Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #518 
August 19, 2013

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


This issue includes another entry in my popular history trivia quiz.  It also includes a short article on Coulrophobia.


I would like to correct something I said in last week's issue. I try to be as accurate as possible, but sometimes I make mistakes. Monika Kelly informed me that when she appeared in clown make up and costume at the recent California Clown Campin' educational program it was the second time in her life that she wore clown make up. The only other time that she wore clown make up was at the age of three when she and her older sister appeared as miniature versions of Weary Willy, her father's clown character, for a Kodak magazine advertisement. In the print ad Emmett was taking pictures of his family Halloween activities.


Richard Snowberg established the posistion on World Clown Association Historian, and then appointed me to fill that posistion.  The description of the posistion requires continual education in clown history.  Each quarter of the year I submit a report that includes a description of what I did during the preceeding three months to continue my education.  Not only am I looking for new information, but I try to confirm what I think I know.  How can you do something each quarter to continue your variety arts education?


I'll see you down the road,



In This Issue
Thought For The Week
History Trivia
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

August 19, 2013

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


"It's nice to hear about clowns working together who normally are not performing partners.  I think that requires a special talent." - Lee Mullally, commenting on hearing about a performance Angel Contreras and I did together at the 2013 California Clown Campin' program.


Improvisation is the skill that allows me to work together with Angel Contreras and other clowns who are not normally my partners. First, I'll describe two common improvisational games, and then how I apply them to performance.


Yes, And -- The participants form two lines. The first person in the right line steps forward and makes a ridiculous statement. The first person in the left line steps forward says, Yes, and..." and responds with a related statement. For example, the first person might say, "The sky is a beautiful shade of green today." The second person responds, "Yes, and the clouds are a beautiful purple." Then they go to the end of the opposite line and the next people at the front of the lines step forward to repeat the process. The application is that if you say "no, you are wrong" during an improvisation you have set up a roadblock that stops the flow of ideas. No matter what your partner does, you have to accept and build upon it.


Mr. Answer Man - This is one that participants and staff played during Jeff McMullen's improvisation class the last day of the 2013 California Clown Campin'. In this case three volunteers lined up in front of the rest of the group. Together they formed the Answer Man who could respond to any question. However, each of the three was limited to saying one word at a time. As they took turns answering they had to build upon what the previous person had said. For example, if asked, "why is the grass green?" the first person would say, "The." The second person would say "grass." The third person would say "is." The first person would say "green." The second person would say "because." This would continue one word at a time until a phrase was produced, and one of the players ended the answer by announcing the name of a punctuation mark. A possible answer to my sample question is "The - grass - is - green - because - it - looks - up - at - the - trees - and - turns - green - with - envy - period."


Mr. Answer Man teaches several important components of improvisation. First, you are not in control. You can not force the direction that the improvisation will follow. You take one step, but your partner may change direction of the improvisation with their next step. Since you can't say no, you have to say yes and go in their new direction. Second, you need to pause giving your partner time to respond. There is an action - reaction chain. You act in some way. Your partner reacts to what you have done by performing an action. Then you react to their action. Your reaction is actually an action to which they react.


Here is a specific example. The first night of California Clown Campin' featured a show where each of the staff members did a brief performance so they were all in make up and costume. This was followed by an Open Mike session where participants could perform brief routines. An adorable nine-year old named Zoe performed a very cute song. She was in regular clothes. When she concluded, Jeff McMullen put his coat on her. Angel Contreras put his hat on her. She lifted her arms as she accepted the applause of the audience. Then she took off the coat and hat, dropped them on the floor, and returned to her seat. I stepped forward, picked up Jeff's coat, opened it, and went towards him to help him on with it. Angel didn't say anything, but in the spirit of "Yes, and" he decided he would help me hold the coat open. Jeff's "Yes, and" action was to put his right arm into the left sleeve. I was standing on the right next to the empty sleeve so my "yes" action was to put my right arm into the right sleeve. Jeff removed his right arm from the left sleeve. Angel was standing there next to the empty left sleeve so he inserted his left arm into that sleeve. Angel and I paused and looked at each other. I pulled my arm out of the right sleeve, but turned it inside out. Jeff turned it right side out using his right hand which meant it ended up on his right arm. Angel removed his arm from the left sleeve. Jeff inserted his left arm. I stepped away from the other two so the audience could see that Jeff was now wearing the coat. Jeff picked up Angel's hat and threw it at me. I tried to catch it on my head, and missed. I picked up Angel's hat and threw it to him. He tried to catch it on his head but missed. He picked it up and threw it back to me. I missed catching it. I tossed it to a man seated in the front row near me. He threw the hat towards me, and I caught it on my head. The three of us applauded his ability to make an accurate throw. Then we took a short bow, and exited the stage area.


