Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #490 
June 25, 2012

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson




California Clown Campin' is only a month away.  I hope to see many subscribers there.  You will find information on this excelent program under Educational Oppotunities to the right.


I had a wonderful trip to Baraboo, WI earlier this month. It was a busy time filled with great experiences. I was there attending the Circus Historical Society Convention and also participated in the Circus Kirk Reunion.


Both events included a tour of the Library and ResearchCenter and Library at the CircusWorldMuseum. In 2009, the museum was facing financial difficulties and had to cut back on funding for staffing and new acquisitions in the library. They had nothing available over the internet. Now the museum is back on a firm financial footing and Pete Shrake is doing an excellent job as their new archivist. They are creating an on line index to their holdings. It will be several years before they are finished, but it will be an excellent tool for researching clown history. During the convention Pete taught a class on using their on line index as a research tool. I am excited about what has been made available already and the future potential. The two events also included unlimited admission to the CircusWorldMuseum grounds. I would like to thank Steve Freese, director of the CircusWorldMuseum, and Pete Shrake for their hospitality and information during the week.


While I was in Baraboo, I visited the International Clown Hall of Fame. They have done a wonderful job setting up displays in the limited space they have available. I enjoyed discussing clown history with ICHOF Director Greg DeSanto. This is another institution that was recently struggling financially and had actually closed their doors. Greg has gotten the memorabilia stored in better conditions so they will be preserved and is making our history accessible to clowns and lay people. He is very knowledgeable about the history of clowning, something that was not true with previous ICHOF Directors. After several yeas of no activity, the ICHOF has inducted one honoree in each of the past two years. Greg has done a wonderful job of reviving the ICHOF and deserves our support as he builds for the future. I would like to thank him for his hospitality during my visits.


Finally I participated in portions of the Circus Kirk Reunion. Circus Kirk was the first touring tented youth circus. It was on the road from 1968 to 1977. I was toured with the show in 1976 and 1977. The show was founded and managed by Charles "Doc" Boas. Doc had toured as a clown named Professor Onions with circuses in 1960 through 1961. Then he worked as a circus press agent and advance agent with various shows before opening Circus Kirk. One of the things that came up repeatedly during discussions was that Doc did a wonderful job teaching young people to accept responsibility and to try new things. Everyone agreed that their experience on Circus Kirk contributed to their success later in life not matter what profession they entered. Another thing that came up is that Doc was great at developing young clowns. What I learned from Doc formed the foundation for my success as a clown.. It was wonderful seeing three of Doc's four children, Charlie, Laura, and Liz. We shared memories and I was able to tell them how important my two seasons with Circus Kirk had been in my life. I will always be grateful to the Boas family for the opportunity they provided me. I would like to thank Jim Keifer for organizing the reunion and his hospitality


That's it for this week.


I'll see you down the road,






In This Issue
Thought For The Week
Articles by Bruce Johnson
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

June 25, 2012

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson



"Improvising for the sake of improvising usually leads to banalities or irrelevant jokes." -- Gene Wilder


I saw a recreation of a radio play featuring an actor playing Groucho Marx. Near the beginning he improvised something related to the script which got a great laugh from the audience. A little later something went wrong, and he improvised a response that got another great laugh. During the second half of the play he began improvising just because he thought people were responding well to his improvisations. Now his comments were not related to the story. He began making comments about other subjects if he thought they might get a laugh. His comments did not get the response they had originally because they were irrelevant and not set up well. Instead of returning to the script and trusting the material, he panicked and began doing more improvisation. He began ad libbing comments about the inadequacy of the script, although he was ignoring it. When his ad libs did not get laughter he began using face savers like repeating something that had gotten a laugh earlier in the show. Only three people laughed at one of his comments, and he turned to them and thanked them for saving him. The other performers had trouble moving the show along. They failed to get laughs for jokes that were scripted in their lines because he kept interrupting them. In his desperate attempt to get laughter by improvising he ruined the play because he was no longer paying attention to it. At one point he had to return to the script, but had no idea where they were. One of the other actors had to turn to the correct page for him and point out his next line. His selfishness prevented the others from doing a good performance. It also had a negative impact on the audience because his ad libs made the play run over. That meant the audience had a shortened break before the next play would begin, and the performers in the next play had to rush to prepare their show.


By contrast I have heard many people comment on Jack Benny's generosity. Jack didn't care who got laughs during his performances as long as people remembered laughing during the show. Jack did improvise, especially when one of his cast members made a mistake. However, his ad libs were always in response to something that had happened during the performance. Part of his stage character was a supposed inability to improvise. He used that to point out the improvisational abilities of others he performed with. For example, when he was a guest on Bob Hope's TV program, Bob improvised a comment about Jack. Jack's improvised reply was, "You wouldn't dare say that if my writers were here."


Improvisation does play a role in a performance. It can make the characters seem alive by responding to something that has happened. If the audience can see and hear something, the entertainer should also see and hear it, and then respond. For example, I saw a performance of the live "Aladdin" show at Disney's California Adventure in Southern California. When a baby started crying in the audience, the actor playing the Genie turned to Jaffar, the villain, and said, "You should be ashamed of yourself."  


Improvisation can keep a show fresh and interesting for the performers and contribute to a sense of the performance happening for the first time. The Genie in the live "Aladdin" show is given license to improvise. People return specifically to see what new lines the Genie will add. However, the Genie's ad libs are controlled. After making a joke, often including a topical reference, the Genie returns to the script.


Ideally an ad lib helps to move the production along instead of bringing it to a halt. It adds to, instead of detracting from, the entire show. It must relate either to what is happening in the action of the script or to what is happening in the environment of the theater. Other than causing them to laugh appropriately at the humor in the improvised bit, it should not interfere with the ability of others to give their best performance.

 Why do you improvise in a show? What is the purpose of the improvisation? How can your improvisations contribute to the overall effectiveness of the performance? How can you make sure your ad libs are relevant?

Articles by Bruce Johnson

An article I wrote on constructing a Pinewood Derby Car that looked like a Circus Wagon was appeared in the May/June issue of Little Circus Wagon, published by Circus Model Builders, Inc. A Pinewood Derby is a traditional annual race conducted by Cub Scout Packs. I served the past two years as Committee Chair for Mount Baker Council Pack 76. I built my circus wagon car to race in the sibling and adult heat in our Pack's race this year. The article not only described how I made the car, but offered suggestions on how circus model builders can become involved with Cub Scout Packs. Not only can they contribute to the Pack's program, but they might inspire youngsters to eventually become involved in model building or in the circus. Clowns can also contribute to Cub Scout programs which may inspire the next generation of clowns. My first performance as a clown was during a Pack event when I was eight years old. You can see a photo of that first appearance by going to my tribute to Boy Scouts at


Boy Scout Tribute


An article I wrote on clowns associated with William Shakespeare appeared in the May 2012 issue of Clowning Around, published by the World Clown Association. We tend to think of circuses as the main venue for clowns, but the theater has been an important venue for clowns far longer than the circus. This article is part of my World Clown Association Historian column. To learn more about the World Clown Association and to join, which includes a subscription to Clowning Around, go to


World Clown Association



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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