Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #489 
June 4, 2012

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson




I didn't like history classes in school because my instructors stressed memorizing names and dates that could be easily tested. It wasn't until I discovered a book titled Clowns, written by John Townsend, that I learned history is really stories about interesting people. It is also a source of information and inspiration that can help us become better entertainers today. I began studying clown history and became fascinated by the subject. That led to me being appointed as the World Clown Association Historian. As part of my own continuing education, I will be attending the Circus Historical Society Convention next week in Baraboo, WI. I hope that I will be able to see some of my Thought for the Week subscribers while I am there.


The California Clown Campin' program is now less than two months away. I have seen the class schedule and can tell you some outstanding classes are offered. I have already picked out some that I will be attending while I am there on staff. One of the unique offerings is a marketing class taught by Norm Barnhart. In connection with the class, Norm is offering a 15-20 personal consultation during the week. In addition to the classes there will be performances by the instructors and a visit to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus with a chance to meet members of the clown alley before the show. You can find out more about this program using the link in the Educational Opportunities column to the right.


I'll see you down the road,






In This Issue
Thought For The Week
In Memory: Tony Blanco
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

June 4, 2012

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson



"Nature unaided doesn't tell us who we are or how we should behave, nor does history. That is the work of thought giving expression to experience." - Vision & Voice: Writing History and other Serious Nonfiction by Stephen J. Pyne


History does not have any relevance to being an entertainer today if it is just a series of names, dates, and facts. For example, you can probably be a very successful entertainer without knowing that William Kempe was a clown performing from 1594-1600 with the Chamberlain's Men, the acting troupe Shakespeare was associated. Richard Armin took his place in 1600. Both men were known for their ad libbing and scholars believe that much of the comedy in Shakespeare's plays were improvised by the clowns and added to the script after they proved popular with the audience. However, thought confirmed by my experience as an entertainer provides the significance. The best material is written in cooperation with your audience. You try out different variations and keep what works best with the audience. The pride we take in the clowns' contribution to the greatest literature in the English language gives us confidence that clowning is worthwhile and valuable providing motivation to put more effort into learning our craft and preparing for our performances.


At a clown conference a woman told me she really didn't like face painting, balloon sculpture, and other one-on-one interactions. She said she was really interested in clowning as a performance art so she wanted to become a circus clown. She had talked to some circus clowns and was discouraged by what she they had told her. As we talked I confirmed that getting a booking as a circus clown did not meet her goals. For example, she didn't want to leave the security of her long time job to travel with a circus with no guarantee of a contract beyond one season. She thought the only options for clowns were doing birthday parties or circuses because that was all she knew. I told her that the circus is not the only venue where clowns can perform. I told her about William Kempe, Nat Wills, Bill Irwin, and other clowns who performed on stage throughout history. She became excited when she realized that the theater has been and continues to be a major venue for clown performances. She realized that she could stay in her job while pursuing local and regional opportunities to perform on stage evenings and weekends. I shared with her some places where I have been able to perform on stage. By widening her knowledge of history and sharing my experience she expanded her definition of clowning and found her niche.


During this past year I read The Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top, by Janet M. Davis. It was written by a sociologist who used archives to research circus history and then explained it in cultural terms. Unfortunately it is of limited usefulness to entertainers because Davis has no experience as an entertainer. She did not understand the significance of her research in terms of the reality of entertainment. I felt that she sometimes slanted what she learned to fit her theories. Several times her description of circus life contradicted what I had learned from my own research and my experience working as a circus clown. She applied a lot of thought to her work and it was an expression of her experience as a sociologist. That makes it more useful to other sociologists and less useful to entertainers.


A book on clown history written by an author without entertainment experience is The World of Clowns by George Bishop. He accepted stories that he was told without being able to judge their validity so the book is full of misinformation. It has so many errors that I automatically assume it is false. In contrast George Speaight, the author of The Book of Clowns, is a historian with experience performing as a clown and as a puppeteer. Based on his experience he was able to draw valid informative conclusions. I often use Speaight's book as a reference.


When you learn something about entertainment history how can you discover its significance? How can you apply thought to it? What does it mean in terms of how you define an entertainer? What is the meaning in terms of what an entertainer does? What theories can you draw from it? How does your experience help you understand what you have learned? How can you use your experience to test your theories?


When you read a book or article on entertainment history, ask what experience does the author have? How much thought have they given to their conclusions? Is their information accurate?

In Memory: Tony Blanco

Tony Blanco passed away May 28, 2012 at the age of 51 after a quiet bout with cancer.  Tony wanted to concentrate on continuing to perform so he kept his colon cancer a secret when it was diagnosed last January.


Tony was a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College ™ graduate.  In addition to being a clown, he was also a magician and puppeteer.


I got to know Tony through our connection with Laugh-Makers Magazine.  We both wrote columns for the magazine and taught at the first Laugh-Makers conference in La Crosse, WI in 1986.  Tony had married Bunny Collins shortly before the conference and they had a second clown wedding during the conference.  Tony and Bunny both taught at the next Laugh-Makers conference before their marriage ended.


Tony and I both contributed to Creative Clowning, a book edited by Bruce Fife.  Tony's photo appeared on the front cover.


Tony produced magic props through his own company titled Props Unlimited.  I used his Sammy the Seal prop for over fifteen years to perform the routine described in Creativity for Entertainers Volume Three.


Tony spent the last decade performing in family venues in Fresno, CA.  Prior to that, he had performed in Las Vegas for a period of twenty years.  His performances in Las Vegas included portraying Lucky the Clown at Circus Circus.


Tony had many friends in variety arts and made important contributions to our art.

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.


Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2012 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.
California Clown Campin'

July 30 - August 5, 2012

San Bernardino, CA



Creative Gospel Routines, Silk Magic for Clowns, Circus Memories, How to Juggle - Introduction, Trick Cartoons, Physical Comedy, Juggling Jam, and Staff on Stage.


California Clown Campin Information




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