Feature Article Vol. II, No. 6

 

 Coming at Clowning from Two Different Directions,

Meeting in the Middle

Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs have been clowning partners for five years now.  Their friendship and professional relationship had it greatest test so far in 2009, the first year they worked together on the Kelly Miller Circus and lived together in the compartment behind the cab of one of the show’s semis.  Of that experience Ryan says, “We were lucky that we were able to live together, hang out  together and work together that year and not kill each other or at least deciding we never wanted to work together again.  We srvived even that horrible hole they put us in, with black mold and mushrooms and holes and leaks in the floor and roof. We figured if we can get through that we could get through anything.”

That “anything” had already included, it turns out, hating each other the moment each first laid eyes on the other.    As it turns out Spectacle magazine had something to do with the initial impression.  Ryan had been identified, back in Volume 6, Number 2 of 2003 as one of the stars of the future while he was still with Vermont’s Circus Smirkus.  Ryan’s picture was on the cover and in an inside story he was quoted as saying he didn’t think the Ringling clowns were funny.    One of those Ringling clowns happened to be Steve, in his first year with the Greatest Show on Earth.

Steve is fond of telling this part of their story and recalls that one of the clowns in the Ringling alley subscribed to Spectacle, which got passed around.  “We read the article in the alley, and we all got up in arms saying, ‘ Who the hell is this kid saying we’re not funny?  What the hell does he know ?’  So from the start I was set to not like Ryan,” whom everyone knew would be joining the show the following season.

Hanging otu between shows, with another story to tell.

As is their wont, both professionally and personally, they both jumped into the telling of the story.  “My contract came in the mail,” Ryan quickly adds,  “It said I was joining the Blue show. I was excited because Peter Pitofsky and Jeff Jenkins who were at the time my biggest heroes in clowning had also been connected with the Blue Unit,  so I was excited.”  Eager to see who was on the show at that time he went to the show’s website which pictured all of the clowns then on the show.   “I’m watching each face go by, and I was just disgusted with how they looked.  Then I saw Steve’s picture. He had this big, stupid nose on and this wig. He looked like a mook, and I thought with some chagrin ‘I am going to be working with this guy.’”  He decided to make the best of the situation.  “So that was our initial first impressions of each other:  he thought I was a jerk and I thought  he was a mook.”  And as an ironic after thought Ryan adds, “And that initial reaction spawned a relation that has lasted over ten years.”

At a retreat held in Baraboo before rehearsals began for the new Ringling show, the returning clowns met the rookies for the first time.  Harboring feelings of resentment and lack of respect, the two clowns had little to do with each other.  At their first meeting Ryan found Steve sitting on his bed working on his computer.  He barely looked up when Ryan introduced himself.  “Nothing much has changed,” Steve interjects here, “ I’m still always on my computer.”

Over the following weeks  Steve hooked up with another new recruit, Josh Shack, and Ryan quickly acquired, against all the best advice everyone had given him, a girlfriend, a dancer, on the show.

It was in Baraboo, however, that they met  Karen and Greg  DeSanto, who were going to be the directors of clowning on the show that year.  Of that meeting Ryan says, “it was one of the best things that ever happened to me and my career.  I had been writing stuff since I was a little kid.  I would come up with ideas for something I wanted to do and show it to Greg and he’d say, ‘Oh, yeah they did that in ‘76.’ To which I would reply, ‘well, what about this one?’ and he would come back with ‘that one was done by so and so in such and such film.’  It made me  realize how nothing is new.  No matter how original you think it is, everything has been done before.

“Greg really helped me.  He was nice enough to let me try stuff.  I came up with a gag with a board and saw horses, and he let me work with the clowns on some of my ideas for that.  He didn’t have to.  So after I tried out my stuff, he’d say, ‘I’m glad you have ideas.  Now I’m going to write something that’s funny.’  He was encouraging, and he had already done what as a kid I had wanted to accomplish in my clowning career.  He continues to be a great inspiration, an example of what you can do if you work hard and set your mind to do something good.  He introduced me to Ivan Saxby,who was the prop builder on the Ringling show.  He was just wonderful.  He gave me a lot of ideas for walk-arounds.”

