On the 18th till 19th October I did a workshop up in Leeds on Clowning run by John Wright (see bottom of the post for more info on him) who is in short, a comedy legend and clowning legend. He is awesome. It was organised through my drama club and at a student discount it cost me £100, it was well worth it. Again, apologies for the length of this post.
WHAT WE DID:
I have a small amount of experience clowning but this workshop was the very basis and a few clowning games. A few of the clowning games we played were:
- ‘I hear you know all the movements’- (Partners) This was a game where your partner is a clown and you ask them “I hear you know all the [insert something her] movements” and the clown always answers “yes” and they show you. The thing you insert is as random as you can get like “I hear you know all the space hopper fight club movements” or “I hear you know all the theory of relativity movements”. If you are giving the ‘style’ of movement your job is to catch out the clown with as random and difficult a topic as possible. The clown must say yes and just go for it, no matter if you don’t have a clue what it meant. This was a lot of fun and hilarious to watch played.
- ‘Follow the finger’- (Partners) Get your mind out of the gutter now. This was a game where the partners stand one behind the other with about 3 metres space between them and the one in front must twist round (from the waist so they can look behind) and the other partner must run in the opposite direction pointing their finger. The aim of the game is for the twisting partner to find the finger and the other partner to run as quick as possible. This was again very funny to watch when both partners were really trying to catch each other out in a playful manner.
- ‘The Clown Game’- (Solo with an audience) This shit was HARD! Someone goes up on stage, stands there and has to make the audience laugh. No routine. No actual skill. All clowning. If it is boring you, slowly raise your hand whilst looking at the rest of the audience to see how they feel. It isn’t all about your opinion; if only you feel bored then lower your hand a bit but if other hands are going up too then as a group raise your hand. The clown gets 3 lives and they have to stay up there as long as possible. After three times of all hands up they are off. Very hard to do but when someone did it well it was wonderful to watch.
- ‘Get comfortable’- (Partners) You just had to get comfortable in the room but as a pair, you couldn’t both wander off to different places you had to stay together. After a while two pairs get together and you watch. The thing is you had to make it funny otherwise the audience would again raise their hand. This was a nice exercise but could be hard because you may be comfortable but it may be boring as fuck or you could be incredibly uncomfortable but if the audience kept laughing you had to keep going.
- ‘Follow your partner’- (Partners) Similar to ‘Get Comfortable’ but you just had to move around the space with the same movements. Difficult because you couldn’t look at each other and there was no set leader so had to really use your peripherals.
- ‘Boss Clown’- (Group, 4 Clowns) This worked with the idea of a ‘Boss’ clown, they feel they are in charge and smart when they are really just as dumb as the other clowns and watching them getting angry at the other clowns is very funny. This is where the Boss clown has an ‘artefact’ (an office chair) which they sell as really important and not to be messed with before leaving. The other clowns are set to guard it but not touch. They do touch and explore until it is broken when the Boss clown re-enters. This was fun because it was like watching 3 children discovering what they could do with it and playing.
- ‘The Story’- (Group, 3 Clowns) A Boss clown starts telling a story and the other two clowns must be entertaining by either telling the story or ding whatever the fuck they want. They need to piss off the Boss clown so doing whatever you want usually works best. When people really used their imagination this was a really funny exercise to watch and be a part of.
- ‘The Expert’- (Partners) One performer (not a clown) comes on and introduces the expert and gives them a topic for a talk and the clown must come on and be funny. Be careful not to do charades or actually do a talk, you are a simple clown remember. The introducer must try and catch out the clown with complex and obscure topics like ‘the anatomy of the horse’ or ‘the many pimples of American presidents over the last 100 years’. Be a dick and stick ’em in the shit.
- ‘I Haven’t a Clue What I am Doing’- (Partners) One clown does something, any movement or action and says “I haven’t a clue what I am doing but it’s alright” and the other clown joins them and says “oh yes”. Do this for a little bit then the second clown does something different, says the line and so on and so far, repeat, repeat. This is good because most of the humour comes from that one line “oh yes” so that needs to be done well.
I included a description in case you wanted to try any of these out. I got them all from John Wright who stole a few of these from other clowning practitioners.
WHAT I LEARNT:
ALWAYS look at the audience. You need to see what reaction you are getting from them. Are you being funny? They laughed at that, why? What happens if I do that again? You laughed, lets do it making eye contact with you. You need to get people to laugh so look at them and see what they like.
If they laugh at something then keep doing it, over and over and over and over and over and over and over until they aren’t laughing any more. If you have a little group laughing at something do it directly at them, get them pissing themselves then do it to the people not laughing. Laughter is infectious and the clown has failed if there is even one person not laughing.
Move on quickly, if something isn’t working do something else. Don’t flog a dead horse.
I learnt a lot from these workshops but I guess those are the most important bits and good starting points/reminders.
John Wright now lectures at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in the CDT course and author of the book ‘Why Is That So Funny?’. He is also a well renowned theatre director and has set up theatre companies like Told By an Idiot and Trestle. He has also given a Ted talk on playfulness in acting which is well worth a watch. Below are a few links to some interesting websites: