Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week
January 19, 2009
Issue #320 

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

As much as possible I try to make this newsletter about you, not about me.
I have a special offer for you related to this newsletter.  You will find more details at the end.
In This Issue
Thought For The Week
Lecture Schedule
New Article Published
Special Offer
Circus Lingo

Thought For The Week 


January 19, 2009
Today is a Federal Holiday in the United States in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., a black preacher who was a leader in the civil rights movement trying to end racial segregation in America during the 1960's.  Tomorrow is the inauguration of Barak Obama, the first black man elected President of the United States.
Bert Williams (1874-1922) was a black entertainer, who because of his outstanding clown talents, was able to break through many racial barriers a century ago.  With George Walker, his partner, he was the first black producer of a Broadway play with an all black cast.  Walker and Williams were the first black entertainers to headline in segregated white vaudeville theaters.  After Walker's death, Bert Williams continued with a highly successful solo career.  He was the first black entertainer to star in a motion picture and the first black singer to make a phonograph recording.  For several years he was a star of the Ziegfield Follies.  Flo Ziegfield said Bert Williams was the funniest comedian he had ever hired.  His contemporaries considered Williams to be America's greatest entertainer.
Despite his talent and accomplishments Williams was victimized by the discrimination of his era.  Williams, Walker, and Ernest Hogan, a third black entertainer, were the targets of a New York race riot in 1900.  Fearing becoming a racial target again, Williams insisted that his 1910 Ziegfield Follies contract have a clause exempting him from performing on stage with a white actress.  When the Ziegfield Follies went on tour, Williams had to stay in dilapidated hotels reserved for black customers although he was a star in the show.  After one performance he accompanied his friend Eddie Cantor to Cantor's hotel.  Williams was barred from entering the lobby and had to go around to the service elevator to go to Cantor's room.  Williams said, "It wouldn't hurt so much, Eddie, if I still didn't hear the applause ringing in my ears.  It is no disgrace being a Negro, but it is mighty inconvenient."
Williams was not descended from slaves, but was a well educated immigrant to America.  However, to be accepted on stage by white audiences he had to imitate white performers imitating former slaves.  Williams performed in the minstrel style tramp character originated by McIntyre and Heath.  He had to learn to speak the African American dialect which seemed like a foreign language to him.  He resented the negative stereotype associated with the character, but he found the make up liberating.  He said when he put the make up on he felt for the first time that the audience was laughing at the character and not him personally.  Critics said his performance revealed the humanity under the stereotype.  By submitting himself to the restrictions of his era Williams began to earn acceptance of black entertainers by white audiences providing more opportunity and freedom for those who followed him.
Williams was known for his humility.  According to William Temple, "Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all."  That was the type of humility possessed by Williams.  It is known that he would visit mental hospitals to entertain the patients because his most famous routine, the poker game, was inspired when he saw a patient playing with an imaginary deck of cards.
After the White Rats ("star" spelled backwards) was founded to improve conditions for white entertainers in vaudeville and on Broadway, Bert Williams helped start Frogs, a similar organization to aid black Entertainers.
President-elect Barak Obama has been emphasizing the importance of people helping each other during difficult times and building a brighter future for those who come after us.  He has declared that today is a day of service.  Bert Williams epitomized that.  What can you do to help others now?  How can you be of service?  What can you do to make things better for those who will follow you?  What foundation can you leave for others to build upon? 
Lecture Schedule 
 April 25, 2009
Mid Illinois Magic Conference
Scottish Rite Cathedral
400 E. Perry Ave, Peoria, IL
Lecture on comedy writing (unique to this conference)
Performance in public variety show
Registration opens at 8 AM.  The show begins at 7 PM.  They will have a web site up soon with additional details.
I believe in promoting any event I will be lecturing at.  If you schedule me for an educational event that you are hosting, I will list it here if it is open to the public.  (I have lectured for some groups that restricted attendance to their members to preserve an intimate experience and to allow for more hands on learning opportunities.)  My goal is to to what I can to best meet the needs of you and your group.
For information on additional services that I can provide for an educational event click here


