Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #546
October 13, 2014

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


I had a wonderful experience last month at the Circus Fans Association of America Convention in Dubuque, Iowa. It started with a concert of circus music performed by the Carl King Band, and ended with a trip to the CircusWorldMuseum. In between I was able to go to Clinton, Iowa, the hometown of Felix Adler where I met his niece who has created a children's discovery center in his honor. I also met his great nephew who recreated Felix's appearance and performed a couple of his gags. Between the dealer room and auction I was able to pick up a few nice treasures to add to my collection. I leaned a lot about the history of clowning in the circus during the week.


The convention was also a reunion for me. We went to the Kelly Miller Circus where I saw Lisa, an elephant I had worked with in 1976 when she was five-years old and we were both spending our first season with a circus. I had not seen her since 1977, and it was great to be able to get close and pet her on the trunk again. She is handled now by Armando Loyal who I knew when he was eight-years-old and we were both on the road with the Carson & Barnes Circus in 1980. It was great being able to have a chat with him between circus performances. In addition I spent time with other circus enthusiasts I have met at previous conventions.


The next Circus Fans Association of America convention will be part of the World Circus Summit, July 15-18, 2015, in West Springfield, MA. This historic gathering of organizations from around the world will also include the World Clown Association, Clowns of America International, and the Mid-Atlantic Clown Association.


I will see you down the road,



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

Thought For The Week 

October 13, 2014

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson



In a traditional clown bit, a Clown enters repeatedly playing the same on a musical instrument.


The Ringmaster asks, "What are you doing?"


The Clown replies, "All the other musicians keep changing notes trying to find the right one, but I found it."


A song consisting of just one note quickly becomes boring. A performance with one emotional note also quickly becomes boring.


That is most obvious in some tramp clown performers who always portray the same emotion. I saw one competition where the tramp performer stood almost motionlessly on a set looking sad while a prerecorded sound track contained the voices of a mother and daughter off stage talking about him. The little girl wanted to invite him in for dinner, but the mother refused. No matter what was said, the performer's expression never changed. The little girl's compassion did not make him at all hopeful. In the end he wandered off stage still looking sad. I thought his performance was lifeless without any characterization which robbed it of all meaning.


The great tramp clowns were not like that. In Emmett Kelly's autobiography he describes his character in different routines as being hopeful, flirtatious, helpful, hungry, and defiant. In one of his most famous routines he would wander the audience nibbling on a head of lettuce and pause staring in admiration at a pretty woman before remembering his manners and offering her some of the lettuce. One of my favorite photos of Emmett Kelly is one of him as Weary Willy seated at a piano with a small smile of satisfaction. Emmett's character was just not joyful, and he resisted the attempts of audience members to make him laugh. Emmett's friend, Red Skelton portrayed an even greater range of emotions as his tramp clown Freddie the Freeloader who was basically happy. He could also feel compassion, sadness, disappointment, anticipation, pride, and fear.


I didn't realize this when I first began clowning. I thought tramp clowns were supposed to be sad. Gradually I began portraying many other emotions in performance. However, when I posed for promotional photos, or drew a color sheet, I always tried to look sad. When I handed something like that out to children after a performance they would look at it in wonder saying, "But you are sad here." In my performance sorrow is the emotion that I portray least so children do not think of Charlie as being sad. So, I have consciously tried to look happy in promotional photos. When I sign my autograph I draw a little self portrait. In the last few years I have even changed that to make it look happy.


At the other end of the spectrum are clowns who are always happy. That can quickly become just as boring. A good interesting character reacts to things around them and responds with the appropriate emotion. This is what breathes life into the character. A character unaffected by their experiences is soulless.


The same is true with routines in a show. Each one has an emotional quality. The emotion portrayed by the entertainer is just one part. The more important element is the emotion felt by the audience. I try to elicit different emotions from the audience. I want them to feel wonder, but I discovered that if I continually try to amaze them while doing close up magic the effectiveness soon decreases. So, I'll vary the emotional quality. After I do an effect that gets an especially strong reaction of awe, I pause a moment to let them enjoy that, and then do something that is more humorous. Then a little later I perform another routine that impresses them.


Like a composer writing for an orchestra, I vary my instruments as well as my notes. I use juggling, magic, trick cartoons, origami, pantomime, and sometimes spoken routines, to create my piece of art. I find that each is suited best for specific types of notes.


How many emotional notes do you hit as your character? How many emotional notes do you hit with your routines? What emotions do you want your audience to experience? What instruments do you use to play your notes? How can you arrange them into the most pleasing composition?



New Article by Bruce Johnson


I wrote an article titled Modeling and Molding Prop Elements which appears in the September/October 2014 issue of The New Calliope published by Clowns of America International. In the article I explain how I made the scroll work that was part of the circus wagon magic prop I used in the opening night show at the 2014 World Clown Association Convention. The method is something that I learned as a technical theater student in college. It allows you to create and reproduce solid elements for props.


For more information on joining Clowns Of America International, which includes a subscription to The New Calliope go to




Clowns of America International 


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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.

 World Clown Association Convention

March 22- 26, 2015

Reno, Nevada


World Clown Association


World Circus Summit

July 14-18, 2015

West Springfield, MA



 World Circus Summit


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