Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Are Clowns The New Vampires?

I like a good lie in and have to have a good reason to abandon this luxury so you may ask why I voluntarily did just that. Or perhaps you don't care.

I don't have much enthusiasm for churches or clowns but the surreal concoction of the two was just enough to tantalise and peak my interest to force me out of bed before midday. The first Sunday in February is dedicated to the annual Grimaldi service, otherwise known as the Clown's Service. The service has been going since 1946, in memory of London based Joseph Grimaldi who died in 1837 and is apparently arguably England's most loved and famous clown.

What interested me most about the service was that in 1967 clowns were given permission to attend the church in full costume. Envisaging a sea of brightly coloured wigs, red- noses and over-sized shoes taking over an enormous church, my partner in crime and I raced through the traffic and fought a series of road works, failing to get there on time but making it before the service was over, secretly slightly relieved we wouldn't have to attend a full hour of hymns and prayer parroting while also rather apprehensive that we wouldn't be allowed in. Surely churches are all about forgiveness and being inclusive? But maybe not to arrivals 45 minutes into an hour service, after all a theatre performance would never allow it and you have to pay for that!

After testing my best journalist's blag bullshit on the people manning the door and initial protestations, we made it in to stand at the back of a pretty full church. Still blurry eyed from my forfeited lie-in and famously squinty sight, something was very wrong - far too many people, like me, were in drab Sunday slob clothes. My visions of colour overkill died. There were more people clutching cameras and recording equipment than clowns wearing their trademark glare.

After a prayer thanking god for the gift of laughter, remembrance of clowns recently deceased and the “Clown's Prayer”, those wearing the “uniform of their trade” paraded down the centre of the church ready to perform to an adoring public. The show that followed reminded me why I have never found clowns very funny. I am sure as a small child I stood cynically at the side, was too serious to “get it” or perhaps burst into tears at the sight of them. I never remember being terrified of clowns, even when Pennywise came along - I think the Wimpy Man was a more affective trigger.

Watching as a variety of clowns amused the group of hysterical and highly engaged children at the front, I found myself wondering how anyone could actively decide to be a clown – I mean, are they comedians at heart who have never quite succeeded in winning over an adult audience? It seemed to me that the main skills needed to be a clown were either severe or feigned clumsiness, a level of confidence that allows you to perform while masking your disappointment as no-one laughs, the ability to deliver particularly bad jokes (“My girlfriend is called Anet - she was quite a catch”), some kind of affinity with the little people, a few tricks up your sleeve and the ability to engage others in audience participation; all appear to indicate that clowning around is a profession particularly suited to older folk , despite the few younger clowns fighting for their corner.

Although I appreciated the efforts of the clowns performing in the free after service show (particularly the guy who did an appalling dance throughout a medley of songs as the audience watched united in disbelief until he was asked to leave the stage), what got me most interested was the camera crews? What were they filming for? Afterwards, asking a guy standing inside the church, I was told the footage was for a documentary, although where this would be showcased was clearly a secret, judging by his cagey responses to all my questions. So, it would seem the art of clowning remains a mystery to me and Hollywood will not be churning out clown films, at least not in 2010 anyway. Our vampire friends are safe for the moment.

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