The Luckiest: Guest Blogger Jay Stewart, Clown

I am the luckiest guy you know.

I always say that to people, because I truly believe it. In everything that is important, I have the best good fortune anyone could ask for.

Sure, I hit every red light, and can’t seem to keep up with my keys, and if I plan something for outdoors, it’ll rain. I have my share of that little annoying stuff we all deal with, and find a way to laugh about. But all of those things (and there are a million of them!) cannot compare to the way things come together to work in my favor when it really matters.

I have an incredible wife, Kristin, who loves me and has stuck with me for 19 years (and counting!), two great kids, Karen and Nick, who are happy, healthy and intelligent, and I get to do what I love to do for my living–I am a professional Clown.

jaystewart3hotsI have had the opportunity to perform as a Clown with The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus for 6 seasons, four of these as Boss Clown, writing gags and developing material for The Greatest Show on Earth. I have performed overseas, in Japan and China, proving to me that laughter is universal. I have performed in The Three Stooges, Live! at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV, portraying Moe Howard and Larry Fine–on different days, of course. During that three year run, I was slapped almost 70,000 times! Talk about lucky!

And now, I get to be the Supervisor of The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, and at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, in Providence, RI. Our team administers “humor therapy” for the patients, their families, their care givers, and really, anyone we encounter on our “rounds.” I always figure that if you are in these buildings for any reason, you could probably use a laugh. It has been a major gear change for me, going from performing in the Circus Ring to appearing at a hospital bedside, but it is work that I treasure. It is important. It asks a lot of me, beyond what circus tricks I know, or how goofy I can be.

And, this hospital Clowning work –lucky for me — came along at a time when I was mature enough to handle it. It came along at a time when I could recognize the honor that it is–to be asked to be part of a family’s experience, during some dark times for them, and to bring a laugh or two to a place where laughs are scarce.

And, my good luck has just kept rolling, as I have been asked to teach what I have learned over the years. At the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College, I taught Character Development and Slapstick techniques, preparing the students for life as a Clown on the Circus. I have taught for The NY Goofs, covering classic routines and make up design and application. I taught fundamentals of Clowning –movement, presentation and comic routines– to 60 Chinese college students in Hang Zhou, as part of an international Clowning Festival. I have been lucky enough to get asked to teach Master Classes in Clowning at various University Theatres, including Brown University, University of North Texas, University of Missouri in Kansas City, Wake Forest University, and The San Francisco School of Circus Arts.

And all of this brings me to my current position as Circus Smirkus Tour Clowning Coach. I have been very lucky to have met Smirkus Creative Director, Jesse Dryden, and Smirkus Artistic Director Troy Wunderle, and to have been asked to become a part of the Creative Team of Coaches who help build the Smirkus Tour for the last three years– 2013, ’14 and ’15. Collaborating on Clown gags and character development with them has been a joy for me, one I hope I am lucky enough to continue with them down the road.

2015Clown_Alley

Clown Alley: The 2015 Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour, Bon Appétit!

I hope to bring to the Smirkus Clown Alley some fun ideas for gags, a lot of encouragement for new ideas, and for the choices they will make as they develop as Clowns, and some perspective about what is important about this art. By this, I mean that I hope to instill in them some pride, some integrity and to hopefully help them see that this is not just a lot of silliness, unstructured and made up as you go along. It is work– Clowning requires a different level of thought, a specific outlook on life and the ability to express truth through humor, so that we can all laugh at ourselves.

Clowns have long been described as “bringers of joy,” a title that carries with it some wonderful opportunities– and some high expectations. The successful Clown is the one whom the audience can relate to, the one the audience will allow to represent them in the performance. And, as the Clown is usually the butt of the joke, the successful Clown shows us his/her faults and failures, and as we laugh at them, we laugh at our own.

It’s been said that “it takes a wise [person] to play the fool.” The Clowns of Circus Smirkus prove the truth of this to me each time I am with them. All of the Smirkus troupers are amazing and talented. All of the troupers work incredibly hard to produce a fantastic show. And in the structure of the show, it is the Clowns who are the story tellers, the characters that drive the show. They are the touchstones of the performance, and the characters who the kids in the crowd especially take to heart. This is no easy job, but the Smirkus Clowns handle it with grace and good spirit.

Circus legend P. T. Barnum once said, “Clowns (and elephants) are the pegs on which Circuses are hung.” I am very lucky and proud to have a hand in helping develop the newest generation of Circus Pegs at Circus Smirkus!

Jay Stewart

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