Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week
March 30, 2009
Issue #327

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

As I get feedback from readers I am continuing to let this newsletter evolve.  My goal is to make it as useful to you as possible.  For example, I've heard that the long narrow column on the right is difficult to read.  So I am moving my lecture schedule to that space.  I know that you can't please everyone, but I will at least consider every suggestion that is made.  Please continue to send me your comments and questions.
I continue to get new subcribers each week.  Thank you to those who are helping to spread the word.  By using the Constant Contact service I can easily serve many more subsribers than I did before and am not close to my capacity.  If you find this newsletter helpful, please let others know.  Last week I talked about the importance of questions.  Here is another one.  What one person do you know that would enjoy or benefit from this newsletter?  Use the forward link at the bottom of this newsletter to forward a copy of this issue and invite them to join us.
I have heard back from some subscribers who have also started using Constant Contact and are finding it to be a useful marketing tool.  So far I have been very happy with their products and impressed by their customer service.
To new subscribers, welcome.  You can use the archive link at the bottom of the right column to read recent issues of this newsletter. 
In This Issue
Thought For The Week
May I Help You>
WCA Historian
Randy Munson's Business Magic
Charlie's Contemplations
Lecture Schedule

Thought For The Week 


March 30, 2009
"I believe in simplicity: simplicity of effect, simplicity of method, and simplicity of construction." - Ali Bongo
Ali Bongo (William Oliver Wallace) died on March 8, 2009.  He was 79 years old.  Ali was an extremely creative entertainer with a long career.  He created his Ali Bongo character in 1948.  I saw him perform his act in 2007 at the Magic Show Conference in Branson, MO.  The Bongo Hat and the Pom Pom Stick are just two of his creations that have been used by clowns and other entertainers around the world.  He also popularized the magical phrase "Hokus Pokus Chicken Bones Choke Us."  He has left a rich legacy.
Ali produced a large number of effects because of his involvement with two magicians on British television.  During a nine-year period he worked for David Nixon on 85 hour-long shows.  Each show featured two large illusions and about five smaller effects.  Ali was the only one researching effects, coming up with ideas, and designing the illusions.  After David Nixon died of cancer in 1978, Ali joined the cast and crew of the Paul Daniels show.  For the next 17 years he appeared on the show thirteen weeks each year.  He also created illusions for the show.  (Although he did not consider himself a children's entertainer, Ali do star in his own TV show, Al Bong's Cartoon Carnival, on BBC in 1970.  On his show he introduced cartoons, performed magic, and taught optical illusions.) 
In his lecture at the Magic Show Conference, Ali explained his views on simplicity.  Simplicity of effect means the audience can understand what happens.  Simplicity of method means you don't have to think about the method so you can concentrate on your presentation.  Simplicity of construction means it is as easy as possible to build.  Here are some of my views:
If your audience is confused and can't remember what happened your act is too complicated.  Ideally audience members should be able to sum up your effect or act in a few words or sentences.  For example, in the classic Miser's Dream a magician produces coins from unexpected places including plucking them from the air.  This concept applies to acts besides magic.  A Chris Bliss video currently circulating the internet can be summarized as a juggler varies the rhythm of his tricks in perfect synchronization to music by the Beattles.
Simplicity of method does not eliminate the need for skill.  Often the simplest way to perform an effect is to use a sleight of hand method that you have practiced to the point that it is well within your skill level.  Sometimes "self-working" tricks can be more difficult to use than sleight of hand. 
There is a time and place for well constructed props that can stand up to repeated use and are the simplest method to perform an effect.  I own some props that I have purchased that I could never construct myself.  Some of them I added to my collection just because I admire the craftsmanship.  I also have some props that I spent a great deal of time and effort constructing.  However, you should also know some effects that you can quickly and easily construct with minimum expense so that you can customize them for special performances.  Audiences are very flattered when they can tell you made the effort to do something just for them.  Computers are a great tool in doing this.  You will find many easily constructed effects in Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three.  However, ease of construction does not have to mean shoddy appearance.  Ali Bongo said that doing a weekly TV show meant they had six days to develop an idea, build the props, and rehearse the routines.  Many of the props they used on television didn't have to be sturdy because they were intended for a single use so they were made from cardboard.  However, viewers could not tell what they were made from because of the way they were decorated.
Are your effects and other routines simple?  Do you use simple methods to accomplish what you perform on stage?  Do you use simple construction techniques that provide results that look good?  Do you have effects or other elements in your act that you can easily customize to fit a particular audience or performance?

May I Help You?

