Bobbo Roberts - The Life of a Clown (Part 2)

Bobbo was born into one of the world's oldest circus families and on July 8 will make a guest appearance in Simon Thompson's 'clown noir' adaptation of Shakespeare'sat the Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow.

Bobbo by the river (Photo by Mike Brittain)

The fun part of writing Circus Mania, for me, was meeting the clowns, sword-swallowers and showmen who make their life in the big top. I never tire of hearing their stories, many of which have never been heard before, so it was a treat recently to hear from Bobbo Roberts, who has been clowning since he was 13-years-old and, not to give his age away, will next year celebrate 30 years in the business.

Bobbo was born into one of the world's oldest circus families and on July 8 will make a guest appearance in Simon Thompson's 'clown noir' adaptation of Shakespeare's Love' Labour Lost at the Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow.

In the second part of a two-part interview (you can read the first part here) he gave me his views on what it takes to be a clown and the future of clowning in Britain.

What tips would you give an aspiring clown?

Don't become a clown because you want to be funny, become a clown because you NEED to be funny. A wiser man than I once said clowns aren't made, they are born. You can learn all the skills in the world, buy the most expensive costume and the biggest boots and never be a clown. If there's something inside you that is already a clown just waiting to be born it will come out by itself. You need to love people, watch them interact, study from past masters who've paved the way for you. You never stop learning or growing. There isn't a magic formula that will make you a clown, but if it is your passion and you look for inspiration everywhere your clown will let you know where you need to be. Oh and if you've ever thought it's ok, I can mess up, I'm supposed to be clown, or looked at a cheap afro wig and thought this is my look then maybe consider a career in accountancy, because it's not for you. You have to be yourself as a clown. I can't tell you how to be YOUR clown but I can say you'll know it's for you if you always seek out new opportunities to learn and to work in different places and ways.

Please tell us a bit about your part in Love Labour Lost and how it differs from what you've done before?

It's a different experience working in a theatre as opposed to in the sawdust ring. I only recently started working theatres this past winter. There's a lot to be learned from working with other talented performers such as Simon. His style is more theatrical but he has worked in circus and street too. My main reason for working this kind of show is that I want to tread the boards where some of the greats have worked and let Bobbo out to play on the music hall stage. It's been in his heart for a while (and in his blood). It's about time it was under his feet too. Clowning has always grown and adapted to the world around it, after all it's a reflection of the world. So I thought what better way to bring my clowning bang up to date than performing in the world's oldest surviving music hall in my 30s-style way with a clown doing Shakespeare.

How do you see the future of clowning in Britain?

Clowning in recent years has taken something of a downturn in the public's eyes - ironically, as more and more people don the slap and motley. Circus clowning is a very different kettle of fish to what birthday party entertainers, and walkabout/street clowns may encounter. At the same time, circuses have big bills to pay and may not want to pay feature artist prices for a clown that really knows how to entertain and perform a signature act. Run in clowns seem to be the norm to cover act changes and equipment moves within the circus and of course everyone expects to see clowns at a circus so some shows make the decision to employ young lads, josser clowns or ring boys to don the make up and baggy pants and re hash the same old routines that haven't got laughs for years. It's a real shame as the public never get to the quality of clowning out there that say the European audiences get to enjoy. Unfortunately this financial decision creates the idea that clowns are just folks in oversized clothes cheap wigs and with makeup they haven't even grown into yet, and for the short term financial gain they're losing their future audience. Sometimes I just want to grab them and give them a good shake and say, clowning is more than that. It can be delicate, tender, make you think, connect with an audience on an emotional level, It doesn't have to involve laughs but benefits form them. It can have pathos and make you really feel for the clown's plight. Clowning is after all an art but if we in the business see it as something anyone can do, can we really blame our audiences for thinking the same? Clowning will survive. It's been about for thousands of years in one form or another. I'm still growing and performing and taking my show to the theatres, on to the streets, in burlesque clubs and anywhere else that will have me. The future of clowning is in the hands of the clowns ,as long as we grow and move with the times then we'll always have an audience after all everybody loves to laugh.

Bobbo guest stars in Love, Labour, Lost at the Britannia Panopticon, Glasgow, July 8. Box office: 0141 553 0840.

This post originally appeared on the Douglas McPherson's blog Circus Mania.


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