Two of the most respected masters of contemporary American "New Vaudeville" stage clowning are appearing together tonight at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, MD. If you missed out on seeing Gordoon and Drew the Dramatic Fool in Pittsburgh on April 10th, this is a good way to begin to deal with your immense sorrow and loss.
This one is not to be missed.
Click on the title of this post for more information.
For those out there who are unfamiliar with the Chair Gag (and I can't believe there are many of you) here it is, done pretty well, save for the whistle. I'm not sure of the clown or the show.
I was always afraid to do this one because I was worried one of the volunteers would drop to the floor. Jeff "Gordoon" Gordon was kind enough to teach me the gag in all of about 5 minutes and I've used it (without incident) when needed ever since.
Once, when we needed to cover some time, I stretched this gag to the breaking point and got 12 minutes out of it by using virtually every audience volunteer bit I'd ever seen or thought of. It worked out well but I wouldn't want to do it that way every night.
There are A LOT of silly mistruths about Emmett Kelly that are obviously false but have nonetheless have repeated for so long that it's hard to believe that they are still being circulated on the clown convention circuit and by lazy newspaper reporters, but they are.
One is that Emmett Kelly always added a little black tear in the corner of his eye to his makeup after the tragic 1944 circus fire in Hartford. Oh yeah? Then why doesn't this legendary "little black tear" appear in any one of the six billion photos of Emmett taken in the years after? Does it appear in the films THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH or in his movie THE CLOWN AND THE KIDS? No, it does not. Next time someone tells you that one slap them hard for me.
Another is that Emmett never smiled in makeup and was never photographed that way.
See above, which looks staged but was reportedly taken when Emmett heard the news of the birth of his daughter, Stasia during his tenure as mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
And another one bites the dust.
The funniest of all, I recently had a Shrine clown tell me WITH A STRAIGHT FACE that Emmett, knowing that he was dying, went to the doctor to see if there wasn't something to cure his growing depression. "Go to the circus and see Emmett Kelly, the famous clown. He's the funniest man in the whole world. He is sure to cheer you up." "But doc" said Emmett. "I am Emmett Kelly. Who is there to cheer me up?"
First of all, I've read this story in print in just about every book on clowning or circus that I've ever opened and it's never attributed to the same clown twice. I've heard that it was Grimaldi. I've heard that it was Grock. I've heard that it was Chaplin.
It's not a true story.
Second of all, Emmett hadn't worked steadily in circus for more than 20 years before he died. It had been quite a long time since Emmett had been a full-time circus clown that people expected to see at ANY circus, much less Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (the one he is most associated with in the minds of the American public) which hadn't played Sarasota in many years.
Third of all, Emmett died suddenly of a massive heart attack while taking out the garbage at his home in Sarasota, FL. Even if he did realize that he was having a fatal heart attack and was consumed with depression at the thought of immenently facing his own mortality AND had the good fortune to meet a doctor somewhere in the middle of his own driveway on his way to the curb...WHAT DOCTOR WOULDN'T KNOW THE NAME OF HIS PATIENT?!? WHAT DOCTOR IN THE CIRCUS COMMUNITY OF SARASOTA FLORIDA WOULDN'T KNOW THAT HE WAS TREATING THE FAMOUS EMMETT KELLY?!?
And, of course, what kind of a respectable doctor keeps regular office hours outdoors in someone else's driveway? Much less that of a semi-retired circus clown? Even if it was just a walk-in clinic, what kind of money is there in something like that?
Fourth, what would stop Emmett from laughing at any one of thousands of comedians on film, on television on radio, on cassette tape, 8 track or LP or even opening the newspaper to the comics page? But because Emmett was a circus clown the assumption is that he could only be made to laugh by OTHER circus clowns?!? And that no clown was ever funny enough to make Emmett himself laugh?
This one is really beyond dumb. If someone tells you THAT one, slap them REALLY hard for me.
Closing out this week of Larible videos, here's David's scarf juggling ballet from Circus Massimo in 2002. Also in this clip is a fairly amazing rola bola act but we don't care about that, do we? No we most ceratinly do not. Not here.
They aren't posting Otto Griebling or David Shiner clips on rola bola blogs, are they?
One of the truly great American circus clowns of recent times, Billy Vaughn, with Mike Naughton's daughters Katie (l) and Margaret (r). I hope to be able to post some video that I just got of Mr. Vaughn (auguste) teamed with Mike Snider (whiteface) working together on the Vidbel show next week.
More of David Larible from Circus Massimo in 2002.
I'm glad that someone else compared Larible with Oleg Popov yesterday. I've always found him extremely "Popovian" (?) but he's overcompensating for one of Oleg Popov's biggest character defects: David smiles almost constantly, from what I've seen Popov almost never smiles in the ring unless he's doing something to someone else.
