Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VIII, No. 7

Following a Career for Almost 20 Years

As I have often said in the past, during the now 22 years I have been publishing Spectacle, one of the greatest pleasures has been watching the careers of performers whose talent I quickly recognized and for whom I predicted success.  One of these was Ryan Combs.

I first saw Ryan Combs perform when he was 15 years old. It was with Circus Smirkus.  He was  part of a clowning trio that looked more professional than many of the clowns I was seeing on certain mud shows.  For the next 18 years of Ryan’s life I kept in touch with what was happening in his career. It was always his ambition to work for Ringling.  As a kid he thought Ringling Bros.  and Barnum & Bailey was the be all and end all of clowning and circus, and it was therefore his life-long ambition to work as a clown on Ringling.  It didn’t take his entire life to realize that ambition.  In fact he was with Ringling before his 21st birthday.  Before he got there he was  providing the clowns already on Ringling with workshops on clowning with his mentor Rob Mermin who nurtured him while he was with Smirkus.  All this despite the fact that he never attended clown college, either.

Before joining Ringling he spent his senior year of high school in Redland, California, teaching clowning at the Great Y Circus there.

Obviously he was an extraordinary talent.  Mermin was the first to recognize that, but Tim Holst the vice president for talent with Ringling, who had a home in Vermont and was well acquainted with Smirkus soon became another of his advocates and probably played an important role in getting him on the show at such a young age.

Ringling, however, turned out to be a disappointment.  It didn’t take Ryan long to become disillusioned with  Ringling where he felt his creativity constantly being squelched and if not stifled altogether.   His performance, he soon discovered, was gauged more by how closely he kept to the stop watch than by any amount of laughter he added to the performance. He left before his first season ended.  But it was on Ringling that he met Steve Copeland another clown.  It was not exactly love at first sight, but they eventually worked some gags together successfully.

It was that connection, however, that led to their eventually forming a partnership, which took them to their first professional gig together on the newly revitalized Kelly Miller Circus recently purchased by John Ringling North II.  But even there he had to fight to be recognized as a legitimate talent whose work deserved to be featured in the ring instead of on the ring curb covering a prop change.  The partners stayed with Kelly Miller several years expanding their fan base and winning accolades from circus enthusiasts.

Their next move was to Circo Hermanos Vasquez  where they  waged the same fight for ring time.  It was around this time that I recommended them to one of the associates of Princess Stephanie at the Monte Carlo Festival.  Nothing came of that, but the director of the Vasquez show happened to be Joseph Bouglione the producer/director of Paris’ prestigious Cirque d’Hiver.  He hired them to play an extended season this past fall and winter, where they were seen by the people who produce Europe’s most famous Christmas spectacle at the Royal  Theatre Carre  in Amsterdam, featuring the best acts from around the world, many of whom recently won gold in Monte Carlo.  Nice company for a couple of kids from America who always wanted to be clowns.

Since I was unable to make my usual trip to Europe last winter, I was unable to get to see them work at Cirque d’Hiver, but I caught up with them again at the Big E this past fall where I got to see their newly minted clowning style, eschewing makeup and floppy shoes.  It was obvious that talent had once again triumphed, and I was able to document another chapter in the ever expanding career of Ryan Combs and his partner in comic crime, Steve Copeland.  A review of the Big E show can be found in the Passing Spectacle and the lengthy interview I conducted with them between shows  is the basis of this issue’s feature article .