"Black cat or white cat: If it can catch mice, it's a good cat." - Chinese Proverb
A cat is a good cat, independent of its appearance, if it fulfills its purpose.
Clowns frequently evaluate each other based on their appearance. In the hobby of competitive clowning, appearance is a major factor in awarding prizes. When I open a clown magazine I often form a first impression based on photos of the article's author or subject. (I have learned that first impression is not always correct.) Some people define a clown based solely on appearance. In their opinion if an entertainer does not look a specific way they are not a clown.
I learned not to rely too much on appearance when I attended the 1991 World Clown Association Convention in Bognor Regis, England. It was the first time that I attended an educational clown event outside of the United States. I saw a performance by Clown Gerrit from Germany. He didn't wear any exaggerated make up, but he certainly acted like a clown. Many people that I talked to thought he was the best entertainer in the International European Gala show.
Another German clown wore his own hair in pig tails. His costume had rows of ruffles. His appearance was definitely different from American clowns. Like many American clowns I avoided him because I thought his appearance was a little too strange. However, at the end of the week he approached me asking if he could share one of his routines with me. It was a little routine with a cork screw that I call Corky. I learned several routines at that convention that I added to my repertoire, but Corky is the only one of them that I still perform. (Members of the World Clown Association will be able to read a description of Corky in the November issue of Clowning Around.) That German clown didn't look like I expected, but he definitely knew how to entertain an audience which made him a very successful clown.
Appearance is important. It helps create a first impression. If it is a good expression of your character, it helps people get to know you faster. However, it is not the most important part of clowning. You should spend more time developing the rest of your performance. That means learning more about showmanship. It means learning more about creativity and developing your own material. Even that is not enough.
I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Chuck Sidlow this past spring. Chuck was the youngest Boss Clown in the history of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and is one of the founders of Circus Sarasota. Chuck said, "Your appearance is like icing on the cake. It looks nice but there has to be something of substance underneath it. If you are entertaining a blind person and they understand that you are a clown, you have succeeded."
I was recently using back issues of Clowning Around magazine for a research project, and found an article that Mary Beth Martin wrote in 1991. She said that in a room full of people, kids seem to gravitate towards her when she is out of make up, and that she had noticed the same thing about other clowns. She concluded that there is something abut a clown, independent of make up, that people can sense and are drawn to.
That something is the person's true character. The best clowns are those that lay people sense are somebody they like and want to spend time with. The best clowns develop a rapport with their audience based upon true love for people.
What is your purpose as a clown or other entertainer? How well do you fulfill that purpose? What can you do to learn to be more effective at your purpose? Do you spend as much time developing the rest of your performance as you did your appearance? If somebody couldn't see what you look like as a clown, would they still know that you are a clown?