CLOWNING 101


WELCOME TO CLOWNING 101, an online "book" centralizing Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno's research, and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper's experience, on the subject of clowning.

The chapters below sequentially covers the required skills for professional level clowning in order of importance, from fundamentals to graduation. The book begins with an introduction to the topic of clowning; then proceeds through the prerequisite skills: ACTING (including improvisation and movement), MAKEUP (including character design), COSTUME, SKITS (including walk-around, gags, and acts); culminating in SHOW (and rehearsal). The final chapters HISTORY and RESOURCES are for reference. HISTORY lists great clowns and comics by era, mostly from film and television, and also features a definitive reference to circus and clown related movies. RESOURCES contains the glossary, as well as links to sites for vendors and organizations.

In each chapter and its subsections, please read the article at the top of each subject first, then proceed through supporting content and links.



This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

INTRODUCTION

Fundamentally the clown's function is to make people smile or laugh. Clown skills overlap with acting, comedy, vaudeville, magic, juggling, psychology and more. Most generally clowning is an area of theatre. There are subtle differences, but clown is largely synonymous with jester and comic and fool. Clowns often represent non-comformity incarnate, and sometimes mischief, but may also be simply parody by exageration. The role of clown is probably nearly as old as culture itself.

This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

INTRODUCTION / WHAT IS A CLOWN?

Wikipedia describes clowns incomparably well:

"Clowns are comic performers, stereotypically characterized by their colored wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, and unusually large footwear. Clowning, in its most basic form, can be described as one form of drama without a fourth wall, however there are other types of drama that are lacking the element of a fourth wall as well. In other words, a clown acknowledges his audience. The clown's humor today is often visual and includes many elements of physical comedy or slapstick humor."

"Clowns spread in cultures of any time and place, because they meet some deeply rooted needs in humanity: violation of taboos, the mockery of sacred and profane authorities and symbols, reversal of language and action" ... "The performance is symbolic of liminality - being outside the rules of regular society the clown is able to subvert the normal order, and this basic premise is contemporarily used by many activists to point out social absurdity."

"A popular early form of clown was the fool, a role that can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt and appears as the first card in the tarot deck. Most fools suffered from some physical or mental deformity, and were given to the local landlord as a charge, because their families were unable to look after them ... being perceived 'idiots' they were often the only people in court who enjoyed free speech, and during the 16th century, especially in France, actors began to train as fools often in order to have the ability to make satirical comment. There is evidence of the 'wise fool' similar in function to the jester in many other cultures."

"Clowns of this era and eras previous to it were also associated with jugglers, who were seen as pariahs of society alongside actors, prostitutes and lepers, and thus (at least in Europe) wore stripes, or motley - cloth associated with marginalised people such as the condemned, with strong associations with the devil. Jugglers often used clowning techniques, and the later court jesters often danced, performed acrobatics and juggled."

"During the 16th century the Commedia dell'arte also became a huge influence on perceptions of the clown in Europe, and influence which passed through pantomime, into vaudeville and on to the touring circuses of the 19th and 20th centuries."

Please go to Wikipedia to read much more of this excellent article.

INTRODUCTION / WORKSHOP

The following three basics of clowning woorksheets were excerpted from pages included with a basic clown workshop handout packet distributed during a late-1990s season class of Gamma Phi Circus.

INTRODUCTION / WORKSHOP / CLOWN REQUIREMENTS

  1. Have a focused character. A focus character has the following traits:
    1. a definite personality
    2. a costume that accentuates this personality
    3. a funny take that suits your personality
    4. a walk that strengthen your personality
  2. A good costume highlights your features, and your personality. Remember your costume must be:
    1. Clean (not scary or vulgar)
    2. Bright
    3. A wig and/or hat. (or bald cap) (no rainbow colored wigs)
    4. Shoes with traction
    5. Make sure it is comfortable
  3. Be able to develop and put on a face. You must be able to put your make-up on in reasonable amount of time (15-25 min.). Your final face must be clean and bright. It must also highlight your personality.
    1. Be able to demonstrate one special talent, (i.e. unicycles, juggling, ect.)
    2. Be able to for at least two balloon animals.
    3. Be able to perform a prat fall.
    4. Be able to at least tell two clean jokes.
    5. Each clown will have to perform ONE walk-on skit for tryouts.
    6. Most of all - have fun, work hard, and show us what you're made of!!!

INTRODUCTION / WORKSHOP / CLOWN SKILLS

The following basic skills are expected of a performing clown.

  1. Character
  2. Make-Up
  3. Costume
  4. Big motion
  5. Improvisation
  6. Special Talents
  7. Balloon animals

If you have questions please ask any active clown or your act leader.

INTRODUCTION / WORKSHOP / CHARACTER PLANNING

Fill in the following on behalf of your character, not as yourself.

