Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

November 1, 2010
Issue #386

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


This week's issue contains another of the popular history trivia questions.

My subscribers in the Pacific Northwest may be interested in a variety show that I am appearing in on November 14th.  There are many outstanding acts in the show that is described as Fun for the Entire Family.  You will find more information about it below the main article.

I am pleased to announce that I will be on staff for California Clown Campin' in 2011.  The topics that I will be teaching have not been selected yet.  You will find a link to their web site under Educational Opportunities.

November 1 is All Saints Day, a day set aside by the church to remember those who have passed away, particularly during the past year.  We have lost many great magicians, clowns, entertainers, and friends of entertainment this year.  Richard Snowberg informed me that Glenn "Frosty" Little passed away last week.  Frosty is an International Clown Hall of Fame Inductee.  According to the Jewish faith nobody is completely dead as long as they are remembered.  As long as we remember those who have gone before us, put to use the lessons we have learned from them, and use the routines they performed as inspiration for our own routines they will remain a living part of our art.

Have a great week,

In This Issue
Thought For The Week
History Trivia
Magic Variety Show
Circus on PBS
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

November 1, 2010

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

"Clowns should omit anything off color or offensive.  Costumes, words or actions that are in bad taste, or that ridicule any race or nationality have no place in a good clown act."  - Wes McVicar, Clown Act Omnibus, 1960


Wes McVicar's advice is just as true today fifty years later.  However, it is easy to overlook how important it was at the time.  The debate over Civil Rights was just beginning when McVicar wrote his book.  The debate included how Black characters were depicted in entertainment, especially in comedy.  The NAACP was protesting the continued syndicated reruns of the Amos 'n' Andy television show that they felt was racist.  (The show originally aired from 1951 until 1953.)  The show, which had a Black cast, showed professional Black businessmen but it also included stereotypical lazy, shiftless Black men.  It was those stereotypes that caused the NAACP protest.  In 1961, to avoid racial issues, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, the creators of Amos 'n' Andy, introduced an animated spin off series titled Calvin and the Colonel.  Similar humor was used, but this time the characters were all animals so their race could not be determined.  In 1966, bowing to public pressure, the Amos and Andy programs were withdrawn from syndication.  Professional Minstrel performances had ended before 1960, but amateur groups were still performing Minstrel shows that included two clown characters known as Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo.  In part it was these performances that McVicar was warning against.


McVicar's advice prohibits ridiculing other races.  That does not mean that you cannot use your own national origins as part of your act.  For example, Angel Contreras, who is Hispanic, sometimes performs a very funny Mexican clown character.  Yakov Smirnoff, a Russian immigrant to America, has had a very successful comedy career commenting on his background and experiences.  The key is whether you are ridiculing others or using your life as the basis of your material. 


I think intent is another key.  Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon's depiction of Minnie Pearl, an Appalachian mountain girl, was grounded in Sarah's true love and affection for people of that region.  That gave her portrayal warmth that endeared her to people.  That was the key to her success.  She loved her character.  She loved her audience, and they returned that love.  I have seen other country bumpkin characters performed by clowns that audience members found offensive because the performer didn't have any respect or affection for the character being portrayed.  If you don't like the character you are portraying, members of your audience won't like it either.


I would add gender to McVicar's list.  By that I don't mean men playing female roles or women playing male roles.  There are many examples of great entertainers who have done that without ridiculing the other gender.  There is also a tradition of characters impersonating the other gender and trying to continue the charade after mistakes have revealed the deception.  That is part of the general impersonation style of comedy.  Another example of that type of comedy is a singer lip syncing to a record who tries to continue when a track keeps repeating. 



I consider ridicule based on gender to be men making comments that put down women in general or that have a sexual connotation.  I have observed that many women and some men find those comments very offensive.  People who make women the target of their jokes or use off color material do get some laughter, but at the price of alienating part of their audience.  Many comedians have said that you can gain laughter using blue material and at the same time cause the audience to hate you.  The key to success as a clown is not how much people laugh, but how much they like you.  A likeable clown will be rehired many times while a clown who gets a lot of laughter without being liked quickly wears out their welcome.


Is your act in good taste?  Is there anything offensive that you need to edit out?  Do you ridicule others or make yourself the basis for your humor?  How likeable is your character?  What can you do to make it more likeable?


History Trivia

Click on the link that you think is the best answer to the question.  These links will be active until December 1.  After that date you will have to use the history trivia link to find the correct answer.

Bozo at the Circus, published in 1946, was the first


Audio Book


Children's book based on a TV Program


Magic Variety Show

I will be one of the acts appearing in An Evening of Unforgettable Magic! on November 14th at the Historic Everett Theatre on Colby in Everett, WA.  There will be two performances at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM.  The show is being produced by Shawn O'Donnell who is also serving as the emcee.  The other acts are Brian Cook, Steve the Pretty Good, Trevor Wattes and Lorena, Brothers from Different Mothers (Juggling), and Enik and Rickie (Junior Ballroom Dancers).  The ticket prices are $8 for children and $10 for adults.


Evening of Unforgettable Magic

Circus on PBS

The Circus documentary titled Circus airing on America's Public Broadcasting System is scheduled to debut on Wednesday November 3.  Each PBS station is independant and sets its own schedule so it will vary by town.  Check your local listings to learn when it will be broadcast in your area.


This show docments a year at the Big Apple Circus.  Barry Lubin and Steve Smith, two International Clown Hall of Fame inductees are featured in the series.


The program is also available on DVD if you would like to keep it for archive purposes or if your local PBS station does not carry it.


Circus on PBS  

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 2010 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson.
All rights reserved. 
Educational Opportunities

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.

World Clown Association Convention
March 14-18, 2011
New York, NY
The History of American Clowning,
Trick Cartoons


California Clown Campin'

August 1-6, 2011

Santa Barbara, CA

Topics to be announced

CCC Information

For information on additional services that I can provide for an educational event 

Quick Links
Join Our Mailing List