Category Archives: Clowns

012 My Renaissance History

A little navel-gazing about how I got started in the Renaissance Festivals as an awkward teenager with almost no performing experience.

These exploits include finding funny things to say, funny things to do, what things are not funny, and my shoulder-brushing with three people who went on to become celebrities.

010 Comedy in Prison

So last week, I went to perform my comedy/juggling act a local juvenile detention center. At first, I thought it would be immigrant teens separated from their parents at the border. The revolving door quality of the facility makes it difficult to predict who will be in at any given time. All that could be counted on is the age: 14-17 year olds. Not my typical demographic, but I jumped in with both feet anyway, to “give back” to some who may not normally be exposed to the type of entertainment that I do. Hat tip to Alain Nu, the Man Who Knows, for connecting me to  the fledgling program.

009 Teaching the Circus

I spent the last couple weeks teaching at a summer youth circus camp. Some insights into learning theory, comedy theory, childlike thinking, and a touch of scatology.

008 Blues Brothers, Belushi and Clowns

We explore the “Clown’s Eye view” of classic comedy movie, “The Blues Brothers,” (1980) and look at some of the ways that this modern era movie touches on timeless clown archetypes and situations going back hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Clowns and taxes

While doing taxes, (of course at the last minute) I always end up meandering over things I’ve done over the last year. This one was kind of cool. At the height of that idiotic media-invented “clown hysteria” last October, the good folks at Good Morning Washington reached out to the experts of Washington DC’s Clown Cabaret to get a more educated perspective. Check it out. I’m the blond. The one wearing pants. 🙂

http://wjla.com/features/good-morning-washington/clown-cabaret-joins-gmw

As GMW mentions, you may find more information about Clown Cabaret at our website.
www.clowncabaret.com

re: The Current Clown Hysteria: NBC called me…

Theatrical producer, creator and Clown Cabaret producer, and retired RBBB Circus clown Rich Potter was called by an NBC reporter about the current "clown hysteria."
Theatrical producer, creator, co-founder of Washington DC’s Clown Cabaret, and retired RBBB Circus clown Rich Potter was called by an NBC reporter about the current “clown hysteria.”

(I’ll get back to posting about my visual art soon. Been a busy month.)

An NBC reporter, referred by a friend in the business called asked me one question: Is this current strange wave of clown hysteria directly hurting your bottom line?”

I responded that for me, the answer is “no, as I don’t advertise myself as a clown, but I am one. This problem, however has a much bigger scope than my income this month vs. last month, but rather a growing trend in this country, which has been hurting the image of our art form, in the USA, for decades.”

I would have also mentioned there are different types of clowns. Not like the “Auguste, Whiteface and Character,” which any reporter on clowns should know of before calling me. By “different types of clowns,” I mean very different types of performers who call themselves clowns. Just as one can Paint by Numbers or illustrate the Creation of the Universe on a chapel ceiling, Clown is a complex profession for such a simple, Germanic word.

I might have touched on the sadness I feel for our society as a whole; a piece of childhood is lost as children have less access to this memory touchstone to symbolize their youthful wonder and joy. This is a sense of play we grow out of as we mature and spend our whole lives wishing we could recapture. Clowns, really good clowns, can bring that to you.

I would have mentioned how in the 30 years I’ve practiced, studied, wrote and produced three very different theatrical clown shows*, I have changed styles a few times and my definition of “clown” has changed, adjusted and expanded far beyond my Dunning-Kruger inspired first-year definition. I would have mentioned there have been clowns on Broadway, in movies, on TV, and you loved them, and YOU NEVER KNEW THEY WERE CLOWNS!!!”

So yeah; that is what I wanted to say. But before I could get started on information that I think would add necessary nuance to an obviously sensationalized story, he said, “So, you’re sure you haven’t lost any business… [person who referred me to you] said they’d lost a lot of business.”

I said, “No, not currently but I –”
“Thank you, goodbye.”

I have to learn to be more a politician and get in my talking points before I answer their question.

* (OK, I co-wrote and co-produced two of the three with my very talented partners. But I like to think my input was *ahem* useful.)

