I feel too many clowns get wrapped up in their message and are so concerned with the seriousness of what they want to communicate they forget to be funny.
Yet, by doing that they are ignoring the heart of clown ministry. Humor is a powerful tool, and is the basis for clown ministry.
Arthur Pedlar said, “A clown has one very big obstacle to overcome. As soon as he appears, his appearance says he thinks he is funny. You have to do something funny right away.”
By dressing as a clown, you are telling your audience you are going to be funny. That is what they expect. If you are not funny, you have not lived up to what you have promised them. They will feel disappointed and may be confused. Everything you do as a clown does not have to be funny, but something should. If you are not funny, you are not a clown. You are simply a speaker in disguise. I feel too often the clown’s appearance is used to trick people into listening to a lecture.
If people don’t laugh during your performance, you are an incompetent clown. In our culture we equate competence with credibility. If people think you know what you are doing they accept that you know what you are talking about. I have often heard a demonstration of skill as “earning the right to be heard.” Many magicians in the FCM use manipulation early in their performance to prove their competence. They try to impress their audience of their skill as soon as possible. Laughter is how a performer demonstrates their skill as a clown. A clown should get laughter as soon as possible because that earns them the right to be heard.
Preparation For Learning
In an experiment, college students were divided into three groups. One group listened to classical music. The second group listened to a motivational speaker. The third group listened to a comedian. Then all three groups were given a standardized creativity test. The group that listened to the comedian scored the highest on the test.
The reason that happened is the humor served as a mental warm up. Just as stretching before physical exercise makes your muscles more ﬂexible and ready to move, humor stretches you intellectually making you mentally more ﬂexible and ready to make new connections.
Consider this joke: Can you tell me how long cows should be milked? –The same as short ones.
For you to ﬁnd that joke funny, you have to ﬁrst think about long deﬁned as time interval and then suddenly be forced to think about long deﬁned as height measurement. That sudden shift in mental image or concept is part of many forms of humor. That stretches your mind making your thoughts more ﬂexible. Corporations have made that a part of their workplace environment. For example, Kodak has a humor room where executives can go for a mental warm up before they attempt to solve a problem because it helps them be more creative.
That mental warm up does not just allow people to approach problems more creatively; it also helps them learn by grasping and understanding new concepts more quickly and easily. I begin my clown ministry programs with humor that is not necessarily linked to my message because that prepares everyone for my message later in the presentation.
Establishing a Connection
I use humor, and magic illusions, to engage the audience before I present my message. I arouse their curiosity and get them paying attention to me. Then when I reach the message they don’t miss it. Humor is an interaction with the audience. If the audience doesn’t laugh, it isn’t humorous. That interaction forms a connection to the audience that makes your presentation more effective. Pastors and speakers are often taught to begin a sermon or speech with a joke for this exact reason.
Humor also forges a connection between audience members. When people arrive, they are thinking about many different things. Parents may be thinking about the problems they had getting their children ready to come. Sports fans may be thinking about the broadcast of a game they are missing by being there. By getting everyone to laugh together I start to unify their thinking. Now they are thinking about the same thing. That allows crowd dynamics to intensify their experience. Laughter is contagious in a crowd. When I turn to something serious, that crowd dynamic intensiﬁes the effectiveness because other emotions are also contagious.
Humor is memorable. It can make your message more memorable if there is a link between the two. I was a leader in the Bible Study Fellowship children’s program for a year. That year we studied the life and work of Moses. One of our tasks was to help the children review the plaques in Egypt. My teaching partner created a true-false quiz for the kids. One of his statements was about the plaque of ladybugs. The kids all laughed because that was a ridiculous image. They correctly identiﬁed it as a false statement. They did not remember what the correct plaque was. We explained it was another bug starting with the letter L, a locust. We reviewed the plaques again a few weeks later. None of the kids could remember all of the plaques. The ones they missed were each different. However, they all remembered the plaque of locusts because they recalled the joke about the ladybugs which reminded them it was a bug starting with the letter L.
For that reason, I frequently follow a serious routine immediately with a comedy routine related closely to the topic.
We judge things by contrast. If you want to include a serious, dramatic moment in your presentation, the impact will be increased if it is immediately preceded by a funny moment. The contrast to the humor makes the dramatic seem more serious. To see how this works study how movies and TV shows juxtapose humor and drama. When I want to turn serious in one of my presentations, I make sure that I do something humorous immediately before making the transition.
One of my clown ministry presentations is an hour-long program titled, “Make A Joyful Noise”. I start with humor and juggling. Early in the program I include some very short magic illusions introducing my topic so people will not be surprised by it later. Most of the message routines fall into the second half of the program. However, audience interaction comedy routines are interspersed in that second half hour. I use them to make sure the audience is still with me and paying attention. They help to maintain or reestablish the connection that was formed in the beginning. They are not interruptions to my message, but a tool to ensure that my message is being received.
Clown ministry is using humor to meet the needs of people and to increase the effectiveness of the presentation of a message. Humor and message are both integral parts of clown ministry.
When you write a clown ministry skit or develop a longer presentation, ask yourself these questions. What is funny about it? How can I use humor to establish my credibility as a clown? How can I use humor to connect with my audience and unify them? How can I use humor to prepare my audience for the message? How can I use humor to reinforce my message and make it more memorable? How can I contrast humor and drama to make them both more effective? How can I use humor to maintain my audience connection so they listen to and understand my entire message? Where is the clown in my ministry?
By Bruce “Charlie” Johnson, CharlieTheJugglingClown.com