Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Report: "The Clown In You" by Caroline Dream

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If you perform as a clown, variety artist, physical comedian — whatever you want to call it! — you've no doubt taught workshops. Sometimes workshops are a more dependable source of income than performing. Such is life, but the result is that some teachers, and they may be excellent performers and instructors, never get beyond a few sure-fire hours of classroom material, guaranteed to entertain, and more often than not liberally borrowed  from their own favorite teachers.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this, I've done it myself, and the experience for the student can still be a valid one. There are, on the other hand, teachers who dedicate years, even decades, to developing their curriculum and their teaching sensibility. They are more poised to go deeper into the material and to offer full-length courses that cover far more ground and potentially bring the work closer to a performance level.

Caroline Dream is one such teacher. A transplanted Brit, she lives and works in Barcelona, and not so coincidentally is married to Alex Navarro, who writes the excellent Spanish-language blog, Clown Planet. They have often taught together, and no doubt bounced ideas around, much to our benefit. Caroline is very active as a performer — I've seen her and she's quite good — but she has also dedicated herself for many, many years to teaching, and now to writing about it.

Long story short, The Clown in You is a very useful book for the serious student of clowning (professionals included) as well as for beginners. It is, as the subtitle promises, "contemporary clowning," aka the "personal clown" or the "clown from the heart." There is very little on clown gags, no formulas for creating material. It really is about using your own innate joy, silliness and, yes, stupidity, to forge a clown character unique to you. As the old saying goes (no, I don't know who said it first), clowns characters aren't created, they are uncovered.

We've built up civilizations, eradicated many threats to our survival, invented a myriad of objects to facilitate our existence. We have also created a cultural heritage, dominated natural resources, explored space, etc. But, even so, we have never ceased to be stupid.

The first half of the book seeks to define the key attributes of the clown, drawing especially on the playfulness and imagination of the child, while also outlining the defense mechanisms that make it difficult for the would-be clown to surrender to all that frightening freedom. It's a book, and devoid of video examples, so this can get a bit theoretical, but in the second half Caroline walks us through a lot of clown exercises with very helpful examples, enriched considerably by the insightful side coaching she was doing as the exercise progressed. This is not intended to be a manual, there's no step-by-step do this, do that, but the actual classroom experiences are invaluable in understanding the work.


I teach a three-step process that I call "absorbing failure." Absorbing failure begins with the recognition that something has failed; the clown then feels the failure internally (admitting vulnerability), before externalizing the feeling and playing with it.... 

But don't take my word for it. Those of you who will be anywhere near the New York City area next weekend should seriously consider taking advantage of Caroline's first-ever workshop in the Big Apple at the New York International Clown-Theatre Festival. The festival continues for three weeks with a stellar line-up of performers, plus more workshops by the likes of Eric Davis, René Bazinet, and Aitor Basauri. Don't say I didn't tell you!

You can purchase The Clown in You here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Will Zach Galifianakis Flunk Out of Lecoq's? Will Louis C.K. Help?

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From my friend the inimitable Julia Pearlstein comes this intriguing news item:  FX cable tv has contracted to produce ten episodes of Baskets, co-created by Louie C.K., Zach Galifianakis, and Jonathan Krisel, and starring Galifianakis as an aspiring clown who flunks out of "a prestigious Paris clown school" but lands a job working for a rodeo. Perhaps not coincidentally, I know that Louie C.K. came to Avner "the Eccentric" Eisenberg's one-man clown show in NYC last year and loved it. Avner, by the way, did not flunk out of Lecoq's.

Here's the article from The Hollywood Reporter:

The cable network has picked up to series Baskets, a comedy starring Zach Galifianakis co-created by the Hangover star, Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. FX has ordered 10 episodes of the single-camera comedy, with production set to begin in 2015 for a series debut in 2016.

The comedy follows Bakersfield man Chip Baskets (Galifianakis) as he pursues his dream, against all odds, to be a respected clown. But after an unsuccessful enrollment at a prestigious clowning school in Paris, the only job he can find is with the local rodeo.

Galifianakis, C.K. and Krisel (Portlandia, Saturday Night Live, Man Seeking Woman) co-wrote the pilot. Emmy-nominated writer Krisel, who also directed the pilot, will serve as showrunner, while Galifianakis, C.K., Blair Breard, Dave Becky, Marc Gurvitz and Andrea Pett-Joseph will exec produce.

"To say Zach's portrayal of the lead character Chip Baskets is hilarious/unique/riveting/fascinating would be an understatement," FX president of original programming Eric Schrier said. "We can’t wait for the world to meet him."

Baskets, picked up seven months after the pilot was first announced, marks the first project to come from C.K. and his Pig Newton banner's overall deal with FX Productions. Baskets joins an FX/FXX comedy lineup that includes C.K.'s Emmy-winning comedy Louie, Archer, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, You're the Worst, Married, The Comedians and Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. The show is the fifth comedy series FX has picked up this year, joining The Tracy Morgan Project (FXX), The Comedians (FX), Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (FX) and Man Seeking Woman (FXX), bringing its roster to 11 series across both cable networks.

For Galifianakis, the FX comedy marks his latest TV foray. His small-screen credits include Bored to Death, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job and appearances on Comedy Bang! Bang!, Kroll Show, Brody Stevens: Enjoy It and hosting Between Two Ferns, among others.

