant came up with a great one a few months ago: “It’s like the face you make when you are looking at skyscrapers, or the Grand Canyon,” he said. What a great way to see the audience! They are your Grand Canyon, and so you drop your jaw, in awe. 

Is your jaw loose, right now? Do you feel the universe in that gorgeous cavity inside your head? Your head is free now, clown, and anything is possible.