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How to… develop clowning skills

Dan Lees. Photo: Alex Brenner
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1. Be yourself

Explore what makes you ridiculous. Find what makes you laugh and gives you pleasure on stage, what makes you happy. Don’t just copy someone else’s persona or act; it most likely won’t work since it won’t resonate with who you are. Explore your own eccentricities. Ask yourself: what is idiotic about me? Maybe you’re pretentious sometimes? Do you get angry over small things? In clowning we want to see the real you on stage, nothing is disguised and everything is revealed. Let people laugh at you, not just with you.

2. Listen to the audience

Ultimately, the audience is your guide. They will tell you what is funny and what is not. Let the audience lead you and humour will be found in places you hadn’t imagined. Be prepared to alter or deviate from your planned material. Respond to the room and the moment. Sometimes what you thought would be hilarious was not at all but something else tickles the audience. Drop your idea and follow the laughter and you could find comedy gold. Always love your audience, whether it’s two men and a dog or live at the Apollo. Every audience deserves your full commitment and generosity.

3. Keep getting up

We all flop and have bad shows. Try not to be too disheartened. Get on your feet and go for it again. The more you perform in front of audiences, the more relaxed you will be on stage and you will learn to deal with flops more easily. The audience mirrors the performer and feels everything. If you are nervous, the audience will feel nervous. But it also takes time to feel comfortable on stage and to handle when the audience isn’t laughing. Don’t panic. Remember to breathe and take your time. The gods of comedy will come again (hopefully!).

Dan Lees is an award-winning physical comedian. He is performing as part of the London Clown Festival, which runs until May 21. He was talking to John Byrne

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