The Clown Archetype?

“You are an idiot.” the flyer from Cirque du Soleil clown John Gilkey says in the opening description to “A Workshop for the Comic Performer,” that is taking place four nights in October, in Hollywood, probably close to the Kodak theater where John is playing in Cirque Du Soleil’s Iris. A most talented and wonderful performer, full of eccentric delight and funny. As the flyer states, an email that Clown Conservatory has sent, John has created and played lead roles in 4 Cirque productions, and beyond the flyer, I do think he is one of the leading figures on the avant-garde edge of circus clowning. The flyer continues; “First accept this, then learn how to use it and your ability to play comedy will grow exponentially. Almost without exception, the successful film comedians of today play the clown archetype. Learn what the clown archetype is and how to play it. Discover your sense of anarchy, humility and stupidity.”

Well that is saying a lot, not just that there is a clown archetype, but that all the successful film comedians are using it. Woh. I’m a clown and I’ve always wanted to play in the movies. Woody Allen is in town, and I’m here ’til next Wednesday, when I go on the road again. So maybe I’m fated to meet him by chance on a street corner, and he will immediately recognize the genius that resides in me, after all I’ve been channeling this clown archetype  going on 30 years, and I’m a recognized expert at it, so maybe Woody….

back from my self revelatory day dream.. I’m assuming of course that anyone who reads this has an understanding of the world clown: is not caught up in some media maelstrom Steven King fear of clown syndrome, that you’re someone who understands the deep vein of humor the clown channels from well beyond the silent movie clown heyday, the vaudeville music hall and stretch back through many chapters of history, the commedia del arte, the king’s jester and fools, to the Greek plays and well before…yahdiyah, but still, it’s not about the make-up, but what’s inside…

The reason I started writing was a reaction to ruminations that occurred after reading John’s words.  John is an exceptional performer, and teacher, by all accounts. His flow continues to open so much laughter in this  world, oh yeah, go team !! The planet delights! I’ve known John through many  years and phases.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was down to his shortlist of people after a grueling audition afternoon here in San Francisco. It was to be in the clown piece that he developed, directed for the “Le Reve,” the big Dragone water production living in one of the Las Vegas Casinos.

Years onward, as I muse on John’s words ‘play the clown archetype, ‘  I remember the words of another eccentric genius, former, perhaps lesser, cirque du soleil clown, who admonished me in a facebook post exchange,  with words to the effect:  “one has to be the clown, one cannot play the clown!”  He had responded to my response to his response to my response to his post.  I talked about “playing certain emotions such as…” I hadn’t meant to suggest one could “play the clown” and might have avoided his wrath had I used a different word.

I suspect the true deal is he didn’t like where my response to his post was going, which was to debate whether the clown had to be “stupid” as he claimed, or could they just be “innocent,” which was the word I preferred to use to generalize. I wasn’t opening up to my innate natural stupidity, which brings up a moralistic discussion whether one is born innately stupid but what is stupid? According to the dictionary it is more about knowledge than ability to comprehend yet one would think that we are born bright eyed and many of us once given a chance comprehend very well…

I mean when I think of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, whom I watched recently, an youtube video of when they are much older, and are brought back as surprise guests, they look like normal old gents until they posed for a picture, and the Stan took on his sheepish grin and transformed instantly. When I muse what is it that I so love and loved when he transformed then, reminding me of so many cherished film moments-he always is just delighted with what is, and follows his own logic, delighted with his own capacity. Something that we love so much… Is this stupidity ??? Is it innate, Stan’s transformation was certainly instantaneous.

Anyhow beyond this musing, the reason I’m still tapping the keyboard is to get back to my main point: wondering about this phrase: “playing the clown archetype. ” Since I do a lot of clown archetype teaching but have yet to believe there is  a specific archetype. Teaching, I ask folks to embrace embody and express from their sense of humor, and whatever that is eventually distills into their archetype of clown. Is it the same one for everyone? Is there more than one common flow of humor, do we all sail in the same sea navigating the same winds?

My clown teacher, Richard Pochinko, way back when, almost thirty years ago, in that upstairs Montreal studio on Ave St. Laurent, had us working with archetypal expressions from 6 directions: North, East, South, West, Above and Below.   That all made a lot of sense at the time, and still does, that we express our many faceted natures. In the workshop, each of participants had completely different and unique visions, their very specific own archetype. Perhaps John inadvertently misused the word playing, same as me….after all the the title of the workshop is The Fool…

How do you see the clown archetype?  If I were anywhere near LA, I would go the workshop, a great chance to explore the forever more in that blesses all art forms, especially when there is a comic genius at hand.

About yoowho

I was born in Los Angeles, and now live in San Francisco,. Inbetween I lived in Europe for a good segment of time. About my vocational side of life, and what leads to a good amount of the writing on this blog: I perform and teach in the clown realm. the term no-nose clowning and european theatrical clowning applies. I offer workshops and trainings focused on humorous expression on 4 continents. Themes include "Humor your Human" , "ClownZen, the Power of Levity", "ButohClown" ,"Clown is Poem". I'm one of many who bring humor, joy and laughter into crisis areas- where it does a lot of good. I started by performing in 3 small Guatemalan refugee communities in Chiapas, Mexico in 1987. That has lead a pathway through South Africa, Croatia, Guatemala, Haiti, Kosovo, , Nepal and Sudan. This last January-February (2009), I traveled to Myanmar/Burma on an international Clowns Without Borders project performing 20 shows with 3 Myanmar artists, one Swedish and one Australian clown. I also offered workshops with activity leaders/trainers from a number of NGO's using humorous expression to both release trauma and empower children, not to mention have a lot of fun.