Eventually, the situation more or less required that the  two clowns speak to each other, but the relationship remained fairly cool.  “ We talked and were friendly but we didn’t hang out or anything,” Steve continues.  “We had a gag in winter quarters which involved a disco ball, and I was Disco Steve in a Saturday Night Fever outfit, and I was trying to disco, but I couldn’t get my disco ball hung up so Josh came in with giant A frame ladder and we did all this stuff.  Ryan hated the gag and never wanted to change it so we just hid the ladder in Madison Square Garden and that was the end of that gag.”

Despite his life-long habit of dreaming up and writing clown gags, during his first year on Ringling, Ryan wrote nothing.  “I was surprised about that,” he recalls, “There was nothing that I remotely wanted to do on the show.  I was upset with myself.”

But then, by the time the show got to Tucson, Steve and Ryan started working together on a gag Steve had previously worked with another clown who took over the duties of preshow host.  It was a puzzle gag.  “It’s an old gag that they did in the late 80’s,” Steve points out.    “You have a puzzle, and it falls apart, and you put it back together, but there’s a hole in the face that looks like a clown.  You get a kid from the audience to stick his face in the hole.”

Ryan jumps in. “It was audience participation, and the kids liked it.  It’s a nice moment.  But that wasn’t really the type of comedy that Steve and I were interested in at the time.  We wanted to beat each other up and fall down, so we found  a way to work a giant hammer into the puzzle bit and”, in Steve’s words, “we were beating the snot out of each other.  The frame would fall over and we lifted it over our head and smacked each other around with it.  We had a kid set up a field goal, and we did the Charlie Brown bit of pulling the ball away. Then there was a pratfall, and eventually it turned into a six minute gag.”

Always ready to clown.

“ A lot of people’s noses started bleeding just from watching our act,” Ryan adds with a pleased laugh.  “I guess it was when we started doing a gag together  that our sublimated desire to knock each other around first began to manifest itself. “

One of the more interesting aspects of their working relationship is that they don’t hesitate to criticize one another and take such comments without feeling insulted.  An example is Ryan’s evaluation of Steve’s clowning persona and modus  operandi .  “He was almost too clowny to be funny, in my opinion, at that time.  He was just so clowny, it didn’t work.  He had grown up watching the Ringling clowns like Steve Smith and the kind of clowning that he taught where everything is big and cartoony.”

As if to validate that opinion Steve adds, “I wore out the Clown College video, of the 20th anniversary show, hosted by Dick van Dyk because I watched it so often.   That was what made me want to be a Ringling clown.”

In contrast Ryan was watching the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis, whom, he points out, weren’t working for the arenas.  They were working for the camera.  “And so a lot of my stuff must have seemed really small compared to what Steve was doing.  But we kept at it, because we had this idea in our heads.  We both saw the circus at a young age, around the same time.” That experience set their lives on a similar path.

Taking that thought further Steve says, “We knew where we wanted to go; we were both going for the same thing.  Just coming at it a little differently.  I think that common goal is why we stuck together.  Working together, tweaking this and that.  We were just talking in the alley about trying something like this or that and the other guys were saying, ‘Why are you guys always writing stuff?  Stop writing stuff.’”

That memory reminds Steve of another aspect of their early relationship. “While we are talking about trying stuff, I have to laugh,” he confesses, “because of how obdurate I was at first.”  Yes, that word “obdurate” is Steve’s.  In person, talking about clowning, he is a lot more serious and thoughtful than he may come across on his blog, which seems to be an extension of his onstage persona , which Ryan describes as “an idiot.”

