How do I start clowning? Silence is Golden – consider starting your clown as being mute
Some wonderful advice that Randy Christiansen makes in his pamphlet Clowning for Christ is: for the first year of performing, don’t let your clown character speak. At first, this seems counter-intuitive. After all, how can you tell people about Jesus if you can’t talk?
Allow me to illustrate the answer using an anecdote from Kenny Ahern, former Ringling Brothers circus clown. Performing as a clown at the circus, Kenny had learned how to perform without speaking – given the size of the audience, it’s simply not possible to speak to the audience without amplification. However, after leaving the circus, Kenny began to perform in other venues – malls, grand openings and so on. Kenny related the story of how he had begun talking during his performances – he didn’t realize how much he was talking until he informed the crowd that for his next feat, he would have to have his full concentration, and wouldn’t speak for the next few minutes. The crowd applauded wildly.
What’s the point of the story? When Kenny performs, he now uses a minimum of words – because he doesn’t need to use many. His actions speak louder than words. He doesn’t have to tell the audience about his clown character. By his stance, his walk, his expression, he tells them without speaking a word. When he needs to speak, he does. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach always. When necessary, use words.”
Does this mean that your clown character can’t speak? No. But it does mean that your clown character has to learn the skill of communicating without words. Think of Emmett Kelly Sr. sweeping the spotlight with a broom. Think of Carol Burnett’s washwoman character. Think of many of Red Skelton‘s most memorable pantomimes. Think of Captain Kangaroo‘s Downtown Clown, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy. To communicate without words crosses language barriers, age barriers, and many others. It makes your clown funnier, and closer to a “real” clown. As I’ve said elsewhere, to be a clown minister, you have to be a clown first.
When starting as a clown, learning to communicate without words is a vital skill. Remember that a clown is not a stand-up comedian. As I’ve said elsewhere in this tutorial, comedians say and do funny things; clowns do things in a funny way.
Next time, we’ll start dealing with an introduction to clown makeup – see you there!