Creative Clowning by Bruce Fife, Tony Blanco, Steve Kissell, Bruce Johnson, Ralph Dewey, Hal Diamond, Jack Wiley, Gene Lee
THE clowning book, excellent for professionals & amateurs alike. If you have only one resource on clowning, make it this one. Thatâs no exaggeration. Itâs a resource with numerous contributors, including sections on the history of clowning, creating a unique clown character, the mind of the clown, make-up, costuming, talents (juggling, balloon twisting, magic, balancing, stilts, etc.), marketing and being booked.
Something that I canât give you a feel for in this review are some of the nice little extras included in the book. At the end of each chapter are some mini skits that you can expand & modify to fit your character. Clown jokes are interspersed throughout in their own little text boxes. And thereâs a wonderful selection of photographs of clowns old and newâmany dozens of photographs (many in color) of clowns new and old, and easily double or triple that many diagrams and line art (hundreds of drawings, easily)
If itâs not on your shelf, go buy it. (No, I donât work for the publisher & am not related to anyone involved in the bookâI simply think itâs that good.)
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Art of Clowning
A very good introductory chapter, covering what a clown is, and how one becomes a “real” clown (or, perhaps, how one lets his inner clown out 🙂 Some interesting history, to give a background for clowning, and what it is.
Chapter 2: Developing a Unique Clown Character
A very good foundation on developing the character for your clown. What makes him/her/it different, unique, special, funny? How does he see the world? Why does he think the way he does? Very concrete how-to’s on developing your own unique clown character. A good introduction to the three major clown types (Whiteface, Auguste, Character/Tramp/Hobo). How your wardrobe shows your character visually, before you’ve said or done anything.
Chapter 3: The Clown Face
An excellent introduction to clown make-up. How the make up differs among whiteface, auguste, character and tramp/hobo clowns. How to design your make up to not hide your features, but to express them! Many high-quality photographs demonstrating the step-by-step process of clown make up.
Chapter 4: The Silent Art of Mime
“You mimes are the reason I left France!” was a punch line from the old Newhart TV series; this chapter isn’t about turning you into a mime. However, it is about learning how to express your clown through body language, as well as verbally. Also, a very good section on writing and performing (mime) skits, as well as some classic (mime) skits that you can use in your own performance. Theater games is an introduction to improvisation, alÃ¡ TV’s Who’s Line Is It Anyway?
Chapter 5: Physical Comedy
How to build up to the comedy punch line, verbal or visual. Visualizing a scene or skit without dialog, to force you into thinking how you will show the audience what’s happening, instead of just telling them — you’re a clown, not a comedian, after all! How you walk, your posture, your expression and many other components all combine into your clown’s character. Learning how to react for the audience (doing a ‘take’, among other things). Introducing slapstick (and non-slapstick) physical comedy.
Chapter 6: Working with your Audience
Audience participation is one of the highlights of clowning. But first, you need to learn how to control your audience. Then the participation flows naturally, instead of chaotically. How to use volunteers, and how to handle trouble-makers.
Chapter 7: Effective Use of Props
A very good chapter, talking about the use of clown props, ranging from walkaround gags usable in a parade, to smaller items, to the venerable rubber chicken. The use of oversized (and undersized) props are discussed, as well as the creative uses of them. Comic inventiveness with props — using a juggling pin as a telescope, for instance, as well as using standard props in a creative way, are dealt with both from a theoretical and a practical point of view. Using props to increase audience participation, as well as building a theme.
Chapter 8: Comedy magic
Entertaining with magic suitable for a clown is discussed, as well as the fundamentals of sleight of hand. Clown magic versus ‘standard’ magic, and how to achieve it, as well as ‘silly’ magic (“watch me make this cookie disappear — munch munch munch — Ta Dah!”). Cause and effect, and how it pertains to magic (why do we have an item disappear? Is it in line with our skit and character, or are we just trying to impress our audience?), as well as storytelling.
Chapter 9: Balloon Sculpting
One of my favorite chapters, by Ralph Dewey. The basics of balloon sculpting are taught, from inflating the balloon, to creating the ever-popular dog (which is then mutated into a horse, chipmunk, squirrel, giraffe and various other creatures). The types of balloons and their uses are introduced, as well as pumps and things related.