Ryan explains why Steve’s attitude was a problem for him: “ I had been working with two guys on Smirkus and sometimes right before we would go into the ring, I would say, ‘let’s try something totally different.’  They’d agree, and we’d go do it.  Steve and I had written this gag about this sink, and we had to put a tarp under it because of all the water that splashed around.  One time, just before going on, I said, ‘lets’ do the bit where the cloth is twisted,’ and he looks at me and goes, ‘No.”  I was like, ‘What do you mean no?’  I was in the twilight zone for the whole act. Nobody had ever said that to me before.  I was beside myself.”

Before leaving the subject Steve adds, “ I have changed and am a lot more willing to try stuff now. “

The Creation of  Their First Gag

As that change was taking place, Ryan recounts a story of how one of their trademark gags came into being. “I had been watching a lot of Three Stooges films growing up and also at that time while on the train.  I just love their doing that plumbing stuff.  So I said, ‘Let’s do an act about a sink.’ I called up Steve and he said . ‘Sure, whatever, sounds like fun. ‘  He wasn’t that gung-ho about it.”

Steve adds his take on that particular episode.  “ I probably looked up from my computer and said, ‘All right. ‘”

The next step was to run it by Greg DeSanto and incorporate his ideas.  The new duo continued to develop the gag between shows.  Soon they had reached a point where they needed to build a sink box.  “I went to Home Depot in Fresno,” Ryan relates, “and I got the wood and started building the box,  and I asked Steve to come and help.”  Steve interjects that he was probably asleep when Ryan called, but he agreed to pitch in.

“I told him to screw something in, and he picks up hammer,” Ryan remembers with some hilarity. “He had no idea how to build anything.   I am a very impatient person, so I said, ‘Okay, just stop, and I will do it myself.  That became the basis of our comedy.  It reminded me of cleaning the garage with my father or grandfather, and one of them would tell me  to get him a certain tool.  He will yell if I got him the wrong thing.  That kind of frustration is funny.  Steve was the perfect example of ineptitude,  but he has a willingness to please.  We figured out that was how we should work together, and we got a lot of material out of it.  Once the sink was built, Steve said he wanted the plunger to get stuck, and he would try to pull it up and then bring it up and hit himself in the head and fall over.  I thought it was too stupid.  But sure enough just the way he did it, the audience bought that really stupid move because of the type of character he was portraying. And the audience was like, ‘yeah, this guy really is dumb. ‘ It was an interesting moment in writing material for ourselves.

“It is not necessarily the bit, it’s how  you do the bit that is going to make it funny. That sink gag went through a lot of incarnations, but in all those different styles we learned more and more about working with each other.  At one point he used to plunge my teeth out.  My face would get stuck, and my teeth would come out, and he would take the teeth and wedge them gingerly into my mouth and then grab a pipe wrench and square off really slow and put the pipe wrench into my face, and I would go ass  over tea kettle backwards, and the anticipation of the audience knowing  what  a horrible idea using that plunger was, but with my standing there letting him do this thing and his thinking it is going to work, it was a great laugh getter.”  After a pause for dramatic effect Ryan adds, “We took it out because I started forgetting things.”

The gag was first used before an audience in the preshow.  It earned a wildly varied reaction.  “It was very hit or miss,” Steve recalls.  “Looking back at it now, I think it was terrible.  I see that I was not taking any time.  I had no idea what I was doing,  but I feel that way a lot when I watch old videos of our work.”

“The gag had no structure,” Ryan offers. “Steve would do something stupid ,and I would hit him.“

One night, Steve, the video hound, was watching  a new video he had just obtained of a Clown College graduation. Something in the video made him call Ryan and tell him to come over  and watch it, too.   “There was a sink repair gag in teh video that was almost bit for bit what we were doing.  And of course Greg DeSanto had written that one, and they did it for a Clown College graduation.  By way of explanation Ryan offered the thought that when he was talking the gag over with Greg, he thought Greg was just riffing off the top of his head not describing an act he had already done.  It was another reminder that there is nothing new.

