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.
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 Washingtonreached 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. 🙂
(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.)
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.
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.
I’ve been waiting for months to gather the brain-power, the wherewithal and the inspiration to write something profound. I really want to have a blog, but have identified my fear of “not doing it right” as a primary obstacle.
As with anything new, I am filled with trepidation. I don’t know what to say; I don’t know if anyone will care; I don’t know if it will be “any good.” Self-doubt is pervasive in most of my creative efforts. Fortunately years ago, I gave myself permission to be “no good” when I start something new. The beginning carpenter may cut crooked planks, the beginning mechanic may crease a gasket, and a toddler sucks at walking as s/he takes their first steps. We all suck when we’re new at stuff. It’s essential in the trial-and-error process of becoming an expert. So I call that “getting the suck out of the way.”
This has been a touchstone in many of my creative projects. I have used this technique/attitude to improve my painting. And to create performance pieces. And to perform guitar in front of people. And now, to write a blog. Surely there will be supportive people out there who say, “hey, this post doesn’t suck!” — that’s not the point. The key is: I want to make this thing happen. I want to write. I want to get better.
What is one of my main obstacles? Worrying that I’ll suck at it. So I give myself permission to suck. I tell myself it is normal to suck at something new. I fully expect that after a few entries, after I’ve gotten my feet wet at this, I will be getting the “suck” out of the way.
Whenever I talk to people who tell me they wish they could be “artistic,” I ask them why aren’t they? “Oh, I’m just not talented!” I call “malarkey.” I had an interest, I took classes in high school and college. I pored over art books. I spent many formative years trying to get the “suck” out of the way. When I look back at my old sketchbooks? I sucked. When did that change? When I started to take classes. When did my art start really getting better? When I started really doing a lot of it.
When I guide people to access their creativity, I recommend they just do it. Whatever it is, just do it. It may suck at first; it may not. But you will NEVER get to the good stuff if you don’t get the suck out of the way. So give yourself permission to suck!