A thousand possible answers. Being taken to vaudeville as a child, listening to comedy records including the superb Victor Borge, having a less than rosy childhood so being grateful for laughter, watching Danny Kaye and Red Skelton, cartoons, Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers on TV as a kid.
Because of all those early moments when I felt misfit, wrong, stupid. And also because I was also meant to be clever…and trying to figure that out brings a hunger for hidden truth (‘comedy = truth + pain').
Maybe because of that day in the car when my brother’s friend laughed at what I said and told my (silent) brother that he thought I was funny.
Once I was in the UK and earning my living performing with Three Women Mime, we made pieces using the ‘language’ I had learned from watching Warner Brothers cartoons (see above), as well as the mime we had just learnt. We made a kind of clown piece with no clown training whatsoever – a piece called ‘Circus’ where three housewives bring a whole circus to life with an eggbeater unicycle, an old-fashioned hairdryer cap-and-hose as an elephant, a jaffle iron, oven gloves and tea strainer-goggles for a daredevil motorcyclist, a magic act involving a colander, a teddy and skewers etc.
A few years on I was performing a solo show: ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, a 45 minute piece of Black comedy, when I did Gaulier’s first ever course in London and learnt that there were simple actions and principles that could be followed with laughter would be the result. Thrilling. Useful.
But maybe your question is: ‘how did I come to be teaching clown?’ Then the quick answer to that would be: by accident.
I had only recently done Philippe Gaulier’s Clown course when I received a call from someone: ‘We are an all women theatre group and we need a woman to teach clown.’ I was so respectful and grateful to the Master that I said, ‘I can’t possibly. Can’t you find someone else?’ They said, ‘No, it has to be you’.
I taught what I had learned, I included what I had learned from Monika Pagneaux, and adapted and added my mime skills into the mix. It went well. As well as teaching open physical theatre courses, I began to regularly teach clown courses. I continued to finesse an inclusive and enabling (yet still rigorous) teaching process. At a certain point (more than 10 years ago) I was invited to teach clown at Central school. Over the years my curiosity about comedy grew. I watched a lot of sitcoms: ‘Taxi’, ‘Frasier’ and ‘Friends’. I watched and rewound to see what had just happened and why it had worked.
I worked with Claire Dowie in 1997 and employed her ‘Stand-up Theatre’ style to create solo show ‘Topless’ in 1999. I noticed night after night when I got or missed a laugh, figured out why and fixed it. I enjoyed demystifying comedy, teaching comedy craft. And, of course, giving people permission to open up and be spontaneous.
You might have said I am more interested in laughter than I am in clown. Although a few years back, I started to think more deeply about what Clown really is about. I've attempted to get it into the form of a poem and it's a complete work in progress. This is its latest incarnation (updated 4/4/2019.
Roll the drums and raise the curtain
chaos is glory and uncertainty, certain.
The facts are all useless,
speak nonsense instead -
because down is up when you stand on your head.
How delightful it is to be defective -
a kick in the pants brings a fresh perspective:
serious is stupid, dignity overrated -
the fairground mirrors are all silver-plated.
Deliberately misread the riot act -
know that smart is never as clever as the cracked.
Step up, step inside,
make failure your friend -
bake a cake with sawdust
make despair wag its rear end.
Let identity slip
balloon, string, fingertip
artichoke, angel, bookcase, fish.
Let loose your grip, tumble,
stub your toe, trip
and blow your nose with a victory trumpet.
Dance badly, cry buckets.
let us see you survive,
then hang out your unholy laundry to dry -
for chaos is glory
and clumsiness divine
and the buddah
is always known by his smile