It is a lesson learned over and over.  “A couple of years ago I wrote a bit about drinking,” Ryan points out. “I was looking for something for a walk around.  I was trying to think of something we both love.  Coffee!  Okay, great.  What happens when you drink coffee?  You wake up. So we’ll come in sleepy with these big mugs, drink the mug of coffee and have the bug-out eyes and crazy grin.  Sometime later we went to visit Greg.  He had just gotten a new shipment of props for the museum, including Aaron Easterbrooks’ coffee face, and I’m like what?”

Too much caffeine

Once they started working together on the Ringling show they were a team doing PR events and always writing gags together, finding stuff to do together in the shows  until Ryan left, belatedly  heeding  David Larible’s advice.  After learning what the new show would be like the star clown told Ryan he should go now and not come back and go do something else. Instead Ryan stayed and soon learned that Larible had been right.

Ryan admits to having been nervous about working with Larible at first.  “But he turned out to be the nicest person, always answered all my questions.  He invited me to help teach a clown workshop he gave, and as it turned out his advice was sound.  Ryan did finally leave, long before the end of the tour.

“I stayed for the whole tour,” Steve adds.

After leaving Ringling, the Greatest Show on Earth having been a goal he had harbored nearly all his life, Ryan was discouraged enough to consider giving up clowning altogether.  He worked as a sales associate in a Walmart for several months.  He was so good at it he was considered for a management position.  (He found out that all it took was doing what you were told, which is the opposite of what most people do and instead spend most of their time looking for ways not to do their job.) Despite his disappointment with his first try as a professional clown, he amused himself in his spare time writing material for gags and comedy sketches.

When Steve left Ringling  a few years later, he got a job at Myrtle Beach for the summer of 2007.  Knowing that they needed clowns and aware that Ryan needed work, he got his old Ringling friend there as well.  Despite the fact that they were employed at the same venue, they really weren’t working together very much, but for one night a week when they did a show out at the beach on a little stage.  Management had wanted a juggling show, so Steve and Ryan made it a juggling and comedy show that included  a slap board and a water spitting/fight gag.   Although that was the extent of their working together, they did start building another sink.   “We had no clear plans for it, but it was at this time that Ryan asked Steve  to form a partnership .  Before the summer was out Scott O’Donnell, who had been their boss clown on Ringling for a time, informed them that John Ringling North II wanted  to put together an America clown alley on the Kelly Miller Circus which he had just acquired. At Scott’s suggestion the clowns put together a video and sent it off to North.    Before they could do any of the negotiating that would put them on Kelly Miller, they went to Shanghai, China for an international clown festival.  While there they got an email saying they had the job.  And thus began their adventure as clown partners.

Serious Comics

After working together for five years the duo has shown no sign of becoming complacent about their work.  They are always looking for ways to improve their comedy.  Since it is still relatively early in the current season, they are still working on how to sell the blow-off of their current carpenter gag more effectively, which they are sure to do as they exhibit every indication of being thoughtful students of physical comedy.

Ryan says that he keeps a picture of himself as a two year old in his makeup box, which keeps him grounded, he says, “as a reminder of how at that age I would have given anything to wear a red nose.”

Ryan's makeup kit with photo of himself as a young boy, hoping to be a clown.

In explaining  the partners’ approach to their work today, he says, “After I get our gag on the new season of Kelly Miler set in about  a month or so, I start writing for next year.  When I think about what we are going to do, I try to think about what we want to learn.  Like if we need a certain type of gag.  I see we have this and this and this type of gag, and each gag needs to be paired with something else.  We might need to work on our interaction with the audience so I write a lot of that type of stuff in the new gag.  So whatever we do we try to learn something from it ,and we have a season to work on that, and every day Steve is writing a blog about what we are doing on our Facebook page, to keep people informed about our progress and build our fan base.”