Chapter 10: Puppets, Pets and Pals
This chapter starts with a short history of puppetry, and then moves to a discussion of the different types of puppets. The basics of ventriloquism are introduced, along with finding your puppet’s voice. The concept of character comes up again, but this time it’s your puppet’s character — how he/she, too, is a unique individual, and how he/she appears alive to the audience, via animation and non-verbal communication as well as verbal. The chapter ends with a discussion of puppetry in relation to clowning, magic and juggling, and how they can work together.
Chapter 11: How to Juggle Funny
A very good one-chapter introduction to juggling. Very well-written, with lots of clear line art to demonstrate the various steps. It covers the juggler’s tools (what to juggle), how to do basic juggling, juggling tricks to do once you’ve got the basics down pat, and tricks that require little to no skill (more clowning than juggling). How to handle drops (“oops! A sudden gust of gravity, there.” ), use props, and combine skills are discussed next, including a short juggling routine involving a hand puppet.
Chapter 12: Balancing Buffoonery
This chapter is dedicated to balancing, i.e. balancing a broom on your fingertips, a ball on your finger, a ladder on your chin, etc. It starts with the basics, the four types of balancing, the showmanship of balancing (making it look hard, so the audience can appreciate the effort), and introducing comedy and clowning to your balancing.
Chapter 13: The Magic of Music
This chapter introduces the use of music in clowning. Using music as a tool, whether to set mood, or to entertain, how to inject comedy into songs, several sample silly songs, activity songs, and special instruments.
Chapter 14: The Art of Stiltwalking
A very nice introduction to stiltwalking. It describes the different kinds of stilts (hold-on vs. tie-on, footed wooden stilts, Chinese stilts, mechanical stilts), a basic diagram for creating your own beginner’s stilts, how to ride a pair of stilts, how to clown on stilts, appropriate props for stilt walkers, and some stilt-specific jokes and gags.
Chapter 15: Clowning on One Wheel
A chapter dedicated to the basics of unicycling. It covers how to ride a bicycle, how to clown on it, unicycling skills, as well as some special props and special unicycles for clowns. Like all of these ‘skill’ chapters, it ends with some creative ideas for your use.
Chapter 16: Creating Your Own Comedy Act
The basics of making your own routines, as opposed to depending on others for skits & ideas. It begins with finding background & source material — this alone is worth the price of admission. It recommends, & I echo heartily, the need to watch other entertainers, observe what makes them successful, and track that in a journal. It’s not copying routines; it’s paying attention to what’s funny/effective, and what’s not. It goes from there to writing a funny script, to using exaggeration, conflict, tension and surprise. It ends with a walk-through of the creation of an original routine.
Chapter 17: Funny Business
This chapter deals with the business aspects of clowning. Clowning as a profession, either part- or full-time is discussed. Income and the tricky question of setting your rates are discussed, as are publicity kits, advertising, acquiring new business either in person or over the phone are covered. A very good chapter for those who don’t plan to donate 100% of their time :o)
Chapter 18: Jobs for Clowns
A very good, practical chapter discussing the different venues for clowning, including birthday parties (covered in detail in the following chapter), banquets, picnics, restaurants, store promotions, malls, trade shows, theme parks, school shows, library shows, teaching, arts & crafts, and more. A very eye-opening chapter, especially if you tend to put clowning in a strict ‘box’ as to where you can perform.
Chapter 19: Birthday Party Clowning
Perhaps the most common venue for clowning (especially part-time) is the birthday party. This chapter discusses planning the show, drumming up business, how to book the party, how to make a successful party, appropriate games and gifts, and (of course) payment.
Chapter 20: Being Loved, Being Remembered, and Being Booked!
The final chapter is by magician Hal Diamond, and is one of the best chapters in the book. It deals with leaving a lasting impression (and how to not to leave a bad one), promoting yourself, using various gimmicks to get bookings and repeat bookings, and more.
Rated 5 clowns (just about the only time I rate anything this highly)