The Art Of The Clown

Clowning around as any clown will tell you is an incredibly serious art form.

If you chart the political necessity clowns had in Roman times through to the court jester traditions of Europe you can see they performed a unique role as truth tellers, as people given the social permission to make rulers feel uncomfortable without being killed for it. Something of that tradition survives amongst the comedians of the world who use satire but what has been lost is the intimacy between the rulers and the clown. Today the clowns are on TV and the leaders are in their offices whereas the most useful place for a truth teller to be would be in the offices.

Clowns are also not just about jokes. Their acrobatic abilities and timing are crucial to their fame and success in responding to the audience. The physical stress of performing is just the start for good clowns who can be either silent or speaking, and in many ways the silent ones have the hardest job but the speaking ones must never forget the voice is an instrument every bit as important as the jokes themselves.

It takes years to learn how to clown around without hurting yourself  but when you see someone like Lucille Ball and Carole Lombard you can see how worthwhile the training is.

The Art of TV Comedy

I was brought up on the second wave of black and white comedies to come over to the UK from America and thence the colour ones. Besides I Love Lucy which my mother thought hilarious (and some of the stuff Lucille did took a huge amount of practice and stage craft) I was a child of Rhoda, Happy Days, M.A.S.H, Mork and Mindy and many others.

The art of writing scenarios that make people laugh has been honed down in recent years to one funny line every three. Whilst this works for character’s like Blanche in Golden Girls or Woody in Cheers where the character can always be relied upon to deliver the funny line (think Chandler in Friends) the real skill of humour is to traverse a half hour with such hilarity you move in your seat, you almost cover your eyes at the ludicrous, nutty things going on with the characters you have come to enjoy living with.

It is hard enough to write to a formula but to build up to punch lines is a rare event in today’s comedies and the minute of outright laughter the audience engage in as Lucille comes on stage dressed as a clown, or with her hair ruined, has all but gone. Now the laughs must last as long as a few seconds for even the audience response is timed.

The greatest laughter of all is the comedian who comes on, says one line and has you rolling until you cry. They should bring them back.

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February 2019
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