Recent articles on the clown profession dying out have been brought to my attention from friends and colleagues alike. I am flanked with the questions “is it true there will be no more clowns” or “why do you think clowns are fading away”….. the answer to these and other similar questions is complicated. Clowning as a profession whether full or part time has a downward trend as of late and yes it can give people reason to wonder if clowning will be around at all in a few years. The decrease in clown numbers is partially that of age, at some point people just don’t have the energy or physical drive to continue clowning, and of course some have passed on. The masses have also gravitated to new forms of entertainment one of which is Reality TV with the “anything goes” philosophy. Weekend cartoon shows hosted by your favorite TV clown BOZO or other shows like this have simply been pushed to the wayside for, in my opinion, degrading forms of entertainment. With the overwhelming on-slot of social media, we are accustomed to having everything at our disposal in a matter of seconds. A person in China can slip and fall into a vat of hot oil and 5 minutes later someone in Tennessee has already seen it on Facebook and is sharing it with their co workers. Don’t get me wrong, social media is wonderful in many ways, it’s just sad that we have lowered ourselves to laughing at another human being even when the event may actually have caused injury or death to that person. The clown character was developed in early theater as the comic foil allowing the audience to laugh at this buffoon on stage who was recreating a comical event of life. We could cast our cares and embarrassment on the clown and laugh them away with our neighbors.
Who’s to blame?
Society is not completely to blame for the love loss of clowns, we need to own up to our part of the story. In many cases we have not kept up with the times, relying on outdated jokes and skits has left us in the dark ages. We as entertainers need to be current and relevant. Whether or not you agree with or like Stephen Colbert, his style of humor and political satire is truly the basis of clown material. His character pokes fun at society, politics and current events, not unlike the original clowns of Greek theater. They are the voice of the common man saying what many of us are thinking about world events and the powers that be. Now I’m not saying that we as clowns need to be an anti government mouthpiece but to look at current events and see what might work for a clown satire.
Don’t just stand there!
Another piece of the puzzle in this vanishing clown act is those who truly don’t embrace what it means to be a clown or entertainer for that matter. Learning to face paint, twist some cool balloon sculptures or even mastering some magic trick does not a good clown make. All too often have I seen clowns standing around at an event looking clueless as how to entertain the crowd. Let’s look at a scenario; you are hired to twist balloons for two hours at a fundraiser, you march in, plop down your bag and set up a table from which to work and wait for the line to form. 30 minutes into the event you are churning out the balloons like a machine but have yet to utter a word other than “what daya want kid?” How in the name of Joseph Grimaldi is that being a clown? Have some fun with the crowd and make your presence known when you enter the room. “Ladies and jellybeans, boys and gorillas may I have your attention please! I am about to embark on a task so amazing, so stupendous that all present will burst out in uproarious applause when I am through. So strap on your smiles and let’s get down to some funny business.” Now that you have the undivided attention of the crowd, get to work making your balloon animals and interact with the crowd while you work. This holds true for face painting and other forms of clowning, have fun, smile and engage your audience.
Make em laugh!
If you can do noting else for the sake of clowning make people smile and laugh. Share a silly joke, give some one a big smile and a pat on the back, pay them a compliment but interact with the crowd. You can be the bell of the ball with your shiny red nose, perfect costume and big floppy shoes but if you stand off in a corner somewhere eating all the free hot dogs you are not helping the cause. Grab a roll of clown stickers and pass out some smiley faces while greeting people. If you have truly embraced your inner clown you should have no trouble laughing it up with the crowd and making a lasting positive impression on them.
So in answer to the question, is clowning a dying art? I say only if you don’t do something to change it.