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Character is the issue

Character is the issue – the importance of clown character

Numerous times on this site, I’ve pointed out that a clown’s character is what injects both life and humor into his performance. In addition, it’s the character of the clown that customizes a skit as well. On the original skits posted here, you will find over and again the recommendation to change or adapt the skits as needed for your clown character. Allow me to give you a concrete example.

Most people are acquainted with the “Slowly I Turned” routine, an old vaudeville skit. In a nutshell, one character had his life ruined, and he gained revenge on the individual responsible at a certain location (typically, Niagara Falls). Upon hearing the name of that location, he slips back into his “vengeance” mode and re-enacts his physical retribution on some innocent person. It was made popular in 1944 by the Three Stooges in their short film “Gents without Cents (available on DVD), as well as by Abbott and Costello in their movie “Lost in a Harem” in the same year. How could the same routine be in two different movies in the same year? Because even though it was the same routine, it was very different.

In the Three Stooges version, the Stooges acted out the violence on themselves, in traditional slapstick fashion. In the Abbott and Costello routine (originally using “Pokomoko” instead of “Niagara Falls”, although when they did the routine on their TV series, they also used “Niagara Falls”), it’s a stranger who acts out the violence on an innocent Lou Costello – €”who is only stopped by Bud Abbott when Lou’s hat is almost damaged. Although the essentials of the skit are unchanged, it is the reactions of the characters involved that give the unique flavor to the skit.

In 1952, Lucille Ball, a great film and TV clown in her own right, incorporated the skit into one of her funniest TV episodes, The Ballet (available on DVD) – again, the essentials of the routine are the same, but Lucy’s character gives the performance a unique twist, creating her own version of the same vaudeville routine.

Now, imagine how Laurel and Hardy would have acted out this routine. Imagine how Charlie Chaplin, or Red Skelton would have acted this out, and you’ll get my point – it’s your character, in the skit, that makes the skit special and funny. Try it – modify a skit to fit your character, instead of being a “cookie cutter clown.”

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