36/365 FML: Jazz and Disaster

Day 36/365. FML. Not a commentary; just busy relaunching a show in Brooklyn NY a couple of weeks from now and don't have the time and brainspace to do a pretty pretty picture. So back to my ink-first quickie-simple style which fills so many sketchbooks.
Day 36/365. FML. Not a commentary; just busy relaunching a show in Brooklyn NY a couple of weeks from now…

Day 36/365. FML. Not a commentary; just busy relaunching a show in Brooklyn NY a couple of weeks from now and don’t have the time and brainspace to do a pretty pretty picture. So back to my ink-first quickie-simple style which fills so many sketchbooks.

In doing so, I find the pleasure of the simplicity of communicating an idea with as few lines as possible. I find that penciling first makes the playground the paper, but with ink first, most of the work takes place in my head, as erasing is not an option.

On the one hand, I can make a bolder statement with a more complex idea by drawing it out first, then laying the indelible ink (and colors) on afterwards; on the other hand, the more simple image that was thought out first has the more iconic feel.

I guess it’s similar to music: you can painstakingly write out your notes and create some amazing stuff, or you can internalize your scales, open yourself up to improvisation, and play Jazz. it makes sense in words, but I’m not sure a viewer will immediately look at this image and think, “Jazz.” (Interestingly, R. Crumb, known for not using pencil, is also a great Jazz aficionado.)

Or maybe it’s more like juggling fire torches: you practice with them unlit. You can do much more crazy things when they’re not lit, to experiment and find your parameters. That way, when you light them, you can do less crazy things, but operating in a lower threshold of difficulty to please an audience while not causing a disaster. Ink first can be one stroke away from disaster.

Playing God

Rich Potter, as the Creator of the Universe, has a last-minute deadline frenzy, in "God: The One Man Show" at Greenbelt Arts Center, Feb 19-28, 2016 www.GodTheOneManShow.comIt’s actually kind of weird to think of myself as a playwright. I never did much theatre in school, aiming rather to do variety performance: juggling, comedy, magic, clown… I always thought of my performances as “shows.”

So now I have written a new show (God: The One-Man Show), and co-written two shows (“Delusions of Grandeur” and “The Heist” with Matthew Pauli and Karen Beriss) over the last 4 years. People keep referring to these shows as “plays.” I guess yes, since they have all have at least some semblance of a story arc, characters and drama mixed in with the comedy, but it’s weird to me to call them plays.

But if they are, then I guess I’m a playwright. I’m up there with William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and that self-absorbed weirdo performing in the local church basement shouting about gender issues and hydrogenated fats. 

It’s still strange to hear the word applied to my work. I just wanted to write funny shows about things that were on my mind. Now I’m a playwright. Go figure. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I didn’t know. I guess I wasn’t as omniscient as I thought.

Thank you Stephen King


20130610-024117.jpgIt is very strange to me to say this, but thank you Stephen King.


I mean this sincerely although you have hurt me personally and professionally, and countless other people with your writing.


It is strange for me, a clown be to be thanking you, Stephen King, a man who is singlehandedly responsible for more cases of coulrophobia than any other single human who ever lived. The majority of people I speak to about “fear of clowns,” which has numbered in the dozens, possibly hundreds in my 30-year career, trace their fear back to your book and movie “It.”


You probably didn’t realize that would be the effect of your work; you probably didn’t mean to give a complex to children too young to be watching your movie on cable TV about a homicidal interdimensional being that takes on the guise of a whiteface clown. But you did. You probably didn’t mean to shift (mostly American) attitudes against an ancient profession (older than writing, mind you), but you did.


Still, I thank you.


You see, I am working on a novel. My first novel. What I am thanking you for is a quote of yours on writing, which I just saw the other day:


“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”


Well said; succinct. Like a man who has practiced the craft, as well as the Art of good writing. You have inspired me to “get up and work.” I’ve been slacky about getting it written: “I’m not in the mood,” or “I don’t know how to proceed.” You have inspired me to push through my self-doubt and write every day. So thank you.


By the way, my first novel is about a medieval clown. That’s irrelevant, but I thought it might be interesting to you. . I’m sure it will be garbage. I realize that when learning to write, the first million words are just practice.