Galifianakis is represented by CAA, Brillstein and Jared Levine; C.K. is with 3 Arts; and Krisel is with CAA.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dancing While Sitting: Up and Over It

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I always hesitate to post a viral video since it's already been seen by millions, no doubt including many of my readers, but there are 7.2 billion people in the world, and yesterday's viral video is forgotten by tomorrow, whereas this here blogopedia is eternal, give or take a few years, so....

The performance is by Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding, the video by Jonny Reed. and they go by the name of Up & Over It They describe themselves as "nouveau folk deconstructionists," whatever that means, but my guess is you physical comedians will enjoy what they do with movement and rhythm. Like some of my recent posts, they use a table, but not for acrobatics!

Here's my favorite example of their work (or you can watch it full screen here):


Just to show you they don't always stay close to a percussive surface, here's Three Little Words, a dance piece with more movement through space, even a few basic chair and partner acrobatic moves. Not bad, but not good enough or original enough to have garnered them much attention on its own. 

You can see more of their videos here.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

More Table Comedy Acrobatics: Les Pauwels

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Two posts ago I highlighted a strong table comedy acrobatic act by Zahir Circo. I also linked to a couple of older posts where I shared earlier versions of this kind of act. Now comes another predecessor,from the French tv show La Piste aux Étoiles, a three-man, three-table act by Les Pauwels, who hail from an eight-generation circus family.  Some real nice stuff, including a triple peanut roll under the table!


Again, for you table fans, here are the links to my previous posts on table comedy acrobatics:

You'll see that the kicking the other guy until you're too tired to kick any more was done by the guys on the Colgate Comedy Hour in the Tables are Funny post.

Thanks to Jessica Hentoff and Lionel Lutringer for the link!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Purrkour and Kindness

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I've written a lot about parkour and its relationship to physical comedy, especially here, but also in all these other posts, so I can't resist sharing the feline version, "Purrkour,"a brilliant piece of filmmaking by Robert Dollwet. (Thanks to Riley Kellogg for the link!)


If you have cats (we have four) and have ever tried to train them, you know whence comes the expression "it's like herding cats." Or to put it another way:

But it is possible, as this behind-the-scenes video demonstrates:

Which leads me to the whole controversy today about cruelty to animals in the circus, with prevailing sentiment being unilaterally against the work of animal trainers. Belgium, for example, has totally banned the use of wild animals in circuses! Now I'm all for the humane treatment of animals, but this blanket condemnation is simply unfair to most animal trainers.

And that leads me to one of my favorite stories about training animals. It's by Antony Hippisley Coxe from his excellent book A Seat at the Circus (1951). He was an historian, not a circus performer, but decided to try his hand at training — you guessed it — domestic cats. Real interesting stuff with a very funny ending, so much so that I bothered to scan it for you and put it into this pdf. Worth the 10-page read!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Zahir Circo: Every Trick in the Book

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This excellent trio comedy acrobatic act by Barcelona's Zahir Circo is a virtual encyclopedia of partner and table tricks. I've seen most of them at some point before, and done more than a few myself, but here they are crammed into a tight, fast-paced six minutes. A great vocabulary builder for anyone interested in (very) physical comedy!


The three performers are Kike Aguilera (Catalonia), Luciano Martín (Argentina), and Jordan Pudev (Bulgaria). They worked together as a trio for five years, performing throughout Europe as well as in China, until Pudev left the act about five years ago. Now Aguilera and Martín are a duo, and as Zahir Circo also present a wheel act, balancing pole, and juggling.

And what happened to their trio table act once Pudev left? Well, those of you who are variety performers no doubt know what it's like to reposition material for different venues and situations. Here's a 12-minute version of the same numéro with only Aguilera and Martín but with some audience participation and even a tabletop Dead or Alive sequence.

If you love this kind of stuff (yes, I do!), then check out these two previous blog posts:

Thanks to Betsy Baytos for the original link and to Edina Papp of Dany Daniel Management for info on the performers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday, Irwin Corey!

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Usually when I do a 100th-birthday salute, the subject of my adulation has long since cast off their mortal coil. Not so "Professor" Irwin Corey, who joins Bob Hope and George Burns in making it into 3-digit territory and proving that comedy is good for your health. Born in Brooklyn a century ago today, the self-proclaimed "World's Foremost Authority" is, as I write this, celebrating his 100th birthday not far from me in Manhattan. Yahoo!

I first saw Corey on television when I was a teenager and was blown away by his wildness, his double talk, and his improvisational flair. Okay, so he's not exactly a physical comedian, but in his dismantling of language and logic he certainly merits a place amongst the Pantheon of clowns and variety artists. Long before Robin Williams hit the scene, Corey was free associating faster than the speed of light.  (I exaggerate only slightly.) He was a brilliant satirist with strong political views, and pretty fearless when it came to using his double-talk skills to mock the hackneyed verbiage of politicians. Here's a video sample of Corey performing at the young age of 94:


"Corey is a cultural clown, a parody of literacy, a travesty of all that our civilization holds dear, and one of the funniest grotesques in America. He is Chaplin's tramp with a college education."
— theater critic Kenneth Tynan in The New Yorker

And here's a two-minute bit on The Smothers Brothers Show:

Corey also performed as a character actor in many movies and plays, including as the gravedigger in Hamlet. And according to our good friend Wikipedia, when Thomas Pynchon won the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow, he had Corey give the acceptance speech for him. If you've read any Pynchon, you'll get the connection.

Finally, here's Corey at 96 reminiscing on his career:

Click here to go to the official Irwin Corey web site.
Click here for a birthday salute from this morning's New York Daily News.