A Thesis Project for Parsons MFADT
By Brian A. Bernhard
Major Studio: Interface
I have always been fascinated with clowns. For as long as I can remember, they have always been part of my life. There are no family connections; I don’t have an uncle that performed as a clown at birthdays. In fact, I have never been all that interested in Birthday Clowns, but for one reason or
When I was a kid, and I was taken to the circus, the animal act always made me a little sad, but the clown acts, I always found more interesting. There was something about their ability to communicate a story, that crossed most cultural and language barriers that fascinated me.
One of my first jobs was at a fun house. I got to run around making wacky sound effects, telling jokes, making silly voices, and on special occasions, become a clown, and play with people. The guy that owned the fun house also owned a Wax Museum, and on very special occasions, I would play in the museum as a clown
When I arrived at my first art school, I discovered, clowns appearing in my paintings and sculptures. I even ventured into multimedia performances, where the clown would also come to play. Eventually this led to me performing in a band as a clown known as Blight. After a small east coast tour with the band, and a bunch of local shows, in various rock venues, I discovered that there seemed to be a stigma attached to the character of a clown. More people than I expected were afraid of clown this left me puzzled. Was it something I was doing? I was not intentionally trying to be creepy; I was trying to be honest.
Around this time, I began to research clowns, and learn more about the history of clowns. A friend was putting together a variety show based on the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”. He asked if I could put together something for the show. I took this as an opportunity to create my first clown movie. So, I created, “A CLOWN CAROL – The Marley Murder Mystery”, this was my attempt to create a story that took place in a land of only clowns, where they were good clowns, bad clowns, happy clowns, and sad clowns. This was a place where every character was represented by a certain type of clown. The idea was that if every character in the story were a clown, even the sympathetic ones, there would be no reason to fear all clowns, just the bad ones.
Blight the clown, interested me very much. I felt comfortable with this character; he almost seems more real, than my actual self. I was interested in discovering how other clowns deal with an audience that fears them. This fear almost felt like some accepted form of prejudice, that I was not sure how to deal with. I wanted to discover what it meant to be clown, so I began going to, “Jef Johnson’s Clown Lab”, which is a workshop, developed by one of the world’s leading clowns, to help people discover their inner clown.
After about a year of the Clown Lab, I began writing and drawing a comic strip called, “The Missing Adventures of Blight the Clown”, which was meant to explore how Blight would react to all the things that would occur to him everyday that fell outside the main narrative of his life.
Now, understanding my own personal clown a little bit more, I still have many questions. I still want to discover why people fear clowns. I still want to learn what clown represents to different people. The clown can be traced back in time to almost every culture, some clowns earning a shamanic god-like respect in their own cultures, so why in my own culture, does the clown represent fast food and serial killers? It is this bastardization of the clown experience I would like to demystify, and educate the world and myself as to what clown actually is.
II. Problem (Research)
- What is clown?
- Birthday Party
- Why are some people afraid of clowns?
- Stephen Kings, “IT”
- John Wayne Gasey
- Creepy Makeup
- Bad performers
- What is play?
- How does one become a clown?
- By birth
- Find yourself
- What are the different clown cultures around the world?
- American Clown
- Spanish Clown
- Mexican Clown
- European Clown
- Birthday Clown
- Hip Hop Clown
- Scary Clown
- Asian Clown
- Cabaret Clown
- Why do clowns wear red noses?
- To represent a drunken state
- To catch the snot
I believe in a bit of a hands on approach to my projects, so I decided to create a interactive documentary web series. The web series will work together with a blog based website to create a community of clowns that will be able to contribute to the series as well as the blog. Each episode of the series will attempt to answer a question. The first season of episodes will answer a set of baseline questions that I feel will help begin a dialogue between the viewers and the clowns. Once this baseline is set I will begin inviting questions from the audience, after I get enough questions from the public, I will go back to my panel of clowns and re-interview them again, with the questions that the audience wants to ask.
III. Solution (Proposal & Execution)
- Deanna Fleysher (Butt Kapinski)
- Jim Moore (Documentarian of Clown Culture)
- Joel jeske (Successful Clown)
- Kathy (Ringling School & Clown Lab)
- Barry Lubin (“Grandma” – Big Apple Circus)
- Mistress Balloon
- The Blue Man Group
- Lorenzo Pisoni (Humor Abuse)
- Cirque Du Soleil
- Bello (Big Apple Circus & Ringling Brothers)
- Video Gallery
- Community questions polling