New Article Published


I wrote an article titled Old and New Testament Boomerangs which appears in the first issue of Duane Laflin's Advance Newsletter.  This free newsletter is intended for entertainers involved in Gospel ministry.  Duane is also hosting the first Advance Conference in February.  For more information on the newsletter or conference go to or click here.
This article is a variation on an earlier routine using a prop called a Pom Pom Stick.  (That routine was published in the Christian Conjurer and in The Cross and the Clown.)  You would have to own a Pom Pom Stick magic effect in order to perform the original version.  This newer version relies upon the classic boomerang optical illusion and is one that you can make yourself.  I created the new version when I was flying to a performance and wanted something light weight that the TSA could not damage if they inspected my luggage. 
Besides being a routine that you can use, the article is an example of how there is always more than one method to perform an effect.  No prop is perfect for every circumstance.  The important thing is to be open to alternatives and to select the prop that is best for the conditions for a specific performance.
The article also demonstrates the chain of inspiration.  The Pom Pom Stick is a prop that was invented by British magician Ali Bongo.  Doug Kornwolf created a routine about the Bible using that prop.  His version was published in the Christian Conjurer in 1986.  Fifteen years later Duane was inspired by Doug's routine to create a different routine about the Bible using the same prop.  Duane's routine was published in Seeing Truth in 2001.  Duane's routine used the colors of the Pom Poms to represent parts of the lesson.   Four years later I was inspired by Duane's routine to create a routine with that prop that was very different from the other two.  Finally, the three earlier routines using the same prop inspired a new routine using a different prop.


Special Offer

I sent my first Thought for the Week May 2, 2001.  The first ones were about half the length of those in recent years.  I have collected the first 52 into a booklet titled Charlie's Contemplation's: Thoughts on Entertainment Excellence.  Order any of my other lecture note pamplets and I will include a free copy of Charlie's Contemplation's.  If you were not an original subscriber this will give you a chance to see what you missed.
My other lecture note pamplets are titled Charlie's Comedy Bits, Charlie's Trick Cartoons: Second Edition, Comedy Blackouts, Introduction to Silk Magic for Clowns, and Jest Juggle: How to Make Juggling Entertaining.  For information on these pamplets click below.
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I will be sending out the first issue of my Creativity For Entertainers newsletter soon.  This free occasional newsletter will have information and ideas related to my Creativity For Entertainers trilogy.  The first issue will include some ideas for Valentine's Day.  To subscribe use the Join Our Mailing List link on the right side of this newsletter and check Creativity as one of your preferences.
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Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Circus Lingo

  Route Cards

and Route Books


Many outdoor American circuses publish route cards that list the towns they will be performing in.  Each card covers two weeks.  For example, route card #12 would list the towns the show will visit during the twelfth and thirteenth weeks of the season.  Route card #13 would list the towns the show will visit during the thirteenth and fourteenth weeks of the season.  Route cards are often distributed to the employees along with their weekly payroll.
That means people traveling with a show never know where they will be more than two weeks in advance.  In 1981 my grandmother was furious because I had not informed her I would be performing in Holdrege, Nebraska, my home town, with the Carson & Barnes Circus.  She said she had to find out by seeing a poster down town.  The posters were put up three weeks before the performance so she knew before I did that I would be there.
Families of circus employees often purchase sets of route cards.  To save postage the show might send several cards at once so those at home often know where the show is going before those traveling with the show. 
At the end of the season some shows publish a route book.  At the minimum this book would list every town the show had appeared in during the season, list personnel who had been with the show the majority of the season, and have the show's official running order.  Often the books include a diary of events during the year, photographs, and statistics like these:  According to the 1981 Carson & Barnes Route Book the show opened on March 14 and closed on November 14.  During the thirty five weeks on the road the show had only one day off, Easter Sunday.  The show traveled 14.770 miles in visiting 218 locations in 28 states.  The show spent more than 24 hours in only nine cities.  That year Carson & Barnes became the first tented circus since 1956 to perform within the city limits of Pittsburgh.  (The show performed nine standing room only shows during three days in that town.) Twice during the season the show performed in three states within a three day period.  The show gave at least two shows a day during the nine months, and several times gave three shows a day.  The total number of shows performed during 1981 was 496.
Most modern route books are the size of a circus program.  In fact many of them use the same cover design.  However, during the 1950's and 1960's the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus published small hard cover volumes. 
Some circus fans collect route books.  Michael Spoorer, a circus fan who specialized in routes, told me that routes are important because they can lead to other information.  For example, if you know when a show played a specific town you can easily search the local newspaper archives looking for information. 
Route books can also be interesting glimpses into life with the circus.  For example, I once read in an old Barnum & Bailey Circus route book that there were no serious injures when a driver turned a corner too close during a parade and a branch swept half the band off the top of the wagon.

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