Photos from Chocolat Exhibit in Paris 2016

I had the good fortune to be in Paris when the movie “Chocolat” came out last February (2016), which portrays the famous turn of the century clown duo Chocolat et Foottit. To celebrate the release, there was an exhibit on the duo at the Maison des Metallos. here are a few photos I snapped.

 

There is a lot written about the duo. John Townsen has a great post about them on his fabulously extensive blog, All Fall Down.

Dominique Jando also has written an excellent introduction to the Duo’s work in Circopedia..

Not as well known is the fact that Chocolat is perhaps the true father of Hospital Clowning. Although not the first circus clown to go visit children in the hospital, he  was the first to visit regularly going to the children’s ward at the hôpital Hérold in Paris twice a week for many years starting in 1908….

Chocolat at the hospital circa 2010.

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©Photo M.-L. Branger. Roger-Viollet.

Musing on the nature of humor and clown

Not long ago I wrote a post on constructive versus destructive humor focusing in on if the humor was at someone’s expense or globally uplifting. This was before the whole creepy clown phenomenon exploded into the mediascape, internet waves telegraphing the concept to disparate corners of the western cultural world. I still hold faith that in some cultures, people will recognize the creepy clown simply as a creep with a mask who is too scared to show his or her real face. The media coverage is stunning, raking in front page coverage in the journals de repute.

It would be semi-OK if these cowardly acts were confined to the prankster mode that generated it in the first place. According to the history one article compiled, the first sighting of a creepy clown in the woods was a publicity stunt for a low budget horror film. Somehow that has now escalated into a stabbing in Sweden, weapons brandished in Germany, definitely not a prankster matter.

It’s not as if the clowning world didn’t have enough on it’s hands already with the new modern phobia of coulrophobia, scared of clowns. Thanks Ronald, Bozo, It….

When I quizzed a gaggle of middle school theater students, they described their fear: “we don’t know who they are” “we don’t know why they are hiding.” Yet in the annals of many a clown teacher’s notebook, one will find notes to remind the students that good clowning comes from within, not from what you put on. Clowns don’t pretend, they don’t act, they have fun, they humorize their reality, they put their audiences above them, they embrace their mistakes and failures.

In response to the creeps, a few journalists have re-explored the historical nature of clown, jesters, fools, those with permission to criticize the powerful, dating all the way back to the pharaohs. A few have ventured into a less visible yet very real world, that of the sacred clown, the wise contrarian, the disburser of crazy wisdom that keeps the community in balance, a part of indigenous communities across time found in just about every culture.

There are no lack of responses from the clown community themselves, with a number of wonderful articles reminding folks of all the great reasons clowns are vital.

I’m musing on the nature of humor, the principle tool of the trade. After all, humor is a sense that we all possess, a part of our expressive nature. Yet few of us have capacities of this nature, and, outside of a few physical theater and clown schools, where does one develop this ability? It’s not that we lack the capacity. It’s just not recognized as a significant player in the general currency of the realm.

If I were to generalize, I would suspect that most people, associate their sense of humor with the receiving dial. I would also suspect that this is because most people assume that in order to share humor, you need to say something funny. That humor is most naturally expressed non-verbally is not widely known.

I have always found it rather Funny that humor is referred to as a sense, yet it’s not in the pantheon of the five, or even of the mysterious sixth. Does that mean it’s the unspoken seventh?

Is humor a sense? some form of feeling? Has that question ever crossed your mind? Allow me to quote no greater authority than Startrek, more specifically, Saavik, the Vulcan officer in training in the second movie, Wrath of Khan,

“Humor, it is a difficult concept, it is not logical.”

Indeed humor is generally speaking, not a logical, nor a rational thing. Humor is generated by feelings and heart. My take: it’s one of the flows of energy that we channel in life; a channel on the Joy frequency spectrum, one that is deeply intimate with our Original Nature.

Could it be that our original nature offers humor as a pathway to celebration, as an appreciation, an affirmation, a joyous expression? That’s my take. Then I consider how our human nature twists that sense of humor towards fear, the whole making fun of people, the mean stand-up comics and how this also makes people laugh. In a way, bringing us full circle to the creepy clowns. Is humor a double edged sword? One that can be swung in any number of ways? Or is it that if one considers that humor is generated from joy, one needs to consider what is en-joyable. If a person finds en-joy-ment in making fun of others, in scaring others? If they find this fun, or funny how does one consider this? My first impulse is to demonize them, until my Zen master buddy Nocando reminds me: “Who are the creeps?  If they’re the guys I sit with in jail, they’re just seeking connection/attention in the broken ways that have been beaten into them.”

In the midst of my creepy clown reading, I read a piece that differentiated joy and pleasure, pointing out that pleasure is most often a self-centered happiness, whereas joy is shared happiness. Putting aside the veracity of the statement. If one applies that analogy to humor, more specifically, to the motivation of the humorist, it offers some perspective to the discussion. In the creepy scenario, it’s pretty clear what’s motivating the action hardly suggests the intention to celebrate the space we share? Rather than seeking to bring people together, it seems destined to separate them apart.

Even if one can explain the negative connotations that clown is attracting these days, how to resolve it? How to differentiate between those seeking to help bring the world into balance, and those looking to stir up chaos, between the poseurs and those embodying humor. A brain exercise I engage in frequently, looking for another word for clown, for the funny people we love to love…the world sure needs them.

Scary Clowns Take 3. Terrorist Clown Ring Arrested !!!