  • Name:
  • Age:
  • Birthplace:
  • Parent's Names:
  • Sibling's Names:
  • Basic Personality Traits:
  • Funny take that represents character:
  • Be able to show and explain your walk:

    Please note: Your character is the foundation of your whole clown personality... This is not to be taken lightly!

INTRODUCTION / WORKSHOP / WALK-ON SKIT

Write your skit down below, suitable for walk-around or quick gags: make sure you describe props, actions, and how long the skit will run.

INTRODUCTION / SLOGANS

The following are key clowning guidelines, simplified to short slogans, suitable for use as mini posters.


LESS "CUTE", MORE "FUNNY"


PIES DON'T FIX EVERYTHING


WHAT WOULD MY CHARACTER DO?


SMILE!


BE BIG, REDICULOUSLY BIG




This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

ACTING

Basic hints on acting, character behavior, and improvisation.

ACTING / INTRODUCTION

Basic acting hints:
  • Actions must be appropriate for character.
  • Act BIG and sloooooowwww.
  • Use gesture, body language, ASL.
  • Use oversized pantomime for every emotion.
  • Movements and actions need reason and purpose.
  • Watch your blocking: crowding, facing, spacing.
  • Play to the audience, not to each other.
Basic acting skills:
  • Good vocal projection
  • Clarity of speech
  • Imitating dialects and accents
  • Physical expressiveness
  • Emotional expressiveness
  • Singing and dancing
  • Improvisation
  • Mime
  • Stage combat


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

ACTING / IMPROVISATION

IMPROV RULES:
  • Yes and:
    Respond to partners improvisation by adding on and building with "Yes and...", as opposed to any repsonse that might defuse, slow, or obstruct the building context. For example, if a person says "The aliens are coming!"; a response like "Yes, I can hear them in my fillings" is FAR better than "you're crazy".
  • Avoid asking questions:
    Respond to partners improvisation by supporting and building on the story. Questions slow and complicate a context, decrease credibility, and overly challenge your partner by forcing them to come up with an answer. For example, if a person says "The aliens are coming!"; a response like "they probed me once" is FAR better than "why would you say that?"
  • Listen:
    Close listening is required for good improv. More so even than with regular conversation. By listening you can respond appropriately, rather than with disassociation.
  • Don't Deny:
    Denial is a scene killer, by instantly crushing suspended disbeliefe. For example, if a person says "The aliens are coming!"; a response like "Run around and panic!" is FAR better than "No they aren't".
  • Tell a story:
    Do what you can to actually build a tale, rather than just back and forth banter. For example, if a person says "The aliens are coming!"; a response like "soon they'll be demanding equal rights" is FAR better than "I hear they breathe through their feet".
More improv hints can be found online.

This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

ACTING / SPECIAL SKILLS

What special skills do you have?
Consider skills you might not think other people care about, or ones you yourself may have overlooked.
Examples:
  • Musical instruments:
    String, brass, reed, guitar, keyboards, ...
  • Rhythm instruments.
  • Musical Saw.
    Or other novelties such as accordion, zither, bells, musical champagne glasses.
  • Great flexibility.
  • Stilts.
  • Magic.
  • Trained pets.
  • Freak arts:
    Fire, sword swallowing, contact juggling, ...
  • Extreme height or shortness.
  • ...


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

ACTING / EXERCISES

Try these excercises to improve your acting:
  • Write your "character bible".
    Describe your character's age, gender, history, parents, formative events, preferences, hobbies, tendancies, prejudices, and example behaviors. Be able to answer the question "What would my character do?" for any situation.
  • Practice improv with a partner.
    Use no prompts, set a time limit, and use an audience/peer suggestion for location and situation.
  • Learn a classic scene.
    Be able to perform a Shakespearean soliloquy for example.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

ACTING / EXPRESSIONS

See attached simplified cartoon faces picture showing many common facial expressions.

MAKEUP

Makeup related hints and resources.

MAKEUP / CLASSIC CLOWN TYPES


PIERROT (WHITE FACE)

The classic Pierrot, harlequin clown face. All white, with features (eyebrows, nose, mouth) painted on in black and red. Other decoration in various other colors. Called NEAT Whiteface when the features are ordinary size; GROTESQUE Whiteface when they are extra large.

AUGUSTE

The most comic clown face. Base color, pink or reddish Instead of white. Features, (red and black) are enormous size. Mouth, usually thickly outlined with white, which often Is used also around the eyes. The Auguste is the most slapstick of all clowns, his actions wilder, broader than the other types. The Auguste gets away with more and bigger pranks.

CHARACTER

Whiteface and Auguste faces are true clown masks. The Character clown face is a comic slant on the standard human face. Character clown faces make sport of mustaches, beards, whiskers, freckles, warts, odd-looking or large noses and ears, bald heads, strange haircuts and facial features of feminine beauty. The most widespread Character clown face is tramp or hobo.

