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Clowning Books: Reviews and Highlights
By Alan "Dimples" Nicoll

The list of things after each review are reminders to myself about the better things to be found in each book.

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Clown Magic by David Ginn

This is a great book. Long, informative, very little "junk," lots of ideas you can use, whether you want to do clown magic or just clowning. Author sounds very experienced.

How To Be a Magic Clown by Ernie Kerns

So-so. The book is far more oriented to clowning in general than the title suggests. There are better books that provide very similar information; maybe these others got some of their stuff from this old book! Clown Magic, a much better book, apparently stole the useful comments on dealing with kids from this book (p. 32-37). This book appears to be out of print, but currently (7/28/05) a used copy is available from Amazon.

Ball on parasol, p. 12 (See also Be a Clown!, p. 62-63)

Rug Salesman, p. 14

The Wild Man (costume), p. 28 (also in Vol. 2, p. 35)

The Morning Paper (suitcase gag), p. 31

Two or more Clowns:

Floating, p. 17 (also in Be a Clown! and many others) though a good gag is included here

The Dead Man p. 22

This little poem is very popular with younger kids:
Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was oh, so white.
And everywhere that Mary went,
The fleas would always bite.

I have a little rabbit,
But it's very hard to nab it,
Because it has the habit
Of running like a rabbit.

p. 38-41:  . . . ask his name and no matter what he replies call him by some other name.

"How old are you? Eight? Are you married?" Then do a double take no matter what he answers.

Out of print; used copies sometimes show up at Amazon. Check the Z-shop at Amazon also

How To Be a Magic Clown, Vol. 2 by Ernie Kerns, Fred Olsen, and G. Elmar Jones

Fairly good. Not a great book, but some useful information on makeup and wardrobe (p. 4-11, 80-81, 86-88). The sections on "Becoming a Professional" (p. 18-20) and "Where to Look for Work" (p. 20-29) are good and excellent, respectively, though dated. Much of the first part (by Ernie Kerns) of this book duplicates the above book. Parts 2 and 3 have slightly different slants; part 2 on "promotional" clowning (e.g., stores), and part 3 on being a "public relations performer" (i.e., clowning, cowboy, Santa Claus, etc.).

Part 3 is overall the best, with some good tips on handling children (passim), flirting with women (p. 73-74), lots of ideas for how to use standard props (p. 74-80), and extensive, good information on being a Santa Claus (p. 81-85).

Skunk Cleaning Machine, p. 16

The Bug Hunter (costume), p. 33-35

Juggling section (p. 63-64) has some "easy" moves to be added to the 3 ball cascade.

Gloved Hand, p. 79

Be a Clown! by Turk Pipkin

Excellent. Subtitled "The Complete Guide to Instant Clowning," and one of the best books for getting started quickly. Provides a different approach to making clown shoes (p. 32) and many reasonably good gags and bits of business (good selection, few out-and-out losers). Good source for handshakes (p. 12, 75) and takes (p. 49-51). Generally lively writing, sometimes too much so. Keep this one within reach!

Balancing ping pong ball on nose, p. 8 (better than the feather, I think)

Broken bicycle horn, p. 41

Tongue through napkin, p. 41

Otto's soda bottle trouble, p. 42

Running into a door, p. 70

Banana slide, p. 70

Who's There? (shoes following you), p. 78

"Focus is also a good point to consider. Your eyes are the windows to the soul and intentions of your clown. A downcast focus in a clown is a sure sign of no confidence, no character, or no material. Your eyes should be seen and they should be alive!  . . . play out to your audience, to the last seat of the very last row." (p. 19)

Clown Alley by Bill Ballantine

Entertaining. The story of Ballantine's relationship with the Ringling Brothers circus and the early years of the Clown College (late 60s, early 70s). Little or no discussion of clowning itself, little here to help the new clown. Makes being a clown for the circus sound very dismal indeed, and brings home the differences between circus clowning and other forms (primarily due to distance from audience). Includes a useful discussion of clowns and clowning on film with many titles mentioned (p. 302-306). Occasionally tedious and overlong descriptions. I didn't quite finish the book, reading about to page 346. Probably out of print, but Amazon has used copies available as of 7/28/05.

Circus Techniques by Hovey Burgess

Fascinating. Well illustrated, well written introduction to many circus techniques including juggling, balancing, and stilt walking. Might serve as a study guide for learning some of these skills.

See my clown page and my home page.