The Latest Headline in the Santa Monica (CA) Observer:

Terrorist Clown Ring Arrested in Alabama

Clown Fears Have Spread Across the South in Recent Weeks

Flomaton, Alabama police have taken one adult and two juveniles into custody in connection with a threat that put four local schools under lockdown, and they may be able to link the trio to some of the other malicious clown activity that has frightened communities over the last few weeks…

For more of that story here’s the Observed link.

Scary Clowns Part 2. It was all a hoax!

For those of you following the news of scary clowns in the Carolinas, you can now breathe a  collective sigh of relief as the WXII.12 news reports:

Winston-Salem police said Friday that they have determined that a report of a suspicious clown trying to lure children into the woods last weekend was false. A man was arrested on suspicion of falsely reporting another clown sighting hours later.

The first incident was reported just before 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the 1200 block of East 29th Street near Claremont Avenue and Piedmont Park. Police said in a statement they determined the report was false after conducting in-depth interviews ….

Click here for more on this, and a truly scary mugshot without make-up….

conflicting clown news

googleclownalrets.9.4.loAnother Google alert in my mailbox, links to all the articles that contain the word clown. That word is my nemesis. The prevailing mainstream perception of that word, at least according to the amalgamation of newspaper articles in the anglophone world, is overwhelmingly negative. If the word isn’t being used as an insult for politicians or football club managers, the clown is being portrayed as either evil or scary or most likely both. Yet, it wasn’t so long ago, according to the beloved folksinger Utah Phillips (r.i.p. 1935-2008), that using the word “clowning” was a compliment, and meant the person was being funny.

This past week, there has been a proliferation of articles about scary clown sightings in South Carolina—as many as 8 separate  sightings—people dressed up as scary clowns—not just scaring kids, but supposedly the clowns have been trying to lure kids to a house in the woods, even offering them money to follow them. There was a rash of scary clown sightings in England a few years back, and it now perhaps even qualifies as a fad (in anglophone countries.)

In today’s alert listing, there is a link to an article in the Guardian, no less, with the headline: “South Carolina sightings could be part of film marketing device.”  What surprised me more than the revelations was the caption under the photo of a multicolored painted evil clown: “Police have warned that South Carolina law prohibits anyone over age 18 from dressing up as a clown.” Dang! How twisted is that (no balloon animal puns intended)?

In complete contrast, a further down the listings, is an article in the Jerusalem Post, no less, about how the medical clown at the Kaplan medical center, Anat, helped an 11 year girl, Naama, get over her coulrophobia, fear of clowns. Yes, the medical clown! In Israel, most of the hospitals have their team of medical doctors. In Argentina, they passed a law requiring hospital to hire clowns. In Germany, I think they may have 1000 professionals…. Imagine minimal make-up, maximum humor, lightness and laughter. Back to the story, which is the story of how Anat demystifies the process by asking her to watch him put on make-up, put on his costume, and go out into the children’s wards in the hospital to interact with all the kids and families. She was cured in one day.

Oh, the twists and turns of the modern world. One can generalize a bit about coulrophobia: how circus make-up, created for the bad lighting and great distances of early circus, viewed close up by an impressionable 3 year old kid might appear scary and grotesque despite the  well meaning, perhaps inexperienced clown’s intentions. If you are interested in the history and psychology of scary clowns, the Smithsonian, no less, has a very well written and researched article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie.

One thing that marked my understanding of the scary aspect was in a workshop with eighth graders at a performing arts school. I asked why the clown scared some of them. Several girls answered “because you can’t see who’s hiding behind the make-up.”

Makes total sense to me, yet I haven’t given up on my quest to rehabilitate the word, to somehow steer the general conversation in another direction, to where the discussion is how humor can be a positive force in the world. Of course it would help a whole bunch if the people dressing up as clowns were trying to make people laugh instead of trying to scare them.

 

Constructive/Destructive Humor

womenllaughing.m09“As long as the humor is not destructive” the woman explained in response to the interviewer’s question about the meaning, value of humor in daily life. The context is a German radio program about “What does humor mean” interviewing a number of people using humor in the positive, Eckart Von Hirschhausen (Humor Hilft Heilen-Humor Helps Healing) and Myriam Brenner from the German Clowns Ohne Grenzen (clowns without borders…) Interspersed in the program, the radio show played a series of ask the person on the street interviews, how they viewed humor, in which I heard this woman using the word destructive to describe humor.

That was a rather big eureka to me, as it answers a question that has been on my mind for a long time: how to qualify the use of humor. I am guessing that you might have considered this concept: when is humor a good thing? What is the difference between laughing at and laughing with?

As a professional humorist, the question often comes up in one form or another. I have never felt comfortable qualifying humor as positive or negative, something doesn’t quite jar right with that definition. Yet now, I feel I have found the answer, destructive describes why it is a negative.

The opposite term, Constructive, is just as excellent as far as a qualifier in my humble opinion. When the Humor is constructive, it brings people together to laugh in a most healthy way, in celebration. It is a life affirming, let’s celebrate the joy of living. It might be on a more minor scale than a spiritual awakening, yet that moment of connection where the constructive humor is shared opens up a sense of trust and enjoyment of being together, an affirmation of joie de vivre (joy of life).

There is surely more on my mind concerning this, especially looking at how verbal language, or the lack of it, affects the quality of humor.  However  for now, enough said….Further!

ps. If you are a German speaker, and wish to hear the interview (it was broadcast in early 2016) as of this writing, it’s still available at the following link:

http://ondemand-mp3.dradio.de/file/dradio/2016/04/08/dlf_20160408_1010_fc5539ab.mp3

Positive Humor Helps !