Steve describes his blogging by saying, “Someone called it shameless self promotion.  I try to do both.  I started it  for friends and family.  Then the circus fans started to find it.  It was a way of getting new fans and keeping them up to date.”

In so far as the division of labor is concerned, “We help each other out, but mostly Ryan does a lot of the gag writing.  He pitches all the ideas to me and then when there is something I like we start working more and more together.  He had written out the carpenter gag we are using this year but when we got to winter quarters we found out that a lot of the stuff just wasn’t feasible because, for instance, breaking boards  every day wouldn’t be cost effective, and so we basically rewrote the entire gag on our feet, just playing around.”

Ryan jumps in: “What happens is I will come up with an idea and then pitch it to Steve and if he kind of likes the idea, I will draw a picture of what I think the gag will look like so he can see what I’m thinking.  He gets to see costumes and props because our partnership is fifty-fifty with everything.  Fifty percent of it is his money going into the building of the thing,  and so before we buy something we want to know what it is for and if it will work.” (In addition to keeping up with their social media connections, Steve is also in charge of the partners’ money management.)

One of Ryan's sketches for a potential new gag.

“I might  say let’s do a gag with a toilet,” Ryan continues.  “Steve will  get a picture that will give him a basic idea of what props are in it, like the swirling hair when you get flushed down the toilet.  There’s water coming out of his ears when he plugs the hole with his finger, and the exploding toilet is shooting toilet paper all over me. There’s the basic props and  color scheme.  It’s all there, so it’s like yes or no.  This was a no.”

“ I thought it was too similar to the sink gag,” Steve explains.

“Once we get that done I will write the gag,” Ryan explains.  “I never let ‘can we’ get in the way of the writing, then in winter quarters Steve adds his own bits.  It’s physical comedy.  You can’t only write it.  It has to be created on its feet which we do when we are together in winter quarters.”

“Any time I have writer’s block, I go and build a prop,” Ryan says.  “It takes me out of my head.”  As the tour progresses, Ryan says his house gets full of props that might be used in future gags.  I like to make props for the fun of it.”  Tucked into a corner of house there was a bull’s head and a “250 lb” anvil carved from Styrofoam.

In analyzing the art of clowning Ryan likes to compare circus clowning to filmed cartoons.  “I think of a cartoon as a series of still frames, which is the same as a performance.  I like Tex Avery’s pacing.”

Not every gag is a smashing success at every performance they acknowledge, but their worst experience in the ring, they both agree, came on one of the anniversaries of 9/11.  “The sponsors staged a full-out memorial, with color guard, pledge, prayer, moment of silent prayer, and after all that we opened the show.  It was too big a transition for the audience to swallow.  Now we come on for the first time after the cage act, during its tear down.”

One of Ryan's more spectacular props, which he created.

The success of their collaboration is evident in their obvious respect for each other which can be observed even in their conversation.  Neither one dominates or steps over the other’s words.  It is a true dialogue in which they share ideas and expand on those of the other,  for instance when Steve adds to Ryan’s explanation of their working relationship.  “He does all the carving, but I help with the latexing and basic painting.  If there is a lot of detail work or shading Ryan does all that.”

In Steve’s defense Ryan says, “ As we’ve gone along, every year Steve has done more and more.”

“I made a slap board myself,” Steve says with pride.  “I cut wood.  I cut the metal.  Compared to when we first met on Ringling I am a lot more proficient.  I learn a little bit every year, but I trust the more particular stuff to him.  And then he does a lot of the sewing, and I do little stuff like sewing on butttons.”

“That allows me to get started on the next costume,” interjects Ryan.

