My official Clown education began after getting permission from my probation officer to attend clown school at the other end of the country. Oh and the crime? Breaking and entering and theft of a fire extinguisher. I happened to be at a party and I happened to be bored and I happened to believe that the host of the party should be shot but not killed as a form of entertainment (which is the theme of this piece) so I broke into a nearby hall and stole the fire extinguisher went back to the party and blasted the host with foam because that was the minimum level of excitement I required and six months later that shit caught up with me and probation followed.
I arrived and unrolled my WW1 officers sleeping-bag under the shelter of the Grafton bridge in a cemetery. Nearby seasoned tramps roared, fought and laughed but I kept my distance. I was just 20, sleeping in cemeteries was just a stage I was going through. Tomorrow was day one of Clown school.
I learnt to juggle. I was never attracted to juggling. The celebration of mastering objects flying through space seemed to me a bit of a trite concession. I could see it being therapeutic to certain personality types who used it to buttrice lifes random inputs by using short range focus. A kind of , 'I'm alright Jack' attitude given physical form. Some people curb panic attacks by breathing into a paper bag, others gaze at their shoes to short circuit overstimulation, some play with toy trains or assemble model airplanes and some, who want attention in theory but are uncomfortable with it in practice, juggle.
I always thought of it as a kind of symmetrical epilepsy practiced by closet trainspotters and a kind of slowly boiled frog of attention seeking behavior. People have suggested I'm overly critical. Fuck those people, those people are assholes.
Clown school, the one I attended and ones I’ve subsequently taught, are about extending permissions and letting pupils explore their own boundaries in clown character development. Alan Clay taught a street based clown format so out of the studio we got to explore clown perimeters in public.
My first clown character was called Vernon Vortex, he wore a red nose and a baby bonnet and sometimes a sandwich board on which he’d write cryptic witticisms in chalk. His threadbare backstory was that vortexes were kinda like absences of stuff and that it was his job to go round filling them up.
In terms of permissions I found a red nose was quite the anarchist passport. Downtown I could climb the outsides of buildings and peer into first floor offices unimpeded. Alan used to release 12 trainee clowns at once into a 4 block area downtown, I’d be climbing buildings, another would be walking backwards for block after block, another would be on her back on a traffic island with her legs in the air reading a book called ‘Electricity made simple’ and keening, another would be coaxing her pet ball of string down from a traffic light. Good times.
Vernon was my first talking clown, he evolved from his first show which was How to create a near death experience, Life…is a near death experience when you think about it. …I will begin by strangling myself.” to selling isolation chambers on stage by zipping himself into an adapted shoe holder while talking. “have you ever been in a place…and thought you’d quite like to be…in another place?” Vernon would also appear between bands at high risk nz rock and roll venues with a bible to talk about his difficulties in his relationship with God regarding Deuteronomy in relation to industrial accidents and bar brawls culminating in the phrase, “and so I killed him”
This clown murder of an invisible god after the tension created in any theological monologue was the relief the sodden masses needed. I appeared to rock.
But my next clown Terrance the artistic amoeba was the squid specialist. Vernon vortex had a rationale, he dealt with vortexes. Terrance the artistic amoeba just was. Although Terrence the artistic amoeba’s first line was always. “ my name is Terrance the artistic amoeba and my forte is artistic criticism.”
Terrance stick was squid heavy. I’d begin by introducing thawed squid and explaining that thy were just basically protoplasm with well developed eyeballs programmed to come to the surface whenever lights appeared in the sky. I’d let that hang and then state, “and so I’m going to juggle them!”
Being a reactionary cynical juggler squid suggested itself and I used an overhand technique and could juggle squid for as long as the concept required as a clown statement needed, i.e. Yes I am a clown and yes I am juggling squid .
It was the intro into my statement about art and what art was. I’d promise, as a specialist in artistic criticism, a conclusive proof.
Which was, after juggling squid I would introduce a mystery art object, an object hidden in a paper bag at the top of a stick that was one half of a spear fishing unit. My purpose, as Terrance the artistic amoeba whose specialty was artistic criticism was to define art, by initially juggling squid. and then introduce a mystery art object with the ongoing motif that I would reveal it and artistically critique it.
The art object was a squid on a stick, whats more the stick was loaded with a propulsion unit being the back end of an elastic speargun and so after the reveal I’d state that the squid was an art object, valid because I’d made it valid, and that like all great art it needed to find it’s place in the community.
At this point I’d offer them the choice between the 4 story building on the left or the right and whatever their choice I could fling the squid over their heads and away as my shows climax.
So lets get to the drive by shooting and let me say it was justified and I have no remorse. Clown vengeance is a beautiful thing given clowns have to produce dignity in hidden corners from their deliberately low status lives.
Aucklands biggest indoor venue was called ‘mainstreet’ and held around 1500 punters. It was a dead dinosaur being sold in a real estate deal and as a last ditch keep the lights deal the owner of a nearby performance cafe was given casting rights, Enter weirdness with people from outer suburbs being subjected to thurs/fri /sat of young bent culture. So I took my squid flinging act indoors. Numbers on the first 2 days were so low that the whole affair marinated in it’s own non event corpse secretion but sat night sat about 300. The bouncers were the original staff, along with the tickets sellers and the barstaff, and they were used to agro at the highest level.
I had been flushing my squid in the venues public toilets after the shows. No fuss. My squid flinging had to be deft, well aimed and the launches had to be aimed in a narrow spectrum avoiding an array of circular fans and the tables beneath. easy on empty nights but the sat when I stated I was going to fling a squid out from the stage one table of 6 in the middle at the back vacated defensively and the gods of comedy decreed that’s where my squid landed. I thought that was great and retrieved it and flushed it after my act. Shortly afterwards backstage I got a warning that a bouncer was angry and looking for me. ‘Everyone’s a critic.’ I thought.
30 minutes later I was accosted backstage by a livid bouncer who grabbed me in a neck pinch and dragged me to the toilets where it appeared my flushed squid had reappeared and shocked some punter who’d shat and then inspected his output to be shocked at some aquatic protoplasm with a well evolved singular eye staring back at him and had complained to an otherwise bored bouncer.
The bouncer, instead of simply flushing again came and got me and gave me a coat hanger and plastic bag and told me to get rid of it elsewhere. So I fished it out, rinsed it, put it in the bag. Put it and my other props in the car I came in and had a couple more quick drinks.
We piled into the car and I was still smarting. I told the driver to crawl past the front doors of the place as I loaded my squid-projecting apparatus in the back seat and wound down the window. Comedy Gods be praised, there he was, standing out on the pavement looking like a bald, neckless, undersized, Ork.. I ordered a U-turn and we circled round again. I only had one chance. I’d have to shoot out the window and aim between parked cars from a moving vehicle but I had the steely discipline of a veteran sniper and rage in my heart. The squid, that had once been on stage, then in the air then in a toilet, then shat on and then rinsed off was now set free again and shot between the parked cars and hit the bouncer flush in the side of the face as we laughed and sped off.
It was a beautiful thing.