Clowning Tutorial

balloon twist bubbles

How Do I Start Clowning? Balloon twisting, part 1

Clown Tutorial – twisting balloon animals, part 1

The first ‘clown skill’ we’ll look at is twisting balloon animals into different shapes. Why balloon animals first? There are several reasons: it’s virtually expected of a clown for one, it’s inexpensive (roughly 8 cents each, buying them retail), and extremely versatile.

A few caveats first. Be aware that balloons can, do, and will pop. That’s normal. Even though they’re made of latex (not standard balloon rubber), and can, therefore, take a lot more ‘twisting,’ they will still pop. Never give a balloon to a small child (I use a guideline of three years old or less). If the child bites on the balloon (which small children will do — taste is a significant part of how they experience the world), the balloon will pop, a piece can then fly straight down the child’s throat, and the child will suffocate and die — you will not be able to dislodge that piece of latex in time to save the child. Don’t turn something meant to delight a child into something so horrible. Thank you.

If you think it was depressing to read that paragraph, imagine what it must have been to write it. Also, (even though it seems harsh), don’t trust the parent who says that they’ll just keep in on the child’s shelf or dresser; I’ve had parents tell me that, and then hand the balloon to the child as they stroll away! Remember your goal in doing this is to make children smile, not cry. How do you avoid the problem? By telling them that your insurance doesn’t cover giving balloon animals away to children under the age of 3 (no lie, by the way — if you’re a member of the Clowns of America International, and have their performers insurance policy, it doesn’t).

Everybody depressed by now? Okay, let’s look on the happy side for a moment. For every “problem” situation I’ve had like the ones I’ve just described, I’ve had one hundred happy, smiling children who are running off to show (friend, sibling, Mom, Dad, Grandma, etc.) their new treasure. It’s a magical moment.

One last comment about popping balloons. You will do it. You will do it many times. Your spouse will ask you to leave the room if you pop one more of those things, you’re driving her crazy! That’s normal. The more you do it, the less often it happens, and your spouse will tolerate you more and more, eventually letting you back inside the house :o)

As normal, this first installment is the necessary boring preliminary stuff. Even so, please take it to heart. Our goal is to make people laugh and smile—let’s be careful out there.

Next time, we’ll actually begin inflating and twisting simple balloon animals, learn why the dog is so popular, and how to be a “twisted” individual. See you then!

Bibliography for twisting balloon animals

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How Do I Start Clowning? Now what do I do?

How Do I Start Clowning? Now, what do I do?

So, you’ve determined your clown character, designed your make-up, and created a costume that will work for you. What next?

Well, before you go before that first audience, you will need something to do to entertain them! I recommend that you look at some of the skits that you can do for a start (we’ll list several good resources for skits at the end of this article). But there’s more, of course. (more…)

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How do I start Clowning? Clown Magic part 1

Clown Magic, part 1 – an introduction

Welcome back  to our ongoing how-to series—today, we’re going to begin discussing clown magic, how it is similar to “standard” magic, and how it differs.

Let’s begin with getting some definitions out of the way. By “magic”, we’re discussing the sleight of hand and “sleight of mind” (pun not intended) popularized by David Copperfield, et. al. We are not discussing anything unholy, unwholesome, or that God would frown upon. That’s magick (or magyk, or…), and something we’re not going to touch with a ten-foot pole.

Another disclaimer: Mr. Copperfield (and all other performing magicians) aren’t doing anything “mystical”, etc.  They are doing things that we’re not expecting, and taking advantage of some presuppositions that our minds make. Here’s a short example. There’s a magical prop, called X-Salted. It’s a gimmicked salt shaker. The presentation is as follows: the magician comes on stage, and starts pouring salt out of the shaker. He stops, unscrews the top of the shaker, and dumps all of the salt out of the shaker. He screws the lid back on, and turns the shaker upside down. Salt continues to pour out of the top of the salt shaker – for minutes. Since we (as adults) “know” that that salt shaker top can’t  possibly hold that much salt, we’re astounded.  It must be magic! The answer, of course, is that our perceptions have been fooled, and the salt shaker lid holds more salt that we think it would.  Children  aren’t  fooled by this illusion, since they haven’t “learned” that rule about space. (more…)

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The Joker Tube - Magic Trick with 'How To' Instructions - aka. Strat-O-Sphere

How do I start Clowning? Clown Magic part 2

Clowning Tutorial – clown magic

Welcome back — today, we’re going to discuss clown magic, how it is similar to “standard” magic, and how it differs.

Imagine, if you would, a clown (either  whiteface,  auguste, or tramp) walking on stage with a serious demeanor. He has a beautiful assistant walk on stage, pushing a small table. She climbs onto the table, and lies down, face up. The clown walks over, makes a few mystical passes, and covers her with a large cloth. He steps back, pauses, and gestures with his arms, pantomiming up, up–  up!  Slowly, the covered figure rises several feet into the air. The clown confidently steps forward and whisks away the sheet, to reveal that the assistant has vanished!

