Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #551
December 29, 2014

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


The Milner Library at the IllinoisStateUniversity has a wonderful circus archive. Maureen Brunsdale is their Rare Book and Special Collections Librarian. She recently helped me find some information that I had been trying to locate for many years. In my Tramp Tradition Show I have been reciting the beginning of a poem Charles Burke included in his circus act in 1879. Maureen was able to find and send me the entire poem, which were actually the lyrics to a song. So when I perform my Tramp Tradition Show at the 2015 World Clown Association Convention in Reno, I will be able to include the entire poem. If there is information about the circus or clowns in the circus that you have been trying to find without success, you might try contacting Maureen. Her email address is


Part of the Milner Library collection of circus images is available on line. I have known for a long time that Freddy Freeman was famous for performing the clown boxing act with Otto Griebling. I recently discovered that Freddy had begun his career performing in equestrian acts. Sometimes he played the comedy role in those acts. I searched the Milner Library digital collection and found several photos of Freddy with equestrian acts. It was interesting seeing what he looked like out of make up. To view and search the Milner Library digital photo circus collection go to



In this issue there is information on an article I wrote about Felix Adler that appeared in the December 2014 issue of Clowning Around, published by the World Clown Association. I do not post articles on my web site immediately after they have appeared in print because I want to encourage people to join the organization or subscribe to the magazine. I wrote this article for Clowning Around when I learned that my lecture on the first six International Clown Hall of Fame inductees had been scheduled for the 2015 World Clown Association convention. Felix Adler is one of the six clowns I talk about during that lecture. I tied the article into my up coming lecture to help promote attendance at the convention. It is my policy to try to promote attendance where I will be lecturing. If you schedule me to do a lecture, and you have a publication, I will work with you to print something in advance to promote attendance. Including my Thought for the Week articles, I have written over 1300 articles in the past 40 years. I may have an appropriate article that you may reprint, or I might be able to create something new specifically to meet your needs.


I wish all of you a Happy New Year full of love and laughter.


I will see you down the road,



In This Issue
Thought For The Week
New Article by Bruce Johnson
Trick of the Trade
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

December 29, 2014

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson



"You're not a Poet until someone else says you're a Poet." -- Robert Frost


Robert Frost is one of the most famous American poets. I studied his work when I was in High School. In recent years I have frequently been able to identify somebody quoting one of his poems on television shows or in movies.


There are many other people who claim to be poets. Some believe that if they write lines that end in a rhyme that is poetry. Others believe if they write using many similes and metaphors that is poetry. However that is just a superficial adherence to form. Poetry is more than that. I am not sure that I can define poetry, but I know when something does not qualify because it is inferior. I think the true test of poetry is the impact it has upon the reader or listener.


Many people put on make up and a costume, and call themselves a clown. However, wearing make up and a costume does not mean you are a clown. I have heard unconfirmed reports that it has become a fad in France and in Bakersfield, CA for people to dress like a clown, carry some type of weapon, and jump out of a hiding place to scare pedestrians. I don't think anybody would claim that those people are actually clowns. They are wearing a clown disguise to create mischief.


Defining a clown is difficult. Some people have become very famous clowns without wearing traditional costume and make up. I attempted to define a clown in an article I wrote for White Tops, published by the Circus Fans Association of America. You can read that article on my web site.


Clown Definition


As the World Clown Association Historian I have had the opportunity to study clowning in other regions and cultures. When I attended the 2013 World Clown Association Convention in Borneo, I learned a little bit about the local Hudog clown character. That clown wears a mask that does not look anything like a circus clown in America or Europe. How did I know it was a clown? The local people told me that is a clown.


I believe that clowning is a relationship with the audience. You aren't a clown until you have been identified as one by an audience.


Just as there are clowns and people disguised as clowns, there is a difference in the art of magic. There are magicians and people playing tricks. Some people perform practical jokes and claim that is magic. Some people present magic tricks as puzzles to be solved. But magic creates an emotional response in the viewer. Most often that response is wonder. I knew I was succeeding when a ten-year-old boy exclaimed during one of my performances, "I know there is no such thing as real magic, but that's MAGIC."


In my plate spinning act I extend my left arm straight up into the air. Then while looking away, I flip a plate from my right hand, held at waist level, and catch it in my left hand. The only secret to it is confidence based on lots of practice. However, I have had several people comment that they consider that moment to be magical. If that is how it affects them, it is a magic effect although magicians would not identify it in that way.


I took my parents to see a performer at the Hollywood Magic Castle who was world renowned for his card manipulation act. Afterwards I asked them what they thought. My mother said, "He sure was good at hiding the cards in his hands." To her the act was a demonstration of dexterity not something magical.


How do you define being an entertainer? How do you know if you are succeeding? How do audience members describe your act? How can you learn what they think of your performance?


New Article by Bruce Johnson


An article I wrote on Felix Adler appears in the December 2014 issue of Clowning Around, published by the World Clown Association. The article also includes information on the 2014 Circus Fans Association of America convention. As part of the convention I visited Felix Adler's hometown where I met some of his relatives. At the convention I also saw some of the Felix Adler artifacts owned by the Circus World Museum.  On this trip I learned some things about Felix Adler that I had known before.


This article is part of my WCA Historian's column in the magazine. I will be talking about Felix Adler during my Class of 1989 lecture at the 2015 World Clown Association Convention. For more about the convention, and about joining the WCA which includes a subscription to Clowning Around, go to


World Clown Association

Trick of the Trade


If the position of a prop on stage is important, that is frequently marked by tape applied to the stage floor.  This is referred to as spiking the prop.  During the tech rehearsal, the prop is put in place.  Then its location is marked.  A theatrical crew will use something called gaffer's tape.  Painters tape or masking tape will also work.  In general you want to use as little tape as possible to keep the tape from being an element that might distract audience members.  So just the front corners or legs are marked.  If several props are spiked, especially by different acts in a variety show, some method is used to distinguish between the marks.  For example one prop might be spiked using two pieces of tape, and another one spiked using three pieces of tape forming a triangle.  Sometimes a number or colored dot is placed on the tape to differentiate. 


Something to watch out for is acts using confetti. I was in a variety show where an act shot off three confetti cannons at its conclusion.  The stage was covered with so many tiny pieces of paper that it was impossible to see the spikes.  The prop crew struggled to set the props for the next act.  During that act they located brooms.  Then the show had to pause so they could sweep off the floor in order to see the spikes to set the props for the remaining acts.

Thank you for being a subscriber.  I am always interested in your questions and comments.

Remember if you have missed an issue, you can read it by using the archive link in the right column.  If you want to change the address where you are receiving this newsletter, use the update profile link below.  If this newsletter no longer meets your needs, you can use the SafeUnsubscribe link to be permanently removed from my mailing list.  If you want to spread the word about this newsletter, you can use the forward email link below to send copies to others that you think might be interested.

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

Tramp Tradition Show,

Controlling Focus,

Class of 1989 


World Clown Association


World Circus Summit

July 14-18, 2015

West Springfield, MA

Panel Discussion: Circus Today -- Clowning 


 World Circus Summit


Clown Camp Reunion


June 2016

La Crosse, WI


Clown Camp Reunion

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

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