Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #571
February 8, 2016

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

Many of the leaders in clowning in America are alumni of the Boy Scouts of America.  When I toured with Circus Kirk we discovered that a majority of the young men touring with the show were Eagle Scouts.  Doc Boas liked to hire Eagles because of their leadership ability and because touring with an outdoor circus was like going on a scout campout only it lasted longer and the tents were a lot bigger.  I mentioned that during the clown panel at the 2015 Worldwide Circus Summit.  Afterwards many clowns present told me they had been Boy Scouts and several were also Eagles.  Today is Scout Day in America.  The BSA was incorporated on February 8, 1910.  I wish all my fellow Scout Alumni happy Scout Day.  You can read my tribute to Scouting and the role it played in my career by going to

Below the main article you will read about something that I am supporting.  It is something that is of concern to circus archivists.

 I will see you down the road,
In This Issue
Thought For The Week
Cursive Club
New Articles by Bruce Johnson
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 
February 8, 2016
By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

"Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with order and attended to with diligence." - Abigail Adams
When I lecture at a variety arts conference, I try to attend as many lectures by other instructors as possible. However, my primary focus is upon the needs of the participants. More than once I have held informal classes not listed on the schedule when somebody has expressed a need that I can meet in that manner. So, at least once each year I attend an educational program where I am not lecturing in order to concentrate on my own education. Sometimes I choose a program based on instructors I know I will learn from. I have always learned something useful from Lee Mullally's lectures no matter what topic is announced. For example, I am not a balloon artist but I attend a class Lee taught on storytelling with balloons. I did pick up a few tips about storytelling, but was surprised by what immediately proved most useful. Shortly after I returned home, I was hired by a motorcycle dealership to do strolling entertainment at a promotional event. Lee taught his students how to make a balloon bicycle. I used that information to create a balloon motorcycle that I presented to my client when I arrived at the dealership. He was delighted by this extra touch not required by my contract.
Sometimes I choose a unique educational opportunity without being sure how I will be able to apply the lessons. I attended a kite making conference because flying kites is one of my hobbies. However, I unexpectedly learned a little more there about painting on silk because a traditional Chinese kite is made from silk and split bamboo. I have used that knowledge in creating custom silk scarves for some of my performances.
Sometimes the content of a presentation is the source of learning, and sometimes it comes as the result of discussions with other participants outside of scheduled events. The greatest advantage of going to different educational opportunities is meeting new people. These new contacts provide a wealth of fresh inspiration and knowledge.
When I travel, if at all possible, I try to visit a local library or museum. When I attended the 2003 World Clown Association Convention in Jacksonville, FL I discovered a small local history museum. They had exhibits on Oliver Hardy, who began his movie career in Jacksonville, and on local African American history. Both exhibits had information that helped me in my understanding of entertainment history. I discovered that museum after I arrived, but sometimes advance planning is necessary. I contacted the Brooklyn Public Library prior to attending the 2011 WCA Convention in New York. When I arrived they had pulled newspaper clippings related to clown history that I spent an afternoon studying.
I also look for opportunities at home. A magic club near where I live hosts lecturers who are on tour. I try to attend at least a few of those lectures a year.
I frequently check the catalog at my local library to see if they have any new books related to being a performer. Last year I read a biography of Lillian Litzel, a circus aerialist, which turned out to have some good information about her uncle Adolph Pelikan, who eventually became a famous clown after changing his name to Bluch Landolph. It also unexpectedly had some information on a couple of early twentieth century female circus clowns.
Part of learning is maintaining a consistent practice schedule. However, if you leave it to chance other things may fill your schedule and you never get it done. So beginning in January I decided to practice my juggling while watching Jeopardy on TV each evening. Not only does it give me a specific time to practice, but it gives me experience in looking through my pattern while juggling so I can maintain a connection with the audience.
How often do you continue your education? Who is an instructor you have learned from in the past? How can you take additional classes from them? What unique opportunities are available to you? What books will help you? What will help you maintain a practice schedule?

Cursive Club

I recently became award of something that concerns me as the World Clown Association Historian. Many schools in America stopped teaching cursive writing after the No Child Left Behind bill was passed. It was not a required part of the curriculum. Many schools dropped it because it was not "time spent on task" of preparing for the standardized tests. That means we have a generation of school children who cannot read or write cursive.
Why would a historian care? Those students will not be able to read and study historical documents. The majority of them were written in cursive. For example, I kept a journal while on tour with Circus Kirk in 1976. None of my grandchildren can read it because it was written in cursive.
I was talking with somebody involved in a local elementary school who suggested one possible solution, forming after school cursive study clubs taught by volunteers at local schools. It would not take a lot of time. One article that I read on the subject said ten minutes a day three times a week can make a tremendous difference.
Here are some suggestions if you think you would be interested in advocating such a problem in your community.
It is easier to convince others to support something if you can demonstrate its benefits. Do some research on the benefits of cursive writing. One uncredited report of a study said cursive handwriting helps students learn spelling because it links the letters in a word together in your mind.
Keep it fun. Don't just drill the kids on cursive. Incorporate it into games and other fun activities. Copy some Mad Lib stories in cursive to provide something fun for the kids to read as practice. Print words in squares for Tic Tac Toe, and tell the kids they have to write that word in cursive if they want to claim it. Obtain the addresses of local and state government officials and invite the kids to write them a letter in cursive. Use your imagination.
If you start a cursive club, please share your experience with me.

New Articles by Bruce Johnson

I wrote three articles which appear in the December issue of Clowning Around, published by the World Clown Association.

The first article, titled the Butterfly Effect, is about clowns from Southern California who were my early teachers and sources of inspiration.  They were known mainly in their own region, but their influence spread much further.  Because I have passed on what I learned from them they started a chain of influence that extends to every clown I may have influenced.

The second article, in the Back2Basics section, is how to use a 50/50 Forcing Deck.  (I refer to this type of deck in my Butterfly Effect article.)

The third article, titled International Tramp, describes my experience performing internationally and in cross culture situations as a Tramp clown.  It also offers suggestions on how the reader can prepare for their own cross culture and international experiences.

For information on joining the World Clown Association, which includes a subscription to Clowning Around, go to

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I hope to see you down the road.


Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2016 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.


Clown Camp Reunion


June 12-17, 2016

La Crosse, WI


Clown Camp Reunion


Midwest Clown Association Convention
Sept. 27 - Oct 2, 2016
Merrillville, IN

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