The book will probably be 50-80,000 words when all is done. So, doing the math, it will be around my 12th novel ––the one where I really am able to use the English language with the precision of a surgical laser and readers are dying to read my every word –– that I will write a story in your honor, for which this is the synopsis:


Working title: “That”


Early 1960s. The story opens with a sort of nerdy child stopping on the curb in front of his suburban house after school to read a book. From the bushes, he hears a voice: “Child — child — would you like some free books?”


Enter the imposing figure of the bespectacled Featherweight the Dancing Horror/Fantasy Writer. Featherweight really only appears to be human; “That” is actually an interdimensional creature that feasts on the flesh of outcast children. After a series of bloodbaths, the children of the town beat him back to Dimension X by hurling at him a barrage of split infinitives and broken metaphors.


(Flash Forward)


Featherweight returns in the late 1990s, having gained his strength back over the ensuing 30 or so years. Like a bad simile, he always turns up –– largely rejuvenated by the inexplicable fame of The New Kids on the Block. Unfortunately for him, but fortunate for Mankind, he is immediately squashed once he reads the level to which writing has sinked in the then nascent World Wide Web. Forevermore thereafter, the world is safe from homicidal interdimensional horror/fantasy writers.


The end.


Mr. King? I look forward to being seen as a professional in your eyes.

About those clowns…

Horrible Sambo-level caricature of a clown, left, encounters (but does not notice) a more subtle, natural clown.
Horrible Sambo-level caricature of a clown, left, encounters (but does not notice) a more subtle, natural clown.

When I first started this blog, I had the intent to talk about creativity. I got sidetracked by all this boring “productivity” stuff. Granted, it’s very important to be productive if you want to be creative, but I’m going to shift gears a bit here. As stated elsewhere, I am a comedian. A variety artist. A juggler. A clown.

Clown.

It’s a loaded word. It is generally considered an insult. “You clown,” “those clowns in Congress,” “quit clowning around…” and the relative neologism, “ass-clown.” However, in theater (and circus, which is an extension of theater), the “Clown” is generally a welcome relief from tensions (Hamlet’s gravediggers, for instance), or between death-defying acts in the circus. This has of course changed with motion pictures putting Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan and Ollie, Abbott and Costello, Dick Van Dyke, Red Skelton, Steve Martin and Jim Carrey on the screen, where the clowns become the protagonists. The everyman. Even the hero.

What is a clown? The term is believed to possibly come from Icelandic klunni meaning clod, or Low German (a great source of our basic English vocabulary). The theatrical tradition can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where a dwarf was known to perform tricks for the court. Of course, that’s only recorded history; who knows before that? Certainly as long as humans laughed as a release of tension, and manipulated objects and bodies to create music, art and dance, the intentional inducement of laughter must have been included in there somewhere. That’s what clowns do. And more.

Just as early civilizations saw art, dance and music as a way to connect to the spirits, laughter, often a Sacred Clown has been part of the ceremony. That idea has popped up in many civilizations, and one could argue that the beloved Trickster character of many a folk tale is an extension of that. Whether it’s the Wise Fool of King Lear, the completely laughable idiot Curly of the Three Stooges, or the trickster Till Eulenspiegel with a wry penchant for defecation, these characters have touched culture after culture in generation after generation.

So again, I try to answer: What is a clown? There are many different definitions, even within a theatrical context, from “a comic character in a play” to “the people in those costumes in the circus” to “M. Night Shyamalan, after his first two movies.” In simple terms, it is a type of actor who specializes in physical or verbal comedy who plays the role of him (or her) self with comical adjustments to certain personal affectations. But still, I find that/those definitions unsatisfying.

After nearly 30 years being a clown on stage and in the ring, I still haven’t fully answered the question myself and I don’t think I ever will; every time I have thought I knew, I’ve learned more to expand my definition. If you held a pie to my head and demanded I give an answer, I would hem and haw and deliberate. In the end however, I would eventually say something like this:

We are all idiots sometimes. We all see the world slightly differently in our private moments when other people can’t see. Many of us are embarrassed by these differences. We are all different from each other and that is beautiful. We are all highly competent at some things and horribly incompetent at others. We try to hide our incompetence and highlight our competence, but when we relax too much, it leaks out. And that is normal. That is funny. That is beautiful. That is the Clown.

The Clown is you.