Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #543
August 11, 2014

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


I was saddened to hear about the death of Robin Williams.  He was the star, and one of the producers, of a film titled Patch Adams.  The film was more an expression of Robin Williams' personality than it was an accurate portrayal of the real Patch Adams.  The film helped publicize the field of caring clowning.  Scenes from the film have been included in the televised tributes to Robin Williams shown on American television.


As I mentioned in the most recent issue of this newsletter, 2014 is the centinneal of the creation of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp.  This Thursday, August 14, the Turner Classic Movies cable channel is having a day long tribute to Chaplin's Little Tramp.  The marathon includes some of his movies and a couple of documentaries.


I have added two new events to the Educational Opportunities column.  I will not be lecturing at the Circus Fans Association of America convention, but I will be attending it.  The convention includes a day in Clinton, Iowa, the home town of Felix Adler, honoring that clown.


The World Circus Summit is still in the planning stage, but I believe it is going to be a historic event.  This will be the largest gathering of circus enthusiasts and professionals ever held.


I will see you down the road,



In This Issue
Thought For The Week
Centennial of Chaplin's Little Tramp
New Article by Bruce Johnson
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

August 11, 2014

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


"Your skills are your letters, your routines are your words, and showmanship is the grammar that allows you to give them meaning." -- Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


The above quote comes from my Staff on Stage performance at Clown Camp® in La Crosse, WI five years ago. I was reminded of it recently when somebody asked help in figuring out an order for their magic routines. In writing, the order of your words and your use of punctuation make it easier for the reader to understand what you are saying. They also help the author create the image they desire in the reader's mind. In performance the order of your routines and your use of pauses and other timing techniques helps your audience understand what you are doing. It also allows you to create a desired image in the mind of your audience.


When planning the running order for a show I always start with the opening and closing. They are the hardest to select. They are also the most memorable part of your show.


I have a few opening sequences that I choose from for most of my shows. That is usually three routines that I perform in a row. The first is something quick and impressive. I want to get the attention of the audience immediately and demonstrate that they have to pay attention closely or they are going to miss something. The second is a demonstration of skill to establish my credibility as a family entertainer who will have something for all ages. The third is a "character" piece to allow the audience to get to know me as a person. It is usually an interaction with the entire audience or with a volunteer on stage. To summarize, the goal of my first three routines is get their attention, gain their respect, and establish a relationship with the audience.


Sometimes the opening routines have a secondary purpose - establishing the act's premise. For my Sorcerer's Apprentice act a magician is introduced but he doesn't show up. Charlie, the janitor, is asked to watch the magician's props while the emcee goes to look for him. Out of curiosity, Charlie picks up a scarf on the table. The emcee tells him to put it back because he is to watch, not touch, the props.  Charlie puts the scarf back on the table and stares at it. When audience members begin to chuckle, he looks at them. The scarf flies from the table back to his hand. He returns it to the table, and again it flies back to his hand. Charlie puts it away and starts to clean up the stage. However, his curiosity is aroused so he picks up another prop off the table. By this point the audience understands that these are not Charliie's props and that he is just as surprised and amazed by what they do as the rest of the audience. Although Charlie is surprised by the results of the next routine the audience realizes that it requires skill to perform. Then the third routine is one where Charlie does things wrong which the audience tries to tell him how to correct.


The endings of my shows are usually a series of two routines. The next to closing routine is one I want the audience to remember. It might be an inspirational routine or one with a message. It might be one that through experience I know gets the best audience response. Frequently I use my Mismade Flag routine with an audience member helping me produce a large American Flag. I know from audience comments that it gets the best audience response. However, I don't close with it because it finishes with a volunteer on stage. If you have a volunteer on stage you need to direct the audience applause towards them which means there is less for you.


My finish trick is short and impressive with me as the center of attention. My goal is to do something the audience wants to applaud, and then stop before they loose that desire. Sometimes I tie it back into the opening so the audience realizes this is the end and time to applaud for the show overall. For example, if I start the show by spinning a plate on a vanishing cane, I end the show by holding a spinning plate on a mouth stick while juggling three clubs.


Once I have the the opening and ending I fill the middle of the show with routines that are varied. I don't perform two routines that are the same type one after the other. For example, I don't do two routines in a row with an audience volunteer. I include routines where I demonstrate my skill, but I don't go too long with the audience just watching me. I follow a skill routine with an audience interaction routine.


To open your show, what short routine do you know that will get audience attention? Which routine will work next to demonstrate your skill as an entertainer? With your third routine how can you establish a relationship with the audience?


If your show has a premise tying everything together, how can your opening communicate that to the audience?  


What do you want your audience to remember about your show? Is there a message you can place next to closing? What is the most popular routine in your show? Can it work next to closing?


For your closing, what short routine will be greeted by applause? Can you tie it into your opening? Is there some other way to cue your audience that this is the end of your show?


How can you vary the type of routines that you perform during the show? What purpose does each routine serve? How can you intersperse routines that maintain audience respect with ones that maintain your connection to the audience?

Chaplin's The Circus

One of the films being shown as part of their tribute to Charlie Chaplin is his movie titled The Circus.  This film is actually a pretty good depiction of circus clowning in the 1920's.  I wrote an article on the historical background of this film which is now available on my web site.  To read the article go to


Charlie Chaplin's The Circus  

New Articles by Bruce Johnson

I wrote four articles that appeared in the July 2014 Issue of Clowning Around, published by the World Clown Association. 


The first is a profile of Lee Mullally, the recepient of the 2014 World Clown Association Lifetime Achievement award.


The second is an article about the display by the Circus Model Builders at the 2014 WCA convention in Chicago.


The third is a short article on how to use archives and library special collections to research clown history.


The fourth is an article in my WCA Historian series on two different clown routines that are commonly known as Niagara Falls.  The article explains the history of the routines, and then it concludes with a series of questions to start you thinking how you can apply the information in the article to your own performances.


To learn more about joining the World Clown Association, which includes a subscription to Clowning Around, go to


World Clown Association

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I hope to see you down the road.


Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2014 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.

 Circus Fans Association of America

September 17- 21, 2014

Dubuque, Iowa


CFA Convention 


World Circus Summit

July 14-18, 2015

West Springfield, MA



 World Circus Summit


For information on additional services that I can provide for an educational event 

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