This artwork was excerpted and enhanced from an unattributed page included with a basic clown workshop handout packet distributed during a late-1990s season class of Gamma Phi Circus.

MAKEUP / CLOWN FACE PHOTOS

These photos were excerpted from the book "Strutter's Complete Guide to Clown Makeup" by Jim Roberts.


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MAKEUP / MAKEUP RELATED LINKS



This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

MAKEUP / WORKSHEETS

Design a Clown

CLICK HERE for a printable DESIGN A CLOWN page!

Have fun designing your own clown face. This includes pages of sample noses, eyes, mouths, cheeks, and more. Combine the pieces and your own ideas to design an original clown.

Face Makeup Worksheet


CLICK HERE for printable PDF of blank face template for makeup design and planning.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

COSTUME

Costuming defines the clown.

COSTUME / INTRODUCTION

PROFESSIONAL CLOWN COSTUMING RULES:
  • No rainbow wigs.
  • A professional quality embossed/engraved name tag is required.
  • A professional quality nose is recommended.
  • Fine white dress gloves should be worn at all times, except where interfers with skit.
  • Costumes must be complete, from hat down to shoes and accessories.
  • Props must be rediculously big.
  • Costumes should match character, and be appropriate to skit.
  • Costume should be brightly colored with extreme color contrasts.
  • Costume should be ludicrous/farcical.
  • Quality trumps price.
  • Big shoes don't solve everything.
  • Black should be used only as accent color.
  • If your clown name can also be interpretted as a fashion feature (such as Ruffles or Dot or Gem or Buttons) use that fashion feature prominently.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

COSTUME / SAMPLE IDENTITIES

Classic Identities:
  • Auguste
  • White Face
  • Hobo/Tramp
  • Character:
    Cop, fireman, general, parade leader, maid, elderly, ...
Science:
  • Astronaut:
    Pure of heart and heroic. Space suit or jump suit.
  • Geek / Nerd:
    Thick glasses, sliderule, pocket protector, buck teeth, high pants, school principal.
  • Nutty Professor / Mad Scientist:
    Bumbling but book smart. Lab coat. Crazy hair. Professor Frink from Simpsons. Integrate balloon twisting and magic tricks.
Topical:
  • Pop Icon:
    Parody, cross dressing opportunity.
  • Soldier/Commando:
    Easy costume, touchy role.
  • Shakespearean:
    Any medieval character, think Renn Faire.
  • Sports:
    Players, umpire, coach, reporter, superfan.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

COSTUME / HINTS FROM HALLOWEEN

Major costume development hints learned from Halloween planning:

DO:
  1. Pick a character with a catch phrase
    ie. "that's hot" or "your fired".
  2. Give your character an emotion
    ie. not just a doctor, but one who's been on call for 48 hours.
  3. Find a mannerism for your character and repeat it often
    ie. Ugly Betty constantly pushing up her glasses.
  4. Believe in the power of a prop
    ie. Al Gore carrying a globe and acting protective with it.
  5. Choose a character that has an excuse to talk to people
    ie. Jerry Springer.
DON'T:
  1. Avoid being an annoying characters
    ie. referee who often blows his whistle.
  2. Don't choose someone you admire too much
    Helps you not take criticism of the character personally.
  3. Avoid costumes that cramp your motion
    ie. blades of glory is funny, but carrying the skates is hard.
  4. Don't require complex disassembling/reassembling for bathroom use.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS

Everything related to skits; design, planning, and execution.

SKITS / INTRODUCTION

Wikipedia has an incomparable introduction to skit design:

CLOWNING FRAMEWORKS
Frameworks are the general outline of an act that clowns use to help them build out an act. Frameworks can be loose, including only a general beginning and ending to the act, leaving it up to the clown's creativity to fill in the rest, or at the other extreme a fully developed script that allows very little room for creativity.

SHOWS
The overall production that a clown is a part of, it may or may not include elements other than clowning, such as in a circus show. In a circus context, clown shows are typically made up of some combination of Entrées, Side dishes, Clown Stops, Track Gags, Gags and bits.

BLOW-OFF
The Blow-Off is the comedic ending of a show segment, bit, gag, stunt or routine. It is the skits punchline.

GAGS, BITS, BUSINESS
"Business" is the individual motions the clown uses, often used to express the clown's character. A "gag" is a very short piece of clown comedy which when repeated within a bit or routine may become a "running gag". Gags may be loosely defined as "the jokes clowns play on each other". Bits are the clown's sketches or routines made up of one or more gags either worked out and timed before going on stage or impromptu bits composed of familiar improvisational material. A gag may have a beginning, a middle and an end to them, or they may not. Gags can also refer to the prop stunts/tricks or the stunts that clowns use, such as a squirting flower.