The Same Only Different

Ryan's wife Tatiana and their son Nico

In analyzing their offstage relationship, an inescapable part of any such partnership, Ryan says it is like the average person having a brother he enjoys hanging around with.  Since Ryan is married and the father of three and a half year old Nico (short for Nicolas, named for his maternal grandfather who was a famous clown in Argentina) the partners now live in separate mobile homes.  Ryan and his wife Tatiana will, however, often invite Steve to join them for dinner.  Most of the time, however, he says he is by himself.  Steve’s family currently consists of two ducks, a white one named Polly which follows him around like a dog and a black one named Emmy, who nips at his heels and lives in a separate pen.  “Its nice to have your own space to go back and chill out and unwind.  We were able to do that even that  first year, because we had our own prop truck and alley and we had trunks in there, and I would get ready in there and he would use the room in the semi,” Steve explains.  They maintain that separation when getting made up and dressed even today.

Steve and his family

They readily agree, however,  that their personalities are the opposite in many ways.  Steve says he tends to be a procrastinator, whereas  Ryan gets worried about next year’s gag about five months in advance.  They meet somewhere in the middle on most issues like this.  But they also have lots of things in common, most importantly their sense of humor. The kind of movies they like to watch, often together, are old horror movies, the Three Stooges, and classic comedies of the silent era as well as Jerry Lewis.

Ryan who is compulsively worried about time and organization starts getting ready about one hour and half before show time.  Steve takes just a half hour, and once he is in makeup and gets into costume, he goes on.  Ryan likes to chill out for about a half hour before going on.    At three o’clock in the afternoon he showers and shaves.  At 3:30 he does his makeup, which for him is a very slow process,  usually accomplished while watching  Tex Avery cartoons.  Ryan’s theory about makeup is that it needs time for the face to warm-up.  Steve believes the longer it is on the worse it gets.

Ryan in process of making up, while watching a cartoon.

Their most important agreement is in the fact, as Ryan states it, “There is nothing that major that we are going to let [come between us]. There are things I do that piss Steve off and vice versa, but we are not going to let little things like that get in the way of what we worked really hard for and given us a career.”

“So if we’re mad about something,” Steve continues, “we tend to just go off to our respective corners and cool down and we are fine. “

“And,” Ryan adds, “we help each other out in what we do.  We always discuss everything before we do it.   Even when we were living together we did the same thing.”

“Our first year was a good test in general,” Steve believes. “We had a horrible room; it seemed to rain every single day; we were always in mud, but we made it through.”

Ryan, in particular, knows the value of their partnership. He  worked alone for a good portion of his young life, having started performing solo when he was eight years old.  It wasn’t until he got to Ringling that he worked for any length of time with others.  “In some ways it’s easier alone,” he says, but being a devotee of the Three Stooges and other comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello, he prefers working with a partner.  “It’s more fun to have someone share stuff with.”

He also understands and accepts the limitations of a mud show, and attempts to deal with them to the best of his ability.  Ryan’s younger brother Peter is traveling with them as their sound effects man this season, another in their ongoing attempts to have complete control of their performances and not rely on someone who couldn’t care less and has less sensitivity to what they are doing.  “It’s nice to have someone with a sense of humor working the sound board.  The same sense of humor really,” Ryan explains.  It should be noted that they have also refused to tip the prop crew, which can sometimes make things a little dicey.

Ready to go.

Passing It On

The most recent extension of their clowning came during the most recent winter quarters.  A young fan approached  Steve and asked what it takes to be a circus clown.  A few weeks later he asked if Steve would be willing to teach him how to be a circus clown. “I asked Ryan and he agreed, and we devised a curriculum and a schedule,” Steve reveals.  “ I put the fact that we were doing this on our blog and another guy contacted us and said he, too, was an aspiring  clown, and could we teach him, too.  A third student who was on the ring crew of the Big Apple Circus joined the group through John Eggroll Kane.  Barry Lubin had previously taken him under his wing and taught him some stuff, and Eggroll told him about the clown intensive, and he signed up, too.”

