Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week
June 22, 2009
Issue #335

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

I try to listen to my customers and do the best that I can to fulfill their desires.  I attended a Victor Borge concert shortly after his second book was published.  There were cases of his book available for sale in the lobby.  I learned that he had signed every copy before the performance so everyone who purchased one had an autographed copy.  I was impressed by that so I decided that I would sign in advance each copy of my Creativity books that I sell.
I have not been doing that with my lecture note pamplets because there had not seemed to be a demand for them being autographed.  As I was leaving Clown Camp a woman approached me to say she had forgotten to get me to sign a lecture note she had purchased the night before.  She asked if I could wait while she went back to her room.  She returned to say that she had already packed and could not find the set of notes.  I could tell that she was disappointed.  To prevent potential disappointment in the future I have decided that I will sign each of my publications before it is placed on my dealer table or sent through the mail.  If anybody wants a personalized autograph, I will be glad to add that upon request.
In This Issue
Thought For The Week
Performance Coaching
Ed McMahon
Article by Bruce Johnson
Circus Lingo
Lecture Schedule

Thought For The Week 


June 22, 2009
"Only through imitation do we develop toward originality." - John Steinbeck
Some performers refuse to imitate anyone in their attempt to be original.  However, when they do that they are skipping an important tool in developing original material.
Ralph Huntzinger suggested that I try a magic effect titled Zone Zero invented by Jerry Andrus.  Zone Zero consists of a plastic board with a hole in the center.  During the routine you repeatedly show both sides of the board and yet when you reach through the hole you are able to produce a ball.  The ball vanishes when you push it back through the hole.  The premise of the routine is that the hole is a portal into another dimension called Zone Zero.  When the ball passes through the hole it moves back and forth between our world and the world of Zone Zero.
I purchased Zone Zero from a magic dealer and learned how to do it exactly according to the directions.  It got good audience response.  What I did was an imitation of Jerry Andrus performing the routine.  That was a necessary step in learning the technical skill to perform the routine.  I was able to make changes only after I had mastered the mechanics well enough that I could do them without having to think about it.  That gave me the freedom to think something else.
The first thing that I did was redecorate the board so that it looked like a bean bag game target.  I painted a clown face on the board with the hole forming the clown's nose.  That inspired the idea of somebody trying to throw a ball through the hole.  So I paired Zone Zero with an old clown bit called the Invisible Ball.  In the Invisible Ball you use a paper bag to catch an imaginary ball thrown by an audience member.  The sound of the ball landing in the bag can be heard because you secretly snap the fingers of the hand holding the bag.  In my new routine I remove the invisible ball from the bag and play catch with members of the audience.  Then I have somebody try to throw the invisible ball through the hole in the bean bag target.  When I reach inside to retrieve it, the ball becomes visible to my amazement.  The ball switches back and forth between visible and invisible as it passes through the hole in the target.  Finally the ball remains visible and I use it in a juggling routine with two other balls.  The combined routine gets great audience response because the sudden transformation of the invisible ball is completely unexpected yet it logically makes sense within the magical world of my character.  I would not have arrived at my version of the routine without first imitating the original routine as developed by Jerry Andrus.
(Disclaimer:  I believe in respecting the intellectual property of others.  I did not watch Jerry Andrus perform the routine and imitate it without permission.  I purchased the effect which gave me the right to perform it.)
Early in my career I was greatly influenced by Emmett Kelly and Otto Griebling.  I did not do a literal impersonation of their appearance, but many of my first routines were based on routines they had performed.  During the 1977 season of Circus Kirk I even impersonated Emmett Kelly smashing a peanut in one of my routines.  (The entire routine is described on page 309 of Creativity For Entertainers Volume Two.)  Otto Griebling would warm up circus audiences by seeing which portion of the audience would applaud him the loudest when he juggled pie pans.  When I performed in circuses I performed a similar routine while juggling balls or clubs.  I still sometimes use that routine in theater performances.  However, most of the routines that were derivative of theirs are not currently part of my repertoire.  They were an important step in the development of my character because they gave me something to perform.  Then audience response guided me in discovering what worked best for me.  I used the skills that I developed while performing those imitative routines to create more original routines that were an expression of my own personality.
When I wrote Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three I included many of my routines with permission for the purchaser to perform them as published.  That is the imitative phase.  However, you should not be content to remain an imitation.  So, each routine in that book is followed by idea starting questions to help you think about changes you could make to my routines in creating your own versions.  I have heard from some readers that their final version was very different from the starting place I had given them.  At Clown Camp, Greg Chalmers showed me a great juggling routine using a tin cup and two juggling balls that he said was inspired by my Creativity books.  It was something that I had not thought of doing myself.  To me that proved that I succeeded in what I was trying to do when I wrote the books.
What skills would you like to add to your repertoire?  What could you imitate to learn those skills?  Then once you learn those skills, how can you move beyond simply imitating?  What can you add to the initial idea or what changes can you make to turn it into an expression of your own personality?

