Edinburgh Festival Fringe performers The Grandees on the rise of clowning
Performers like Doctor Brown and The Boy with Tape on his Face have raised the artform's profile
This article is from 2014.
Hello there. We are the Grandees. We’re a boy-and-girl-and-another-boy sketch group. We’ve been kicking around at the Edinburgh Fringe since 2008 and some people quite like us. Some people have said some lovely things about us. But anyone who knows us is probably aware of our history with the critics.
For us it's usually a tale of all or nothing. We get wonderful reviews but we get an equal amount of really (really) dreadful ones. We rarely get three stars, but we get all the others with alarming regularity.
Brian May once said 'If people either love you or hate you, you're probably on to something' – we’ve clung to this advice like limpets.
One of the main criticisms of our shows has been that for a comedy show, there is a real dearth of actual jokes and it’s quite possible that that's fair. But we've done the same show to people who seem to enjoy it so maybe it's about something deeper.
This puzzled us for a long time. And then, over the past few years – with the rise of Doctor Brown, The Boy With Tape on His Face and other fantastic performers – clowning (not the red nose and horn style) came back into fashion. And people started to call us clowns. Then we thought 'Aha! So is that what we’ve been doing!'
Because clowning as we see it isn't about jokes. It's about tomfoolery; hitting gold in the moment. Sometimes it hits and it's a joy to watch; and sometimes it doesn't and the audience is left sinking in their seats.
We've done shows where the gods of comedy (clownspeak) just haven't been with us and, unlike a stand up who can go to their gold material and (if they’re good) turn the audience around, a clown either sinks or swims.
Don't get us wrong: we do have jokes, and we hope we're getting better at writing as we go forward. But there is something tenuous about clowning, magic even. I have sat in clown shows where the clown flops, in a way stand up comedians or sketch acts rarely do. There's not much more that can induce cringing fits than watching a clown 'in the shit'. But when it hits and they fly? Oh my.
After doing a week's course at the Soho theatre with Doctor Brown, Marny (the girl bit of our group) was bitten by the bug and persuaded me to take one. Ranj (the boy bit of our group, who isn’t me) is signing up for one as soon as his busy life with his brand new twin girls allows.
For any performer who hasn't done it, I'd highly recommend it. Even if you have no interest in pursuing the art form, you learn so much about yourself and your classmates in such a short space of time. You make yourself totally vulnerable, and out of that vulnerability come bold, optimistic impulses of stupidity. Put all that together and I think you have a recipe most performers are looking for.
An audience feels a special connection when they feel like they're watching something for the first time. With clowning this is because, more often than not, they are. The clown is free to go anywhere and the audience can feel that. At its best it's electric, because the audience feels part of it – almost as if they are partly responsible, because they are in the room when it happens – and in many ways they are. Maybe that's what more and more crowds are after? A totally 'live' event.
This isn’t to say that jokes are old hat; that 'the joke is dead, long live the clown!' But what is marvellous is that this form of comedy, which dates back hundreds of years, is experiencing a resurgence and offering an alternative form of comedy, for audiences and performers alike. And that can be no bad thing. Provided you’re there on the right night….
The Grandees: BaBoom!, Underbelly Cowgate, 08445 458252, until 24 Aug (not 12), 4pm, £9--£10 (£8--£9).