I don’t know anyone who is free of human desire. This obviously covers a wide range: Desire for connection, desire for love, desire for warmth, health, freedom, desire for shoes, the desire for human rights, the desire to achieve impossible goals, the desire for home and of course the desire for food. In clowning, I have found that the engines that drive us are our desires. Of course we turn the desires up a few notches, in many cases we turn them all the way up to 10…even 11. We are motivated by want, we go after the things we feel we need, and sometimes the humor of our wants is just astounding. What would you do for a great big delicious burger and what would you put aside to get closer to this holy goal? When we do turn the dial up on our desires, we literally stop at nothing to get what we want, even though, the funny part is that we may never get it. In fact, the harder it is to get the things we want, the funnier it is.
Although this is a reflection of our real lived experiences, this is also kind of an antithesis to the real lived experience of want and need.
What I am discovering as I work more with ClownZero is that it is this antithesis that provides the potential for connection with our communities in need. Everyone needs and everyone has had the experience of not having what he or she needs. To turn this complex situation into one that we can all see clearly and even laugh at is where freedom lies in social clowning. To bring the serious into the realm of the ridiculous so that we can examine it, not cerebrally but intuitively and emotionally is where I find myself most healed by the work. We learn this way that laughing is not just the expression of something purely stupid or goofy. We all know that the funniest things are sometimes the things that are most true, and nothing is more true that desire, want, need and even suffering. Confusion, pain, anger and frustration are also things that can be soothed by the balm of laughter through a real or surreal examination of their causes.
People often assume that clowns are there for the children, and of course we are! But a clown that can really connect with a child in a way that empowers them can also easily connect with anyone to play and wade through the often-difficult nature of being a human being via the ridiculous.
Clowns have seemingly simple problems: they can’t find anything, they lose control of their partners, they don’t have a sandwich when they want one, they step on each other’s feet and forget the words to songs. But these problems if we step back and look at them for a minute, reveal themselves to be the same problems that every real person grapples with, and they range from the light and silly to the deep and tragic.
When ClownZero visited the St. Joseph’s Family Center for Thanksgiving last year, we entered an environment of many different emotions and human experiences. There were perhaps a total of 10-12 families celebrating thanksgiving with a meal and we had been invited to come do some walk around and connecting with the kids and adults while they ate and socialized. The air was ripe with potential for the hilarious, but as always, my heart was fairly pounding as I took in the reality of the situation. I am here to entertain and induce laughter, but also I am here to have a human experience with a group of people who are suffering for any number of reasons on this weighted family holiday. To push forth through the reality without ignoring it in order to get to the core of funny is so tricky, so scary and so rewarding. A dear friend of ours recently shared with us a quote that came to mind in this particular moment: “Risk everything for love”. I think that is what we have to do to connect without diminishing the experience of real suffering. We have to risk everything to laugh in the face of sadness and grief. We have to be willing to share our own humanity with everyone we meet. As clowns of course this is essential, because we are already proposing an altered state by our physical appearance. We come in and demand an alternative reality. We must be willing to provide the platform and the bravery it takes to rise above the confines of our daily lives. And more than anything, I think that is what I learned to see at St. Joseph’s Family Center last November: that my daily desires for acceptance, love, connection and safety are what fuel my connection to others who also want. It is not a condition reserved for the poor or under-privileged to have need, so we can all share this experience. And we should.