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Celebrate Red Nose Day by Clowning Around At Work - Every Day

A.J. & fellow cast member goofing around on tour a few years back.

A.J. & fellow cast member goofing around on tour a few years back.

The red nose mask of the clown is not only iconic, but instantly recognizable. From circus clowns to the theatrical variety, the red nose has made the rounds. Today, it's a symbol of charity through the #RedNoseDay initiative started by Comic Relief and promoted through Walgreens. And while selling $1 red noses is a great way to raise awareness, it's also important that we explore the true significance of the smallest of masks.

Now, are we experts on the subject? Yes and no. A.J. here! I studied clown and physical theatre for nearly three years with respected theatre professionals such as Paola Coletto and Dean Evans here in Chicago. I even created a clown character that toured with a theatre troupe to New York (long story); however, I would never consider myself to be an expert in clown, as this is a skill set that can take decades to master, and many who try never do. But what exactly do I mean by "clown" anyway? (There are so many kinds!)

I'm not talking Barnum & Bailey, or even Cirque du Soleil. I'm talking about theatrical clown, which is more aligned with the styles of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Lucille Ball - three clowns who didn't even need to wear a red nose! (They were that good.) Believe it or not, this style of theatre training can be invaluable for people in business. 

Presenting a new idea to a group of your peers? Clowning can help you make eye contact and calm your nerves. Giving a presentation to 50 people? This type of training can help you overcome your fear of failure and take pleasure in your performance, right on down to the mistakes. Giving a TedTalk for the first time? Clowning can make you more aware of your environment, body, senses, and yourself, all while helping you connect with your audience - both the people right in front of you and those watching online. But how?

The clown is basically the opposite of what we've been taught to be. While most professionals might "have their shit together," be stern, or even authoritarian...well...the clown is anything but. The clown lives by the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again with no loss of enthusiasm. And whatever emotions this action stirs up in the clown - whatever reaction they have - is shared through eye contact with the audience. It's this connection that enables the audience to follow the clown and laugh at their pure idiocy. And their ridiculousness is what makes the clown, above all else, completely free.

Turns out, the freedom to be ridiculous is exactly what the doctor ordered for business types, especially when it comes to giving presentations or even thinking up new and exciting ideas, which is why we recommend studying clown. But even if you're not fortunate enough to take a class, there are still plenty of lessons you can apply to your own career or business, and you can start today:

The clown...

1. Is playful, like a child.

Ridiculousness is good for a clown. It’s good for everything. To feel ridiculous and sensitive is a part of freedom.
— Philippe Gaulier

Clowns are free to be happy idiots, and exist in a world where knowledge, sexuality, and sarcasm do not exist. They feel everything, and if emotions were placed on a scale of one to ten, they'd have no problem dialing it up to 11. It's this super-human sensitivity that puts clowns in touch with their own absurdity and allows them to follow their impulses with great enthusiasm and pleasure - just like a child. The red nose mask merely enables the individual to play, and from play comes creativity.

2. Embraces failure with pleasure.

Yes, it is hard to be proud of yourself after you do a big shit. But this is the world of clown! Make a big shit and show a great pleasure!
— Philippe Gaulier

Most adults have an immense fear of looking stupid, and it's this insecurity that breeds conformity. But the clown, in their earnest pursuit of stupidity, is never self-conscious or fearful about following their impulses. To them, what's the worst that could happen? Being ridiculous is the goal! But to most adults living in "civilized society," expressing yourself in this way is frowned upon. That's why clowning is so important: even when they fail face first, the clown is able to bounce right back with a smile on their face and do it again...and again...

3. Jumps into uncomfortable situations.

If you are an actor, you shouldn’t be comfortable. If you want to be comfortable, you should be a pharmacist.
— Philippe Gaulier

Epic silences. The unknown. Making direct eye contact with strangers for over a minute. These are just a few of the uncomfortable situations that a clown might find themselves in. And in these moments, the clown depends on serendipity and unexpected discoveries to overcome their situation. This is what makes the clown brave and what helps them create entire scenes out of nothing. They jump first, think later...if they ever think at all. In fact, thinking is the death of play, and clowns are all about action.

4. Is a rebel without a cause.

The clown’s job is to make us laugh. And after, he leaves.
— Philippe Gaulier

It takes courage to be a good clown, and a clown can never show fear of the audience. They must be bold, inventive, and unashamed. Through this, the performer must dismantle and abolish their ego and perceived self-image for their true self, or inner clown. And even then, clowns don't hide behind characters, or even their tiny mask. Instead, the red nose makes the performer even more vulnerable. When feeling vulnerable, most adults hide behind anger, aggression, or even over-the-top kindness...but not the clown. They have no preconceived notions, don't care what anyone thinks, and merely take action. And that, in itself, is a rebellious act that we can all learn from.

5. Makes us laugh at ourselves.

The clown has great importance as part of the search for what is laughable and ridiculous in man. We should put the emphasis on the rediscovery of our own individual clown, the one that has grown-up within us and which society does not allow us to express.
— Jacques Lecoq

The clown reveals the ridiculousness of human behavior and society, and since we see ourselves in the clown, we laugh at their ridiculousness. In the process, we also laugh at ourselves. And since the clown is also celebrating their own ridiculousness, they thrive on laughter like a fish does water. Unfortunately, good clowns are hard to come by. The great clown teacher Philippe Gaulier once said that "a clown is born every 50 years. For the rest - sorry - but it's possible you try every day for ten years and never meet your clown."

In a world that's upside down these days, we figure it can't hurt to try. Because even if you're in a rigid work setting, a bit of clowning could change your life - and your business. Try it, even if only for today.

 
Once you stop taking yourself so damn seriously, you are free to act with pleasure.
— Philippe Gaulier