Well and good. But if you follow Houdin’s quote, be consistent. You can’t be a clown in one minute and be an elegant illusionist in the next, just as Mel Gibson can’t play Braveheart in the beginning of a movie and play The Patriot toward the end.
The reason I’m musing over this is that I’m reminded of a clown I performed with in one birthday party. He was hired to host the program—you know, emcee it, run the games, and twist balloon animals.
This is a true story, so I’m inviting you to read carefully…
Before the show started, the emcee came up to me. He was already dressed up as a clown—face paint and colorful outfit in full regalia, the whole caboodle. He declared confidently that he was going to perform magic before he put me on.
As gently as I could, I tried to talk him out of it. I said, what for? I was hired by the parents to perform magic. He should be glad I was there. I would take a great load off his shoulder.
He dropped the birthday mom’s name. He said, she wanted him to perform magic also.
Well, I thought, if it’s the birthday mom’s wish, who was I not to go along with it?
In one corner of the performing area, I spied a small table with several magic props already arranged and set up. I estimated the number of props he had would be good for a five-minute performance.
A five-minute opening act would not be so bad, I thought.
Still, I asked him how long was his show. When he answered, “Forty minutes,” something cold ran down my spine.
I screamed silently, “My show runs for 45 minutes, and this clown is going to front act it with another 40 minutes. Wow! By the time I’m on, he would have breached the children’s attention span already. This is going to be one heck of a tough show!”
Part of my apprehension was the few props he had on the table. I figured that to enable him to perform a 40-minute show out of those props he would have to milk and stretch each one to inordinate length—a sure way to bore the audience quickly.
Without sugarcoating my remark, I told him, “You know what, your show is too long for a front act! “
He smiled and matter-of-factly told me, “Not really. My show comprises 10 musical backgrounds. Each one is five-minute long only.”
Again cold ran down my spine. The clown was not only clueless, he had forgotten his multiplication table. Five times 10 minutes is 50 minutes, not 40.
Well, I was done pleading with him. When time came for him to perform, I couldn’t believe what I saw. He wore under his clown outfit and make-up an incredible chutzpah. He preened onstage imagining he was Lance Burton performing in some Las Vegas theater. This clown is trying to perform an elegant stage magic while wearing a clown costume!
Five minutes into the show, the birthday dad sidled up to me and whispered, “I’m drowsy already.”
Three more minutes, the birthday mom was discretely motioning to the clown’s assistant to cut the show short.
To put it mildly, the birthday parents could not stand the show and told him to end it pronto.
Well, since I didn’t have the nerve to give this advice to the face of the clown (who will remain nameless, because I failed to get his name), I write my advice here. I hope other performers, especially clowns who dabble in magic, can learn some lessons from what I’m going to share.
Disclaimer: This is not to say all clowns suck. I have been to parties where the clowns were funny, entertaining and magical.
This advice is for those who lack those attributes.
Lesson 1: Stay in character. Remember who you are. You are a clown. With your make-up and outfit, you tell the audience in unmistakable ways that you are a clown. Then why, pray tell, you are moving on stage as if you are Lance Burton doing elegant magic?
Lance Burton moves elegantly onstage, yes, but he does not wear a clown make-up and a garish clown outfit. It is, therefore, all right for him to act elegantly.
You don’t have such flexibility. You have chosen to play the part of a clown. That sort of hemmed you in. As a clown, you should fall some, hurt yourself some, make faces some, make mistakes some, move funny some, and make the audience laugh all the time.
You didn’t do any of those things. As a result, the party guests felt drowsy instead of alert. You performed serious magic while in clown costume. As they say in Barbaric English, “Wrong mistake!” You only ended up confusing the audience instead of entertaining them.
You also chose to play serious music, instead of catchy tunes, as background to your performance. You can’t be more serious than a Gregorian Chant playing in the background while you are doing the mouth coil, or whatever it was you were doing.
One word and one word of advice. Don’t step out of your character.
Well, those are six words. Have I told you I’m a liar?
And there’s no Lesson 2.