Clowning really is transformative. In more ways than one.
It should, of course, transform the audience, whoever that may be. But it’s also transformative for the clown her- or himself.
In this blog I take a look at 3 key ways in which clowning as a practice, not necessarily as performance, can have tangible benefits in your life, helping you achieve big life goals or make the changes you’ve been unable to make for so many years.
To be clear, I’m talking here about the benefits of learning to clown, which one might receive from taking a really good clown workshop or course, for example. Many people study and practice clowning as a form of personal development, and never have the intention to become ‘clown’ performers.
Some teachers would dismiss such people and not have time for them.
But I’ve always felt that clowning has the potential to help everybody. So, if I have the ability to guide them on that journey, why would I not do that? This is just one small way in which I can contribute and give back to the world.
To help make this more tangible, I came up with the idea of ‘Clown Hacks’. They are like ‘life hacks’ (easy ways of gaining benefit in your everyday life) but all using elements that are central to clown practice (or my clown practice at least).
It’s not that you can read this blog and suddenly become a clown, of course, or even feel the full benefits of these hacks. But perhaps they will start to give you a feel for how powerful clown technique can be. And perhaps you will be inspired to take a clown workshop and really start to harness that power for yourself.
Here they are, then, in no particular order:
1. Stand In Your Own Shit
This is about acknowledging your own true flawed nature.
We are all foolish, ignorant and flawed in so many ways (as well as being talented, skilled and awesome!). This is the stuff of clowning.
Clowns get down in the dirt and revel in the stupidity and ridiculousness of humankind.
So it stands to reason that in order to clown you must begin to understand your own shit, your own beautiful flaws. Because you definitely have some! Otherwise you wouldn’t be human.
The more you can identify your own particular flaws (which are also universal of course) the more you can zero in on who your clown is precisely. But doing this can be quite uncomfortable, as it involves acknowledging all the things that society tells us to keep quiet about.
Are you chaotic? Unreliable? Quick to lose your temper? Impatient? Self-critical? Judgmental? Clumsy? Arrogant? All those things we are told are ‘negative’ qualities suddenly become gorgeous material for the clown. These are what make your clown stand out and be different from ‘normal people’, because we lean into the flaw.
But in order to do so, we MUST first be comfortable with our flaws, and that involves facing up to the truth of them and accepting them as part of who we are in all our beauty.
I call this ‘standing in your own shit’ because it gives a really visceral image of how unpleasant that can be, but also...well, potentially funny (in a grotesque kind of way). And let’s face it, we all have plenty of it (shit, I mean).
The benefits of standing in our own shit go beyond being a good clown. If we are able to accept our flaws, we can also bring ease and joy into our lives, move beyond them and embrace who we are in our entirety. We connect with our humanness through our flaws.
2. Seek The Pleasure
This is also about deprogramming ourselves. Growing up how often were we told that pleasure is bad and that nothing good ever happened without hard work, toil, and misery. Well, perhaps they didn’t say it quite like that, but you get the point.
This is carried with most of us our entire lives. We see life as being dominated by hard work, serious things, and struggle. Pleasure is something on the side that we do to distract from the hard business of real life.
What if we were able to build pleasure into the everyday; see it as a kind of essential work in itself; or as a guiding principle when making decisions. What gives me pleasure? What excited me? What ignites my passion and fires me up?
The same is true of clowning.
When we learn to clown, games are a central element of the training. And in these games (the way I teach them) the most important intention (beyond winning) is to have fun. To seek the pleasure.
That’s not to say we give up trying to win and just mess around.
Rather we keep the two things in balance. We still want to win, but we look for ways to make that fun for ourselves.
‘If you are beginning to get bored, change it up, look for new ways to make it exciting and pleasurable for yourself, even if that means breaking the rules or introducing new ones’, I tell people in clown class.
Sometimes the desire to have fun leads you to lose, fall or look stupid. And that is wonderful, because it creates a truly spontaneous moment of clowning.
Applying this principle to everyday life is revelatory. It is a very powerful way to live. Every time you have to make a decision about something, close your eyes and focus on the pleasure. By this, I mean try to become aware of where you feel that tingle of excitement, passion and desire?
If you make decisions this way, you’ll always be happy with your choices, and you’ll always be able to stick to them, because you have that fuel of pleasure and passion stoking the fire and keeping you going.
3. Do Something That Scares You (every day)
When I first put on the red nose and stood in front of an audience (it was just 20 people in a clown workshop but still…), I was terrified.
So are most people, not only when they first do it but every time they do it.
It takes huge guts to stand up in front of a crowd and do anything. But when that thing is looking completely ridiculous, the fear factor goes through the roof.
Clowning bares the soul and makes you feel naked, because we are letting people see the things that for most people are a source of shame and embarrassment. And this causes that little judgmental voice in our heads to get extremely loud:
‘What if they think I really am a failure/pathetic/untalented/scared/horrible/ugly/slow/clumsy’ (circle as appropriate)?
Quieting this voice down can be quite hard. In practice the thing that works best here is breathing and sharing eye contact with your audience. Once there is a flow of energy and silent interaction on an emotional level with other human being, it becomes obvious very quickly that a) they do see all those flaws, but that b) they love you and your flaws.
A big part of the reason they love you so much (as a clown) is precisely because you took the huge risk that they (and most people) were not prepared to take. Most people would not stand up there in their own shit and bare their souls to the world. Yet we clowns do it, like, all the time.
But by the same token we quickly realise that it’s not so bad, it’s not the end of the world, and in fact it can be extremely rewarding and therapeutic. The love you put out in taking the risk and trusting the audience is reciprocated with love and acceptance that feels joyous and uplifting (sometimes euphorically so).
So too, we realise, can taking risks and doing dangerous things in everyday life be rewarding and joyous. We certainly (most of us anyway) wake up everyday wanting to do the difficult, risky thing. And yet we know that when we do it there is a feeling of release and pleasure that is well worth the difficulty.
More than this, in the long term, getting used to doing dangerous things and taking risks as a matter of habit can lead to great things that would not otherwise happen. By accepting the chance of failure we try things we never otherwise would, we put ourselves out in ways we never otherwise would. When things don’t work out, we don’t make it mean anything. We just try again. Like a clown would. We fail and try again until, eventually, it works out.
These clown hacks make good principles to live by. But more than that, they are sign-posts towards a way of living that is essentially clown-like. If we are able to listen to the clown’s wisdom, they have much to teach, and we have much to learn from them.
But why wait for a clown to come along? Why not begin to practice clowning yourself? Take a course or a workshop. Just like you would take a yoga or Tai Chi class. Not to become a yogi or a martial arts warrior, but to gain something as a human being from the wisdom inherent in these practices. Clowning offers us more than just goofy humor: unashamed self-acceptance; capacity for joy and pleasure; comfort with risk-taking, to name a few.