MENU
Entrées are feature clowning acts lasting 4-8 minutes. They are typically made up of various gags and bits, and usually use a clowning framework. Entrées almost always end with a blow-off.

SIDE DISHES
Shorter feature acts. Side dishes are essentially shorter versions of the Entrée, typically lasting 1 - 3 minutes. Side dishes are typically made up of various gags and bits, and usually use a clowning framework. Side dishes almost always end with a blow-off.

INTERLUDES
Clown Stops or interludes are the brief appearance of clowns while the props and rigging are changed. These are typically made up of a few gags or several bits. Clown Stops almost always end with a blow-off. Clown stops will always have a beginning, a middle and an end to them.

PROP STUNTS
Among the more well-known clown stunts are: squirting flower; the "too-many-clowns-coming-out-of-a-tiny-car" stunt; doing just about anything with a rubber chicken, tripping over ones own feet (or an air pocket or imaginary blemish in the floor), or riding any number of ridiculous vehicles or "clown bikes". Individual prop stunts are generally considered to be individual bits.

Please go to Wikipedia to read much more of this excellent article.

SKITS / SKIT ESSENTIALS

Key Essentials to Remember for a Skit
By Susan Hooper.

Brainstorm
  • Take time to think about what type and theme of skit(s) you want to develop (ie. magic, prats, kids, topical, number of clowns, conflict, parody, ...)
  • Then list all possible idea/concept/themes that revolve around that skit idea
  • From there try to figure out those ideas/concepts/themes can be turned into humor
  • The humor you create for your skit will come from the subject you chose to portray
  • Skits will vary in humor from general amusement, chuckles, or people laughing so hard they cry.
Paperwork
  • If you have computer available then then type your skit(s) out, this will provide opportunity for making adjustments as needed
  • Make typed versions of your skit in outline form at first; later fill in every detail.
  • Make a prop check list
  • Develop a time line with points in music (this especially applies if you are using the music for cueing), this will help to keep a consistent flow with your skit or to make sure you don't run over time.
Music
Some of the essential reasons people have music with a skit is because:
  • You are trying to evoke a certain feeling
  • You are trying to establish the setting of scene and/or character
  • You are trying to provide easy to follow cues/timing/pacing for yourself
  • You are trying to provide effects i.e. Sounds, that you couldn't otherwise express yourself.
  • Talking is very hard to hear, and not everyone speaks English. Think pantomime.
  • Consider bringing multiple formats of music; CD, backup CD, pre-loaded MP3 player.
Props
  • Check items 1-2 days before gig/performance, this will allow for preparation time for props to be fixed, cleaned, or for any purchases that need to be made.
  • Consider bringing back-up pieces that may be essential to your skit or bring tools necessary to fix problems that may arise
  • Only use props that will provide a clear meaning to your skit
  • Props should be colorful and big... ridiculously big.
Rehearsals
  • Have someone record your skit so you can review later
  • Remember to review timing, spacing, interaction and reaction with crowd
  • Work out EVERY detail.
Remember
Skits will change whether it is because you found a joke/idea that would work better/be funnier, a joke/idea didn't get the crowd reaction that you had hoped or you will need to be adjusted ideas/jokes based on current times and trends. If something isn't funny, change it.

This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS

Brief descriptions of skits as examples, for inspiration, or for actual use.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / BIG ACTS

  • Balloon one-upping
    Act length competing balloon twisters skit performed to "anything you can do I can do better" as performed by Andrew and Susan.
  • Skate bully
    Quick inline skating skit performed to "I've got a brand new pair of roller skates", features bully, girl with crush, and a de-pantsing. As performed by Andrew and Susan.
  • Hardware band
    Saw player, along with oil can drums, pipes and mallets, etc.
  • Performance Art
    Fixed location absurdist piece Like Redmoon. Actor engages in some slow pointless incomprehensible action repeatedly.
  • Karaoke for the deaf
    Fake but plausible sign language routine accompanying a well-known song, with a simple chorus that audience starts to pick up.
  • Exploding Oven
    Any variation of classic recipe gone wrong skit, as done by Three Stooges and Bozo.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / VARIOUS

  • Parody of major circus act
    like Dim Wits. Done with best intentions, clowns gradually realize how hard it is.
  • Human Marionette
    One clown pretends to control another shorter one using invisible strings.
  • Millionth Customer
    Customer for some reason doesn't want the attention. Maybe was robbing store, or is otherwise criminally wanted.
  • Laughing gas
    Clown moving a prop tank of "laughing gas" (perhaps for a clown dentist) accidentally sprays whole audience.
  • Plant delivery
    Recurring delivery person gag, where plant is dramatically more withered each time they come out. Starting with flamboyant flowered plant, ends with delivery of pot of dirt with wilted sticks, maybe dumped on head of recipient.
  • Oopsy Dropsy
    Trying to hold several things, such as juggling clubs, accidentally drops one. Picks up dropped thing but at same time accidentally drops another, and so forth. Eventually nearly gets last things but drops all trying. Sometimes "accidentally" kicks away thing on ground while reaching for it. Can be performed with kid where kid innocently picks up and hands dropped thing back to clown, but clown drops another while taking it.
  • Human pinata.
    Fat clown eventually burst with candy.
  • Gorilla costumes
    Gorillas vs. giant banana costume. Review Ernie Kovaks.
  • Water and Confetti.
    Water is bolder, but Confetti or glitter are more visible.
  • Seltzer bottle
    Clown "accidentally" squirts audience while chasing other clown. Seen in Russian bit where other clown had flaming hat.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / POP CULTURE

  • Clown Idol
    Weight lifter, violin and dog, Giant magic, Bad singing, ... Let audience vote on which clown to kick off. Possible recurring gag, through elimination cycles.
  • Clowns Got Talent
    One-off quick acts, like Gong show.
  • Pop culture
    Parodying any current pop-culture is automatically cool. Beauty and the Geek. PooBahs, TeleTubbies, Barney, Spider Man, MySpace, ...


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / SPORTS

With its familiarity to a wide audience, inherent props and costumes, and many opportunities for pathos, pratfalls and non-verbal physical comedy, SPORTS is a particularly rich area for circus clowning. Skits can be developed for each of several major sports commonly known locally. Skit length may range from one minute, through two minutes, through long center ring act. Skits may include occurrence of running gag. Skits may include audience member. Skits may include audience cheering, team rooting, superfan involvement.

A compendium of skit ideas for various sports can be found here, assembled over the course of several brainstorming sessions with clown cast, and review of sports comedy history and numerous movies.

This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / THEMES

Possible themes for doing multiple skits on a single theme through entire circus show:

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / PIES

  • Unaware duck
    Any case where the intended target inadvertently ducks at last instant, maybe to pick up a penny or otherwise distracted or pratfall. Object hits person behind. Possibly villain or otherwise emotionally invested other actor.
  • Pies Pies Pies
    Clown performs a song which repeatedly contains some phrase on which other clowns pie them.
  • Backfire
    One clown tries to get the other to say some keyword or do some action in order to pie them. Eventually backfires, such as door opens pushing pie back into self.
  • Tricked
    One clown plays trick on another successfully, getting them to say some keyword, or perhaps sit on pie surreptitiously placed on seat.
  • Giant pie on catapult
    Funny absurdity of scale, backfires onto villain.
  • Pies don't solve everything
    Remember.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / SKIT IDEAS / MAGIC

  • Hat from rabbit
    Large unstuffed rabbit doll, filled with collapsible hat.
  • Suicide rabbit pulled from hat by noose
    Fake start of standard routine, but rabbit doesn't answer...
  • Flattened Rabbit
    Comes out of accidentally crushed hat, or pressed shirt.
  • Clumsy magic show
    Any magic bits but having unintended results. Classic example is clown does something obviously wrong but is unaware (animal gets away, picks wrong card, ...), kids laugh, but somehow trick works anyway to everyone's suprise.
  • Cheating magic show
    Clown performs standard trick successfully (such as silk draped object on platter disappears, or shell game), then accidentally reveals secret (such as object glued on platter, or ball under all shells).
  • Dr. Flamo musical candles
    Performer says they can musically play an arrangement of different height candles, just like Champagne glasses. Then passes hands over them varyingly, wailing song using sounds of pain.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / WALK-AROUND GAGS

Every clown needs one or more quick walkaround gags.
  • "Do I look a little pail?"
    While holding tiny toy pail.
  • "It's a lot easier than pushing it!"
    While inexplicably slowly dragging around a large rope.
  • "I'm Under attack!"
    Having a hat with, or holding, an oversized prop tack over one's head.
  • "Did you get your freebie?"
    While passing out cutouts of the letter B.
  • "Free shakes"
    Have a sign, carry a tray with fake shake on it. When people accept, shake yourself.
  • Free Ticket
    Hand out pre-printed "free tickets". Doesn't get you into anything, but the ticket itself is free.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / PREVIOUSLY USED

These skits have been used in recent years at Triton Troupers Circus:
  • Clapping school. (at east twice)
  • Magic Chair (Hypnosis)
  • Mary went for a walk. (at east twice)
  • Save my baby. (at east twice)
  • Brand new skates.
  • Beach Balls (hands up in the air)
  • I'm having a clown moment.
  • Bumbling changing of light bulb
  • Balloon stealing.
  • Pie shop.
  • Wheel of misfortune.
  • YMCA. Head and Shoulders and Knees and Toes.
  • Right-Toe.
  • I Gotta Go Whee
  • Can Can Boys (cross dressing)


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / EXERCISES

  • Brainstorm: What is funny.
  • Pies don't solve everything.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / NOISES