What opportunities do you have to develop improvisational skill? When you play an improvisation game how can you apply its principles to your performances? If you normally perform solo, where can you find the opportunity to perform with other entertainers?


History Trivia

Click on the link that you think is the best answer.  These links will remain active until September 2.  After that date, use the trivia archive link under the right hand column to check your answer. 


    Last month was Richard "Red" Skelton's 100th Birthday.  In 1931 he began specializing as a walkathon clown. A walkathon clown performed at


circuses on the hippodrome track between other acts


dance marathons during the night.



Coulrophobia, an unnatural fear of clowns, is a currently a very popular topic. The August issue of Smithsonian magazine has an article on the topic that is not very well written and has many historical errors. A Birthday Clown for Archer, by Kathy Mashburn, has been recently published to help people overcome their fear of clowns. Last week I was doing a search of my local library catalog for new books on clowns and discovered Blown Away, by Nancy Mahl, a mystery where the main character is a woman with Coulrophobia who begins dating a man who volunteers as a hospital clown. (In the story her new boyfriend is a suspect when somebody begins killing the members of his caring clown troupe.) I am a member of the World Clown Association Publication Committee and in the past year have received comments from two different people who thought photos in Clowning Around were of clowns who had a scary appearance. This week an "op ed" article in the Seattle Times newspaper about the recent controversy over the actions of a radio clown referred to clowns as scary characters.


What can clowns do? First, we need to realize that there are many negative portrayals of clowns in the media. We can't attack those who make those portrayals because that only gives them more attention. We need to counter that with positive portrayals of clowns in the media by being sure we are acting in a manner that brings credit to our art and letting the media know about it. During the 2013 World Clown Association Convention in Borneo an entire day was set aside to humanitarian efforts. Clowns spread out through the region of Sarawak, where the convention was held, to appear at hospitals, orphanages, centers for children with dyslexia, and other locations where the gift of laughter was welcome and needed. The day ended with an International Humanitarian Show with an invited audience that included underprivileged children. The Humanitarian Day resulted in extensive press coverage in the region. The Humanitarian Day was an idea by Richard Snowberg. I was on staff for the 2012 Show Me Clowns For Jesus conference where an afternoon was devoted to visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations. However I don't think they had any press coverage. I would like to see other conferences and workshops incorporate humanitarian efforts and reach out to the press.


Second, we can become better educated. Some people can trace the root of their Coulrophobia back to an appearance by a clown who was too energetic and invaded their comfort zone.


Our actions can make a difference. In a recent appearance in a dining room a woman approached me to let me know a young girl was frightened of clowns. I tried to avoid the girl, but at one point in setting up I had to come too close and she started crying. During the show, I ignored her. Watching my interactions with other children during the show reassured her and she began creeping closer. By the end of the show she was seated in the midst of the other kids. My wife, Carole, was with me as Pookie, her clown character. While I packed up after the show, Carole did some close up interactions with the kids, including letting them balance a bird prop on their finger. This girl who started off terrified of clowns got in line to have a turn balancing the bird. When it was time to leave everyone was amazed because this girl dragged a chair over next to me, climbed onto its seat, and threw her arms around my neck to give me a hug.


There are two relevant articles on my web site. The first is about Coulrophobia, its causes, and how people can overcome it. The second is how to avoid triggering Coulrophobia when entertaining young children.




Entertaining Young Children



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I hope to see you down the road.


Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2013 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson.
All rights reserved. 
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