Ryan explains that  before they agreed to teach, “ we asked ourselves what do we know about clowning.  What we know is circus clowning, because we do it every day.  So we asked if that was what they wanted, and after that we wrote up a curriculum.”

The course was given in Hugo, OK at the Kelly Miller winter quarters.   It was one on one, one student at a time.  “We called it the Steve and Ryan Clown Intensive and intensive it was,” Steve tells us. Each session lasted four days of classes.  Each day began at seven in the  morning and ran until eight or nine at night.  The work consisted of warm ups, classes on physical comedy, character  development, gag writing, prop building, pie throwing, water spitting, publicity, and working for a company.  After class,  during meals, the student clowns were encouraged to ask questions and pick Steve and Ryan’s brains about their experiences.  They also had to write sketches every day.

The days ended with a video presentation of classic clowns from Europe and America, including  Abbott and Costello, Keaton, the Three Stooges, and Martin and Lewis.

The well thought out course  included some sound teaching methods. “We tried to pick videos that reinforced what we had taught earlier that day, like the rule of three, the emotions, slow burns, slap boards.  We tried to recap all that kind of stuff at night, showing  some people doing what we had been talking about.  We showed them different groups of comedians doing the same things.”

Since the course was strictly one on one, any time someone wasn’t  getting something they could slow down, or if they were breezing through, they could move ahead .

As with all teaching, the teachers learned or were reminded of some things as well, as Ryan points out. “A  lot of people seem to forget what it is to be a clown: telling a story  through movement and getting laughs.  We focused on that, and I was surprised  how long it took just to explain to people, okay stop and freeze and make sure you know  that the audience knows what you are thinking before continuing.  We work on emotions which is the most basic thing a clown needs to know about.  How to show emotion in a freeze frame.  How big can you make it and freeze it?”

Steve adds his own observation of the experience: “ It was funny to forget how difficult the simplest bit can be like kicking the hat.  There is so much stuff that goes into that.”

“And,”  Ryan adds, “as my dad used to say about pole vaulting, it is a lot of very simple tasks, which, when put together, become very difficult to do.”

Back to Steve: “ It was also a good refresher for us, sharing with other people and seeing how excited they were about it.  It was reinforcement  for us.  So when we were rehearsing what we were doing this season I always had in mind what we were drilling into the students. It was beneficial for us as well.”

Taking up the ball Ryan continues, “ If you have to explain to someone who doesn’t know what is already second nature in your body you really have to think about how to put it into words.  And by doing that, it just drills it into your head as well.”

Two of their students are now working on circuses.

Ryan adds a final observation: “The idea behind it was to give them every piece of information we would have loved to have had when we started.  Every year I figure out more stuff just from getting a year older. “  Ryan, by the way, is twenty-eight, and Steve, twenty-nine.  They appear to have made good use of those years insofar as learning how to be funny as a circus clown.

 

Looking into the Future

At the time of this interview, the partners had made a commitment to see the season through with Kelly Miller.  They are painfully aware how  difficult it is to find work as a pair, because nobody wants to pay for a clown no less two clowns.  Steve’s take on work is that “They don’t care if the clowns are good or just some guy with makeup on. “  But, as it turns out, Steve and Ryan have found work for next season, but it is not with Kelly Miller.  Next year they will be clowning with Circo Hernandez Vazquez.

Looking back as well as ahead Ryan admits. “We have been lucky on this show that we got to do what we think is funny.  The ability to do that and not have to worry about getting people in the seats has been great.  In some circles, we have been dismissed as youthful slapstick clowns.  We do run around and hit each other;  it is what we do, but we take it very seriously.  There is no message except to laugh and have a good time.  That kind of entertainment is very important to us.  Not too many other places are showing that kind of stuff.  The trend is away from that.  We say let’s go for the red noses and big shoes.  The red nose and big shoes is a look we happen to like.    We have really stuck to our guns in what it is we want to do.   Some people call our stuff American style.  Whatever it is, you have to be funny.”