  • Mouth Siren ("Fweeeee").
  • Whistle ("tweet")
  • Slide Whistle ("toooooot?")
  • Old Style Hand Horn ("ooogah"/"honk-honk").
  • Duck Decoy ("quack")
  • Kazoo ("zooty-zoot")
  • Train Whistle ("whooo-whooooo")
  • Cymbals ("crash")
  • Percussion (Triangle / Maracas / Castanets / Cowbell)
  • Electric Keyboard
  • Banjo / Mandolin
  • Custom Plucked Instruments (canjo / cigar box guitar)
  • Violin / Fiddle (Jack Benny)
  • One Man Band (back drums, leg cymbals, ...)
  • Harmonica
  • Saxophone (Bill Clinton)
  • Accordion


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / HUMOR

Jokes, one liners, heckle replies.

SKITS / HUMOR / ONE LINERS

  • That's how old I was when I was your age.
  • Oh Miss, you dropped your smile.
  • I wanted to be a comedian, but I was afraid people would laugh at me.
  • I come from a town that is so small, we have a fraction for a zip code.
  • Be careful what you wish for, you may get it!


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / HUMOR / SILLY JOKES

Every clown MUST be able to tell a number of completely clean jokes.
  • Q. Why couldn't the skeleton cross the road?
    A. Because he had no guts.
  • Q. Why didn't the skeleton go to the party?
    A. Because he had NO BODY to go with.
  • Q. How can you tell if there's an elephant in your closet?
    A. It's hard to close the door.
  • Q. What animal can jump higher than a house?
    A. Most animals, because a house can't jump.
  • Q. What's two things you can't have for Breakfast?
    A. Lunch and Dinner.
  • Did you hear about the fire at the circus?
    It was IN TENTS! (pronounced like INTENSE).
  • Two prunes walk out of a movie, one says to the other, "should we walk, or take a danish."
  • Why did the punk cross the road?
    Because he had a chicken safety-pinned to his cheek.
  • An optimist thinks that this is the best of all possible worlds. A pesimist is worried the optimist is right!
  • Q. Why did the turkey cross the road?
    A. To prove he wasn't chicken.
  • Q. What kinds of truck is always a boy?
    A. A mail truck.
  • Did you hear about the elephant with diareah?
    Its all over town.
  • Did you hear about the man who applied for the job of human cannonball at a circus?
    He got hired and fired in the same day.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SKITS / WORKSHEETS

Storyboard Forms

CLICK HERE for a printable 1up STORYBOARD form. Use this form to plan acts/skits. Draw a single frame in detail and describe the action.
CLICK HERE for a printable 2x2 STORYBOARD form. Use this form to plan acts/skits. Draw several frames and describe the sequence of action.

Floorplan

CLICK HERE for a printable gym / circus area floorplan. Use this diagram to plan acts/skits. Note that this is a ROUGH version; places are not exact, equipment is not shown, and measurements are inexact.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SHOW

This section covers specific details related to rehearsals and shows at Triton Troupers Circus for clowns.

SHOW / RULES

Rules for clowns related to Triton Troupers Circus rehearsals and shows.

This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

SHOW / CRITIQUES

Past and present criticisms of clown acts in Triton Troupers Circus.

Hooper family review of 2007 show:
PROS:
Clowns in audience was good.
Hypnotism bit was good.
CONS:
All speech was unintelligible.
Couldn't understand any verbal punchline.
Clowns should interact with kids more.

Ritholz review of 2007 show:
PROS:
Kids liked slapstick clowning.

Harvey review of 2007:
PROS:
Has seen some good material and performance in past years.
Liked pie baking skit.
Liked the shirt with rediculously long sleeves gag.
CONS:
Style is different from Ringling; too little animation, too much talking.
Clowns have not asked for input/help from at least two Ringling trained clowns in cast: Randy and Kevin.
Only way to improve is to take away the verbal, but would need to strengthen the animation to compensate.


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

HISTORY

Lists of commonly recognized great clowns categorized by era.

HISTORY / EARLY FILM GREATS

  • Harold Lloyd
  • Buster Keaton
  • Keystone Kops
  • Harry Langdon
  • Fatty Arbuckle
  • Ritz Brothers
  • Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
  • Charley Bowers
  • Three Stooges
  • Hal Roach
  • Marx Brothers


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

HISTORY / EARLY TV GREATS

  • Ernie Kovacs
  • Spike Jones
  • Red Skelton
  • Lou Abbott and Bud Costello


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

HISTORY / 50s-60s TV

  • Bozo (Bob Bell)
  • Dick Van Dyke
  • Krusty (Simpsons)
  • Carl Ballantine
  • Art Carney
  • Don Knotts
  • Lucille Ball


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

HISTORY / MODERN CLOWNS

  • Bill Irwin
  • Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean)
  • Bobcat Goldthwait
  • Paul Rubens (Pee Wee Herman)
  • Robin Williams
  • Jim Carrey
  • Adam Sandler
  • Steve Martin


This "Clowning 101" content is Copyright 2019, all rights reserved
By Andrew ("Drizzle") Bedno and Susan ("Sweetie") Hooper, Chicago Illinois USA.