At the 2007 Magic Show Conference I got to spend hours talking to Ali Bongo either in private or as part of a small group.  The year before I was able to do the same with Arthur Stead.  How did I get that opportunity?  By volunteering to be their chauffeur during the conference.  Each evening I would drive them to a restaraunt where we would eat together, and then drive them to a theater for the special performance participants were seeing that evening.  Sometimes we would have lunch together.
It is my experience that conference directors often forget how their instructors will be able to get around.  That is one detail that is easy to overlook.  This is not too big a problem if everything is located in one facility, but for an instructor it can be a big obstacle if the hotel accomodations are seperate from the conference center.  At one conference I was straightening up my dealer table at the end of the day when I looked up and discovered that I was the only one in the room.  I quickly learned that I was the only one in the building.  I went outside to an empty parking lot.  I knew where my hotel was, but it was five miles away.  I walked out to the road, and fortunately a conference participant was across the street at a gas station filling their car.  They recognized me and drove me to my hotel.  They arranged to pick me up the next morning and we had many enjoyable conversations during the rest of the conference while they drove me back and forth.
Sometimes out of town participants also need assistance.  When I am at a hotel I look for other participants and ask if they need a ride.  I have had many enjoyable conversations as a result.
Even if the conference center and hotel are part of the same facility, an instructor may be grateful for assistance, especially if they are also a dealer.  Often the dealer room is open during meal times.  If the instructor has a class immediately afterwards they may not have a chance to get any food.  If they don't have a class, they may need the time to prepare for a class.  Maintaining the instructional schedule demanded by some conferences can be very stressful.  I have found that instructors appreciate it if I offer to go purchase something to go and deliver it to their dealer table.  That way they can get a little nutrition between customers.  That personal connection often results in a personal conversation at some point during the conference and I am able to gain some unique insights.  Sometimes what started off as me giving them assistance during a conference turned into a long term friendship. 
Frienships have also started when somebody assisted me at a conference.  Sometimes it was something simple.  One time Trudi Sang told me she was going to a store and asked if she could get me anything.  I had forgotten to pack my toothbrush.  She brought me back a brightly colored one because she thought it looked like something a clown would have.  That toothbrush is permanently packed in my travel kit.  I am reminded of Trudi everytime I travel and see that toothbrush and we continue to stay in touch.
Who would you like to get to know better at a conference?  Can you be their chauffeur?  What other assistance can you give them?

World Clown Association Historian


I have written many times about the value of historical knowledge as a tool for moving forward as a variety artist.  History is a source of motivation and inspiration.
I am not the only clown historian, but because of my writing I have been one of the most visible.  Another clown historian is Patrick Cashion who maintains a history blog called the Clown Alley.
Richard Snowberg, the new World Clown Association President, has asked me to serve as the official WCA Historian.  During the first couple of years of its existence the WCA did have a historian position, but for some reason that was allowed to lapse.   Richard is reinstating it as a non-board position.  That means I will not have a vote on matters brought before the board.  It is also an appointed position while all of the board positions are elected.
My duties will evolve as I work with Richard Snowberg, Rick Zerabic, and other board members.  Richard told me he sees the new position as encompassing two areas, maintaing a history of the organization and eduacating members of the organization about clown history in general.  It may include writing articles for Clowning Around, the WCA magazine, and articles to be posted on the WCA web site.
I already have some historical articles posted on my web site.  You can find them by clicking the link below.
The WCA web site will be reworked soon.  Richard is planning to make new announcements on the web site about every three weeks to keep everyone informed about what is happening with the organization.

Randy Munson's Business Magic

Randy Munson is a very creative entertainer combining clowning, magic, and ventriloquism.  I have been enjoying his performances for over 20 years.  He is an excellent instructor and will be on the Clown Camp staff in June. 
He is also a very successful motivational business speaker specializing in creativty and the value of humor.  He puts out a free monthly email newsletter titled Business Magic.  I have been subscribing and have found it to be very useful.  The topic of the latest issue was Do Not Waste This Crisis.  Many clowns and magicians operate their own entertainmnet business.  I found Randy's advice very useful and have been trying to follow it. 
In addition to the business advice you will also find a list of events where Randy will be teaching variety arts classes.
To subscribe to Randy's Business Magic email newsletter send a request to
Charlie's Contemplation's
I have now written over 300 Thought For The Week Articles.  I have collected the first 52, which were shorter in length, into a booklet titled Charlie's Contemplation's.  Remember that a free copy of this booklet witll accompany any order by a Thought For The Week subscriber of one of the following booklets Comedy Blackouts, Introduction to Silk Magic For Clowns, Jest Juggle, Trick Cartoons Jest in Time, or any issue of The Clown In Times.  You can order by sending me a check or money order or by using Pay Pal.  For more information on these publications click on the link below.
Thank you for being a subscriber.
I would appreciate anything you can do to spread the word about my newsletters.  You are welcome to forward this newsletter to a friend using the forward link below.

Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2009 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson.
All rights reserved. 

Lecture Schedule
 April 25, 2009
Mid Illinois Magic Conference
Scottish Rite Cathedral
400 E. Perry Ave, Peoria, IL
A lecture on comedy writing that will be unique to this conference.
I will also perform a fifteen-minute act  in the public variety show.
Registration opens at 8 AM. 
The show begins at 7 PM.  
June 7-13, 2009
Clown Camp
La Crosse, WI
This is the 29th and final reqular year for this excellent educational program.
I will be performing one of the Staff on Stage shows and will be in the Staff Bits show the first evening.  My classes will be Trick Cartoons for Clowns, An Introduction to Comedy Techniques, Card Magic for Clowns, The Creative Process, and Audience Interaction. 
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.  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 

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