He doesn't smile when he enters.
He doesn't smile when he leaves.
He only smiles when he being "clever".
Which strikes me as a strange approach for a clown to affect. I've seen several versions of his famous Juggling Cook routine, recorded over a period of decades, but it always seems to be presented with an air as if Popov is doing the audience a favor by allowing them to bask in his particular genius.
But, he's a legend.
It may just be that I don't know enough about Russian comedy, Soviet circus history or the intricacies of their politics to get some subtext that would snap Oleg Popov into better focus for me.
Bobby Kay's business card, with home address and phone number, given to Mike by Bobby in 1974.
From Mike Naughton...
"Bobby gave me this card when I finished CC '74. For several years prior I usually wrote to him via the Venice address. I treasured this card with his home address because I thought it was a sign of achievement and acceptance into the world of circus; what can I tell you I was 18."
Since his name came up yesterday, and since we've already posted Emmett Kelly's version of the Shorty Flem Spotlight Gag, here's David Larible's interpretation.
Stripped of the hype of the Feld Entertainment publicity machine, Larible is not a charmless performer. On the contrary, he is an extremely talented clown.
But for all his skill he is one clown that nearly always leaves me cold.
My problem with Larible is that I've never found his character nearly so huggably soft, so sweet-as-candy, so "don't-you-just-want-to-eat-him-up-he's-so-absolutely-lovably-cute" adorable as David's character seems to find himself.
I know that I am in the minority on this one. Whether it's because he's featured on the commercials, billboards, posters and programs, whether it's because he is standing firmly in the spotlight throughout the show or whether its his natural talents, gifts and abilities, audiences around the world seem to love him.
But for me, David Larible is, and always will be, the anti-Shiner.
And that's just my personal opinion on the subject. I like my clowning with a little less treacle. You may enjoy yours so sweet you risk diabetic coma. Circus comedy is an incredibly Protean art form. Like with jazz, there is room enough for endless diverse styles and welcome innovation under the amorphous umbrella heading of "clown".
This photo was taken at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World in Haines City, FL on US 27, just east of I-4 -- Clown College '74.
They brought us to Circus World for Elephant Riding Class this is where I met the Woodcock Family for the first time. This was also the first time Lou Jacobs was introduced to the class. He presented his "Hunting Gag" to thunderous applause from a most enthusiastic audience.
I don't want to misspell or misidentify anyone, so I'll only name those I am certain of. When I dig out the Class Roster I should be able to correctly identify all.
From the left, arms crossed is the stalwart Ruthie Chaddock; to the right of Ruthie, also arms crossed and looking fetching in tank top and neck scarf is Bruce Gutilla, behind Bruce with the cap is myself; in front of me is Barry Lubin before he had a sex change and became a senior citizen; to the right in a "shower cap?" is Dale Longmire (I just washed my hair and couldn't do a thing with it); next to Dale is George Khoury; several clowns over in civilian attire is Bobby Kay; peeking out from behind Lou's elbow is Mark Stolzenberg; down front in the center and in the afro wig is Mitch Freddes and to the right is Rick Davis. Right in front of Lou's collar is a little person, Mike King and to the left of Mike is Kathy Herb wearing overalls. Rumor had it that Mike King, who was working in Circus World prior to CC had a guaranteed contract to join the show but had to attend CC first. He was a very hard working individual and an excellent "little clown".
Michael Karp, the last professional circus clown hired by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey before they started training their clowns through Clown College, lost all of his photos and circus memorabilia from his years on the road in a terrible fire two years ago.
If ANYONE has ANY photos of Michael or ANY materials relating to his years on the road, originals or copies, please contact me at email@example.com so that we can get them to him.
Probably my very least favorite of all the well known European entrees. I've seen this routine performed by several different acts over the years, usually with great skill and tremendous ability, but this one always leaves me cold.
This is no reflection on Les Gotys, or anyone else who's performed this piece. It's just my personal feeling about it. Audiences seem to love it.
Maybe it's the whistles? I really can't stand when clowns use a whistle throughout their act. I just find that it really grates on me.
Anyone else have a particular routine or prop that they just dread seeing again (and again and again)?
Before Harpo Marx performed it with Lucille Ball on I LOVE LUCY, before he performed it with his brothers in DUCK SOUP, "The Mirror Entree" was a European circus classic. Here it is, in the ring, being done by Les Gotys at Circo Massimo in 2002.
A scene by Mummenschanz from the 1977 episode of the Muppet Show that they hosted.
To learn more about Mummenschanz (who were on Broadway and were doing LOTS of TV appearances when I was a kid but never got to see them live until they played Lincoln Center a few years back) please click the title of this post.