HISTORY / CLOWN HALL of FAME INDUCTEES

  • Red Skelton
  • Lou Jacobs
  • Emmett Kelly
  • Mark Anthony
  • Felix Adler
  • Otto Griebling

HISTORY / NATIONAL CLOWN WEEK

National Clown Week (August 1-7 annually) proclamation by Richard Nixon (on August 2nd 1971).

"Whoever has heard the laughter of a child or seen sudden delight on the face of a lonely old man has understood in those brief moments mysteries deeper than love.

All men are indebted to those who bring such moments of quiet splendor-who redeem sickness and pain with joy. All across America good men in putty noses and baggy trousers following a tradition as old as man's need to touch gently the lives of his fellowman, go into orphanages and children's hospitals, homes for the elderly and for the retarded, and give a part of themselves. Today, as always, clowns and the spirit they represent are as vital to the maintenance of our humanity as the builders and the growers and the governors.

In the folklore of the world is the persistent claim that the heart of a clown is sad, and that all the gladness he provokes is simply a facade for the pain he cannot reveal to the world. In the myth is the kernel of reason: the clown leaves happiness where he goes, and takes misery away with him.

Yet we cannot suppose there is real truth in the myth. For surely the laugh-makers are blessed: they heal the heart of the world.

To call public attention to the charitable activities of clowns and the wholesome entertainment they provide for all our citizens, the Congress by a joint resolution approved October 8, 1970 (Public Law 91-433), has requested the President to designate the week of August 1 through August 7, 1971, as International Clown Week.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICHARD NIXON, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the week of August 1 through August 7, 1971, as International Clown Week. I invite the Governors of the States and the appropriate officials of other areas under the United States flag to issue similar proclamations.

I urge the people of the United States recognize the contributions made by clowns in their entertainment at children's hospitals, charitable institutions, for the mentally retarded, and generally helping to lift the spirits and boost the morale of our people.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of August, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred seventy-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred ninety-sixth."

RESOURCES

Links to organizations, suppliers, and supporting resources for clowns.

RESOURCES / GLOSSARY

GLOSSARY

This glossary defines common circus acts by name.

