In response to my recent story, "the handkerchief trick," reader Earl Warren did not like my reference to a "bad clown." Before I comment, here's Earl's remarks (edited a bit to focus on his point).
"I object to your use of the term "bad clown," says Earl (aka Billy Whiskers), a professional clown with 15 years in the business. "We have enough people who claim to be clown haters or scared of clowns. It seems to be okay to take a cheap shot at a clown."
I hardly feel that I am taking a "cheap shot" as I respect the art of clowning and the professionals who entertain as clowns. I use the term "bad clown" to differentiate between talented and entertaining clowns and those who portray clowns with little knowledge of the art and no respect for it. And I am not picking on clowns as I often refer to "bad magicians" and commonly describe these individuals as "horrible" and awful."
It's these ignorant and incompetent individuals - bad magicians and clowns - that bring down the images of our respective arts in the minds of the public.
Entertainers Versus Hacks
I know several clowns who are excellent entertainers as well as accomplished at face painting, juggling, balloon twisting and magic. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of hack clowns who appeared to purchase their sloppily-applied face paint at a party store and probably got their costumes from a thrift shop or the attic. They were truly hideous.
Years ago, I arrived at a home to do a show and the owner told me that she earlier mistook a clown that was sent by an agency as a "homeless person." She rightfully didn't allow the "clown" into her house. Unfortunately, anyone who throws on white makeup and some odd clothes seems to think that they can call themselves a "clown."
On the magic side, I despise those who call themselves "magicians" and perform with twenty dollars worth of cheap magic tricks and offer no presentation or effective interaction. I also abhor the tendency of these magicians to talk in those grating voices that are often described as "silly," but are simply annoying.
"...please stop and think a moment before you define us as "bad" because we may not do a sleight the way you would like to see it!" says Earl in the last sentence of his comment.
It's not that a sleight may not be performed to perfection (and who am I to judge unless something verges on exposure - I have moves that I could execute better and have a tendency to be a bit frantic in some of my performances). It's the awful presentation of a trick by a bad clown or horrible magician that I object to.
Let's take the standard handkerchief trick that I've seen performed by clowns and magicians in the following manner (in a grating "Barney the Dinosaur" voice):
"Look kids, my hands are empty"
"Look a handkerchief." (stupid fake laugh)
"Now watch, it's gone. Where did it go?" (stupid fake laugh)
What To Do?
So what can clowns and magicians do about the bad apples in our midst? These individuals have no love for our arts and can't be bothered to improve their skills. Their ignorance is their bliss to continue to damage our arts.
The only thing that good entertainers can do is perform excellent, entertaining shows and allow the lay public to enjoy the experience. And Earl, I applaud your voluntary work and support of charitable organizations that you mention in your comment.
As a restaurant worker I have approached a table and occasionally seen the disdain in a person's face when I tell them that I perform magic. The person has the lowest expectation for magic entertainment because of a prior experience (or a religious conflict, but that's another matter). When given an opening and allowed to perform, I'm pleased when I often hear the same person later say, "that was actually fun."
In the end, whether you're a clown or magician, always perform the most entertaining magic that you can and present your art at the highest level possible. This is the only way that we can make up for those who incompetently mimic elements of our respective arts and through ignorance desecrate them.