Performance Coaching 

I willl be coaching performances at the Next Step Conference.  I will also be coaching the Red Nose Festival Competition at the Northwest Festival of Clowns.  By coaching I mean providing a positive critique.  When I do that I identify the strengths that you want to continue and suggest alternatives to try that may increase the effectiveness of your entertainment.
At the Next Step Conference my coaching partner will be Randy Christensen.  At the Northwest Festival of Clowns I will be part of a panel of coaches filling out feedback sheets during the Red Festival Competition.  You can get more information on both events by going to my lecture schedule.
Mike Bednarek created the Red Nose Festival Competition format in 1997.  For more information on this format go to a 2001 report on Mike's website.
With my permission, Mike has used an article that I wrote on presenting critiques to train the Red Nose Festival Competition coaches.  That article originally appeared in Clowning Around in 1992 when I was the World Clown Association Education Director.  It is available on my web site.
I wrote another article on being critiqued that appeared in Clowning Around the previous year.  That article is also available on my web site.
I incorporated the article on being critiqued into Creativity For Entertainers Volume Two.  That book contains additional information on using the critique process as a tool for creativity.

Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon passed away on June 23 at the age of 86.  He was most famous as Johnny Carson's sidekick on the tonight show and as a commercial spokesman.
However, he was also a clown.  In his first national television appearance, Ed McMahon was the boss clown on Big Top, a circus program for kids broadcast on weekends.  The program aired from July 1, 1950 until September 21, 1957.  The head piece that Ed McMahon wore on the program is part of the International Clown Hall of Fame memorabilia collection.  At the start of the program, the camera would zoom in on Ed's face.  Then he would tilt his head done to reveal the title of the show permanently lettered on the center of his bald top wig.

Article by Bruce Johnson

An article titled The Advantages of Music appears in the May/June issue of The Cross and The Clown magazine published by the Fellowship of Christian Clowns.  This is the first part of a series of articles on using music effectively in entertainment.  This initial article covers timing and rhythm.  You can find more information about the Fellowship of Christian Clowns by going to their web site.

Circus Lingo -- Backyard and Frontyard

In a circus, the backyard is the backstage area.  This is where props are stored and the performers and workers live.  Some performers have their own vehicles and trailers while others live in dormatories, called sleepers, built into trailers.  The backyard also contains the private accomodations for animals that aren't housed in the menagerie.  The cookhouse and piecar are usually located here.  Some shows fence off the backyard trying to keep the general public out.  There may even be security guards preventing access to the backyard.
The frontyard is another private area on the lot.  It is usually adjacent to the midway.  Managers live in trailers in this section.  Often the largest trailer belongs to the concessions manager.
When you visit a circus lot it is important to remember that the backyard and frontyard are private areas.  Travel with an outdoor circus is a very public way of life with members of the public peering in every chance they get.  (One time I was napping in my sleeper compartment when the doorway curtain was abruptly thrust aside by a school teacher so her students could see what was inside.)  Respect the privacy of those traveling with the show.  Never enter the backyard or frontyard uninvited.  If you know somebody with the show, send a message back to let them know that you are there.  If they are able, they will then come out and escort you back to their quarters.
Thank you for being a subscriber.  I am always interested in your questions and comments.
Remember if you have missed an issue, you can read it by using the archive link in the right column.  If you want to change the address where you are receiving this newsletter, use the update profile link below.  If this newsletter no longer meets your needs, you can use the SafeUnsubscribe link to be permanently removed from my mailing list.  If you want to spread the word about this newsletter, you can use the forward email link below to send copies to others that you think might be interested.
I hope to see you down the road.

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

Lecture Schedule
October 15-18. 2009
Northwest Festival of Clowns
 Olympia. WA
Red Nose Festival Competition Coach and Dealer
 November 4-8, 2009
Next Step Workshop
Wilmar, Minnesota
This is an advanced workshop for those serious about Gospel Clown Ministry.  It is limited to fifteen participants.
July 9-15, 2010
Clown Camp Singapore
Sixteen hours of classes over three days plus four days of performing in Singapore schools. 
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 do 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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