Now,  what’s wrong with this picture? (more…)

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How do I start Clowning? Clown Magic part 3

Clown Tutorial – Clown  Magic – magic card magic – free magic trick

Welcome back – today, the rubber meets the road, and we introduce a free magic trick that you can introduce into your clowning. As always, you want to adapt these things to fit your character. (more…)

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How do I start Clowning? Clown Magic part 4

Clown Tutorial  – Clown Magic – do’s and don’ts of magic tricks

Welcome back!  In this installment of Clown Magic, we’ll talk about some do’s and don’ts.

The most important don’t  is the most basic:  never divulge how a trick is done, except to another magician/clown. No exceptions. Ever. Don’t do it. Just say no. Get the idea? This is a  very bad thing to do; you would be divulging someone else’s  hard work, so that when an audience sees that trick, one or more of them will say (probably out loud, disrupting the performance) “I’ve seen that before! I know how that’s done!”  or something equally witty. This is a lose-lose proposition all the way around. Magicians will stop doing that trick (for example, magicians rarely perform the “sword through the basket” routine anymore, since it’s been exposed so many times), the audience member looks oafish, and the rest of the audience loses out as well. (more…)

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Balloon twisting - twisting a balloon dog by counting to three

How Do I Start Clowning? Balloon twisting, part 3

Clown Tutorial – balloon twisting, part 3

Welcome back! Hopefully, by this time you’ve had an opportunity to purchase some balloons (260Q), purchase a pump, and inflate some balloons, and try twisting a simple dog. Now we’re going to add to your repertoire.

There’s an old joke about a clown who boasts, “I can twist over 100 balloon animals!” only to have his partner deflate his ego with the response, “Yes, and they’re all dogs.” There’s a grain of truth in that old joke. For instance, if you take the basic dog that we did last time, and shorten the ears, and lengthen the neck, and instead of a dog, you have a horse! Make the neck even longer, and use a Sharpie marker to add spots, and you have a giraffe. Instead of a dog, inflate the balloon only half as long, and make very short (1 inch) legs, and a very short (2-3 inch) body, and you have a mouse. Make a mouse with a long (inflated) tail, and it’s a squirrel. Hopefully, you get the picture.

Before moving on, there are a few pieces of advice I’d like to pass on. First, always “burp” your balloons. What’s that? After each twist, squeeze the remaining length of the balloon to push the air further into the “tail”, inflating it (and releasing pressure on the next spot). This makes the balloon less tight, and less liable to pop.

When they do pop, how do you handle that? In a funny, clownish way, of course! For instance, one of my favorite moments from Clown Camp 1998 was when Hooligan was making a balloon hat for Murf the Surf (love that name) as part of a skit.  The balloon pops in the middle of the routine! How did Hooligan handle it? In a calm, matter-of-fact voice, he declares “We’ll just have to make another hat now, won’t we?” and keeps on twisting. I’ve done various things when a balloon popped, such as acting as though I’d been shot, looking around for the source of that strange, loud sound, blaming it on a flock of very fast, low-flying geese with very sharp beaks, looking at the child and explaining that it’s pop art (a joke that the child rarely gets, but that the parent accompanying normally groans at), etc.

Now, there are a lot of other animals to make.  My favorite 1-balloon creation is actually a parrot on a swing (which doesn’t look like a dog at all, and uses different techniques to create it). There are multiple balloon creations. There are other techniques, such as roll-throughs and ear twists, which you can use to make bears, and cats, and birds – oh my!

For us to adequately cover all of these things will take dozens of articles.  Which we’re not going to do right now. Bear in mind that this series is meant as an overview. For more in depth, I strongly recommend the book Captain Visual’s Big Book of Balloon art, and the web sites. Both are worth their weight in gold to balloon twisters (how do you weigh a web site? very carefully). Perhaps in the future we can re-visit this topic in depth.

Next time, we’ll start looking at the basics of sleight of hand (magic!), and see how clown magic differs from “magician” magic. See you then!

Bibliography for twisting balloon animals


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Clown tutorial – balloon twisting, part 3

Clown tutorial – balloon twisting, part 3

Welcome back!  Hopefully, by this time you’ve had an opportunity to purchase some balloons (260Q), purchase a pump, and inflate some balloons, and try twisting a simple dog. Now we’re going to add to your repertoire. (more…)

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Balloon twisting - the lock twist

How do I start clowning? Balloon twisting, part 2

Clown Tutorial  – balloon twisting, part 2

Welcome back! We’re now at the point where  the rubber meets the road  (pun intended), and start learning how to actually twist balloons. Actually, it’s the latex meeting the road, not the rubber, since the balloons we’ll be using are made of latex — this is what makes them more malleable, and able to survive being ‘twisted.’ Having gotten that tidbit out of the way,  we’ll need the following  to begin with: (more…)

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Joseph Grimaldi as Clown

Warm ups and cool downs at clown performances

Warm ups and cool downs at clown performances – how and why

One of the basics about clown performances that often bet overlooked is the need for warm-up exercises beforehand and cool down exercises afterward.   Athletes know about the need for both warm up and cool down exercises – and we don’t typically think of ourselves as athletes, but a clown performance can be just as physically demanding.   When clowning, we tend to use muscles that we forgot that we had — €”and those muscles tend to remind us of that fact afterwards.   In addition, there tends to be a lot of bending, stooping down to the children’€™s height, etc. — €”and if our muscles aren’t ready for that, they’ll hurt afterward. (more…)

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