I received several replies to last week's newsletter thanking me for speaking out about performers who play their music too loud. To me that demonstrates two things. First, it is a wide spread problem. Second, audience members are alienated by the practice. A good entertainer is concerned with how their audience responds. If loud music alienates your audience you definitely need to lower the volume.
Last week's history trivia quiz question was very popular. I've included another one in this issue.
The Christmas article on my web site also proved to be popular. A news letter issue earlier in the year included information about a page on my web site which described one method I use for making customized silk scarves for use in magic performances. That was also popular. So, from time to time I will use this news letter to highlight other pages on my web site. Below this issue's main article is information on a new page about Rone and Gigi that I have recently added to my web site.
My desire is to make this news letter a useful resource for you. I will continue to adjust the contents based upon feed back that I get from you.
I hope that you and your family all have a very happy holiday season.
I'll see you down the road,
Thought For The Week
December 19, 2011
By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson
"If the physical thing you're doing is funny, you don't have to act funny while doing it. . . . Just be real, and it will be funnier." -- Gene Wilder
While touring with the Carson & Barnes Circus in 1981 I was assigned the job of selling the show's coloring books. I wanted to be funny while doing it. I discovered that running into one of the tent's quarter poles because I was intent upon selling the books was funny. I would walk along the Hippodrome Track in the direction of a pole. I hopefully held up a coloring book looking into the audience searching for somebody signaling that they wanted to make a purchase. I was twisted so the fleshy part of my shoulder would be the first thing to contact the pole so the impact was safe and minimal. I tried to avoid thinking about the pole and concentrated on my potential customers. That meant that the exact moment when I hit the pole came as a surprise to me. Because it surprised me, it also surprised the audience. When I rebounded from the pole, I would look at it in amazement for the first time. I was mildly shocked that the pole would hit me while I was doing my job. I briefly shook my finger admonishingly at the pole, and then continued down the Hippodrome Track trying to sell more books. I ran into the next pole when I reached it and reacted the same way. If somebody did signal that they wanted to buy a book, I completed the transaction and then solemnly tipped my hat as a way of saying thank you. I started doing it as a sincere action of appreciation, but I soon discovered that audience members thought it was funny. I learned that if I did it purposely trying to be funny they didn't laugh. I had to do it for real for it to be funny. Near the end of the season I learned that some of the people with the show would secretly gather behind the seats to watch me selling coloring books because that thought it was funnier than some of my clown acts. They said what I did selling the books made it seem I was a real doofuss too stupid to figure out how to avoid the poles. I realized that running into the pole wasn't necessarily funny. The humor came from why my character ran into the pole.
Early in my career I created a routine where I held a book upside down while pretending to read it. I worked out a series of funny actions that I would perform when somebody told me the book was upside down. The actions would make it appear I was following their directions but the book would never be properly aligned for me to be able to read it. The routine didn't work because nobody told me the book was upside down. Because I was trying to be funny they thought I was just being silly. They didn't tell me the book was upside down because they believed I already knew that. Later I changed it to holding up a sign for the audience to read. I concentrate on holding the sign up so the audience can see it. Because I am not acting like I am holding up an upside down sign, audience members believe I don't know it is wrong so they correct me. That allows me to try to follow their directions and my misunderstanding, not the actions, is funny. The audience will help you only if they believe you really need help. Richard Snowberg is a master at this misunderstood directions type of routine, whether he is attempting to inflate a balloon or open an umbrella.
Another excellent example is included in Angel Ocasio's book Clowning: Keep it Simple, Keep it Real. I happened to see the performance he describes from the wings because I was in the same show. Merrily Schultz was doing an act where she was picking up litter and depositing it in a paper sack which happened to have a hole in the bottom. A little girl suddenly left her seat and climbed onto the stage to help Merrily. The girl believed that Merrily's situation was real and that she could help the clown. It evolved into a charming interaction between the clown and girl. People still laughed at the act, but the quality of the laughter changed. There was a new warmth to the laughter because Merrily touched their heart. After the show I heard many audience members saying Merrily's act was the highlight of that particular show. When you try too hard to be funny, you work on only one emotional level which tends to be intellectual. When you play the situation for real you allow the audience to become engaged on many different emotional levels which provides a deeper connection between you and them.
I've heard it said many times that if we don't believe what is happening the audience won't believe it either. Trying to act funny reminds you, and your audience, that it isn't real because you are just acting. Instead of being funny you are being silly which isn't as entertaining.
When you attempt to add humor to your act, is the situation itself funny? Is your character's reason for doing it funny? How can you perform the situation as if it is real? What can you think about while doing the actions to make your performance more believable?
|History Trivia Quiz|
Click on the answer you feel is most correct.
We think of Caring Clowning, visiting hospital patients, as a new specialty in clowning. However, in 1943 three circus clowns were special guests atPresident Roosevelt's Birthday Party in recognition of their work visiting chilren in hospitals. One of the three clowns was
The answer links will be good until January 1, 2012. After that date go to the history trivia quiz archive to check your answer.
|New Website Page - Rone and Gigi|
I know that many of my subscribers have met Rone and Gigi, the founders of Open Sesame - Japan's theatrical clown troupe. However, there is much about this duo of outstanding entertainers that you probably don't know. For example, when clown education was scarce in Japan, they were so committed to their own development that they traveled internationally to study despite language barriers. Even though they didn't know Russian, they moved to Russia to study clowning. After that they went to England to study mime from Nola Rae, and came to the United States to take classes at Clown Camp. When I first met them at Clown Camp Rone spoke some English, but Gigi spoke very little English. They have both worked hard to learn English since then. I have recently added an article to my web site about Rone and Gigi that was originally published in The Funny Paper magazine. To read the article go to
Last spring I shared a little through this newsletter about Big Ears 4 Kids, Rone and Gigi's program to bring clowning to the areas of Japan devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. They have gone to one of the hardest hit towns to teach a class in clowning. I know that they have done at least one school show. They are still raising money for their theatrical shows in the region. In America we hear little about Japan because of more recent terrible disasters in other parts of the world, for example the horrible flash floods this week in the Phillipines. That does not mean the need in Japan is over. They continue to experience strong after shocks. Also, Leon McBryde told me after a hurricane struck his home town that the greatest need for humor and healing comes months after a disaster. Victims receive immediate aid, but later when the difficult task of rebuilding comes they often feel abandoned and forgotten because people don't realize they still need assistance and emotional support.
No individual can respond to every disaster, but I believe that everyone should come to the aid of those who need it. You have to decide what touches your heart and focus your attention there. If you would like to learn more about their project go to
Thank you for being a subscriber. I am always interested in your questions and comments.
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I hope to see you down the road.
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2011 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson.
All rights reserved.
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.
Show Me Clowns for Jesus
February 17-19, 2012
Topics to be announced
Big Foot Clown Alley
Tuesday March 13, 2012
(Meeting starts at 6:30)
Big Foot Clowns
California Clown Campin'
July 30 - August 5, 2012
San Bernardino, CA
The Art of Clowning Exhibit (Clown portraits created by Bruce Johnson)
Classes: To Be Announced
California Clown Campin Information
For information on additional services that I can provide for an educational event