ACT NAME DESCRIPTION
Adagio Adagio is a type of dance in which couples perform steps requiring great skill in synchronization, lifting, balancing, and turning. Typically displayed as two to four partners with lifts and tosses set to music. Also known as Double Stunts.
Aerial Hoop Aerial Hoop is a metallic hoop suspended in mid air, providing a showcase of grace and poise for the artist.
Bike Bike acts may feature acrobatic and balancing feats, and even stacking pyramids performed on a moving bicycle. Extreme/BMX bike acts perform stunts such as vertical loops.
Cloud Swing Cloud Swing is a single web (a very thick woven fabric rope) suspended by both ends to make a swing. This act demands all the precision of movement of a Spanish web, but is set in motion much like a swinging trapeze. The web material provides for a series of twists and wraps allowing an artist more flexibility in routines.
Clowns Clowns are the pegs on which circuses hang. The art of clowning has been a part of the circus for centuries. These figures, amuse and cajole, using exaggerated features and actions.
Diabolo Diabolo is a juggling routine based on the principles of a gyroscope. Uses a spindle and a rope, includes toss and catch routines.
Fire Fire acts are performed with the utmost in care, and includes acts such as flaming club juggling, flaming poi, and fire breathing. Don't try this at home; Circus performers spend many hours perfecting this art form.
Flying Trapeze Flying Trapeze is one of the signature acts of the circus, the flying trapeze is the one act most people associate with a circus. Generally performed with safety ropes or a net. The art of flying from the trapeze to the waiting hands of the catcher and returning to the trapeze bar has a rich history.
Globes Globes require balance and agility to keep the a globe from rolling out from under the performer's feet. Advanced tricks include traversing ramps or steps, juggling and hula-hooping while balancing atop a rolling globe.
Gymwheel Gymwheel is not only a circus act, but a sport also known as wheel gymnastics. Artists roll, revolve and spiral, into, out of and on the apparatus known as the Gymwheel. It is a discipline which demands high strength, flexibility and determination. Also known as Man Wheel.
Hair Hang Hair Hang performers actually hang by their hair, braided and tied in a special knot. This is a traditional circus act.
Hand Balancing Hand Balancing is an exhibition of strength and grace where two to four individuals perform a choreographed display of partner balancing.
High Cradle High Cradle is sometimes referred to as cradle to cradle. It is an act of strength, fearlessness and grit. Performers use the power generated by their own limbs to hurl partners in passes 25 feet over a net. Cradle to cradle developed as a precursor to the traditional fly-and-return acts of the flying trapeze.
Juggling Juggling is the not-so-simple act of keeping more than two objects in the air simultaneously. A quick hand and loads of patience are just two of many requirements to mastering juggling. Performers juggle everything from scarves to knives to bowling balls.
Jump Rope Jump Rope is the ultimate extension of the children's sport, combining complex rhythms, large groups, and even jump roping within jump roping.
Perch Pole Perch Pole is the precarious art of the perch pole puts one performer perilously at the top of a perch balanced on the shoulders of a partner.
Russian Bar Russian Bar consists of two porters and at least one flyer and one Russian bar. The porters rest the ends of the bar on their shoulders while the flyer stands atop the bar. By utilizing the flexibility of the bar, the balance and teamwork of the porter and skill of the flyer, performers can reach dizzying heights in a trick and return to balance on the bar.
Russian Swing Russian Swing is a pendulum device that hurls performers high into the air. Inertia is the key to the swings power. One performer, known as the booster, pushes the swing, while the other performers leap to the arms of the catchers.
Silks Silks are great lengths of loosely wrapped wide fabric. Often used in pairs, sometimes used in one continuous long loop called a hammock. Some variations also known as Straps.
Skating Skating acts include roller, inline, or even ice skates. Acts range from Olympic style partner acts, to roller disco style, to extreme stunts.
Spanish Web Spanish Web is the aerial ballet of the circus. Performers dance up and down the rope-like apparatus using a variety of maneuvers and loops. The Spanish Webs require a high degree of strength, choreography and artistry.
Swinging Trapeze Swinging Trapeze is another signature act of the circus, a solo artist on the trapeze has always captivated audiences. Our performers employ grace and expert timing in the swinging trapeze.
Teeterboard Teeterboard is the see-saws of youth transformed into a dangerous circus act. Always a crowd favorite. Performers are catapulted into the air often to the shoulders of partners building tall stacks.
Trampoline Trampoline is a classic tool for training aerial awareness is also a circus act. Advanced acts launch from trampoline into a precarious elevated seat.
Triple Trapeze Triple Trapeze links three together to provide the backdrop for this act of choreographed artistry requiring strength, timing and teamwork.
Tumbling Tumbling is closely related to gymnastics. Tumbling has always been a part of the circus, in acts such as flip-flop and cartwheels.
Unicycle Unicycle is the ultimate demonstration of balance, requiring natural talent and lengthy practice.
Vaulting Vaulting is an exciting act involving a mini-trampoline and lots of courage. Performers vault onto a mat and over each other and occasionally some volunteers.
Wire Wire, also known as tight-wire, high-wire, or "funambulism" technically. Wire walkers leap, juggle, unicycle, and stack partners while balancing on a wire less than an inch thick.

This glossary is based on a prior glossary work used with permission from our esteemed colleagues Gamma Phi Circus.

Also see these comprehensive glossaries:
Circus Land
UK Inter-Circus
National Institute of Circus Arts, Australia

RESOURCES / CLOWNS PRAYER AND COMMANDMENTS

CLOWN PRAYER

As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more cheer than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.

Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.

Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.

And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”


CLOWN CODE OF ETHICS / CLOWN COMMANDMENTS

  1. I will keep my acts, performance and behavior in good taste while I am in costume and makeup. I will remember at all times that I have been accepted as a member of the clown club only to provide others, principally children, with clean clown comedy entertainment. I will remember that a good clown entertains others by making fun of himself or herself and not at the expense or embarrassment of others.
  2. I will learn to apply my makeup in a professional manner. I will provide my own costume. I will carry out my appearance and assignment for the entertainment of others and not for personal gain or personal publicity when performing for either the International club or alley events. I will always try to remain anonymous while in makeup and costume as a clown, though there may be circumstances when it is not reasonably possible to do so.
  3. I will neither drink alcoholic beverages nor smoke while in makeup or clown costume. Also, I will not drink alcoholic beverages prior to any clown appearances. I will conduct myself as a gentleman/lady, never interfering with other acts, events, spectators, or individuals. I will not become involved in or tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or any protected status.
  4. I will remove my makeup and change into my street clothes as soon as possible following my appearance, so that I cannot be associated with any incident that may be detrimental to the good name of clowning. I will conduct myself as a gentleman/lady at all times.
  5. While on appearance in makeup and costume, I will carry out the directives of the producer or his designated deputies. I will abide by all performance rules without complaint in public.
  6. I will do my very best to maintain the best clown standards of makeup, costuming, properties, and comedy.
  7. I will appear in as many clown shows as I possibly can.
  8. I will be committed to providing an atmosphere free of discrimination and harassment for clowns of all ages to share ideas and learn about the art of clowning.