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How Do I Start Clowning?

I write this article with fear and trepidation…

This is a topic about which many excellent books have been written, and I can’t hope to match the volume of useful information there with the content of this web page. However, I pray that some will find this useful as a starting point. Where appropriate, I’ll link to reviews of some reference materials that any starting clown should have on their library shelf.

Future articles (1 each week, God willing):

For this first installment, however, I’d like to cover some basics. First, what is a clown? If you want to be one, you will need to know what a clown is, and is not. A clown is not a person in strange make-up. A clown is not a person who dresses strangely, or who walks funny, or who either talks in a funny way, or with a funny voice. A clown can do any and all of those things, but that’s not what a clown is.

What, then, is a clown? A clown is a walking, breathing Loony Tune character come to life. A clown is willing to humiliate himself in order to exalt his audience, be that 1 person or 1,000. He communicates, but not only with words. A clown is a beacon of love, and life, and joyfulness. A clown makes you smile.

The only carved in stone rule …

Now, over the course of these articles, there’s only one carved in stone rule that you must remember about clowning: that there are no carved in stone rules about clowning. If there were, clowning could never have changed — and it’s changed a lot over time. From early Greek theater comes the fundamentals of the white face make up — but the Auguste, Character, and Hobo/Tramp has popped up as well. You want to wear minimalist make up, or no make up at all? That’s fine. Think about some of the television ‘clowns’ of the 20th century.

Did Lucille Ball wear clown make up on her TV series? Most of Red Skelton‘s characters wore little or no traditional clown make up. Think of the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello. Want some more recent examples? Anybody who’s seen a single episode of the TV series “Family Matters” would recognize Steve Urkel as a clown immediately, even though he wore no make up. You’ve heard that the clothes make the man, haven’t you? Then realize that it’s not the clothes, nor the make up, that makes the clown.

It comes from within

It’s what’s inside that comes shining out that makes the clown. Your clown comes from you. Perhaps it’s a part of your personality you normally repress, or one of your favorite traits that you magnify a thousand-fold. Maybe it’s a part of you that you fantasize about. Perhaps it’s several of these combined.

Whatever it is, for it to be clowning, it must be funny, and it must be true to your character. It would be totally out of character for Harpo Marx’ clown to suddenly start talking, just as it would be ‘wrong’ for Groucho Marx’ character to suddenly become silent.

Next time, we’ll investigate how to find that clown character (or characters) that are waiting to come out. In the meantime, I recommend that you read a wonderful book, Creative Clowning. For anyone starting, it’s a must-have. In addition, it spends an entire chapter on discovering your clown character, as well as make up, costuming, etc. Check it out from your library or purchase a copy — you won’t be disappointed.


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