WRITING AND CLOWN – A UNITY

By Ira Seidenstein

April 9, 2024

American comedian Sid Caesar wears an operatic clown costume while facing cast member Howard Morris in a skit from the TV comedy series, ‘Your Show of Shows,’ 1950s. (Photo by NBC Television/Getty Images)

WRITING AND CLOWN – A UNITY

Many of my blog/essays provide video evidence that happens to validate my proposed viewpoints.

This blog-essay is about the combination: Writing and Clown.

This blog-essay is not a comprehensive approach into that huge combined universe of Writing and Clown.

The purpose is to illustrate that Writing and Clown is a world that I suspect the overwhelming majority of ‘teachers’ of ‘clown’ do not touch upon and likely do not have an accurate nor acute understanding of.

Yet Writing and Clown has a great history such as, briefly: A) Shakespeare, some ancient Greek playwrights, modern playwrights including those well-known such as Samuel Beckett or Neil Simon or the creators of American Musicals. B) Additionally for decades the most influential source of Clowning is from Cinema and Television. That is the area that this blog-essay will briefly cite a few examples and thoughts about. At the end there are two wonderful short videos by writers. One is a teacher of writing and what he explains about ‘no school’ can really teach writing sufficiently is directly true for the ‘teaching’ of ‘clown’.

Sid Caesar and some of his Writers. In the center is Lucille Kallen. To her left in the stripped jacket is Mel Brooks. In front of Brooks in the suit and tie is Sid who was also a writer and made the executive decisions regarding what was in or out or to be developed. Mel Tonkin was the Head Writer.

At least since early 2024 I have accumulated enough evidence that I can feel exonerated regarding a few topics which are my pet peeves.

Some of those topics are: a) What is amiss in the teaching of clown, generally, reveals that ‘the teaching of clown’ can serve as a metaphor for a malaise now embedded in Society; b) several of my threads that I have Posted evidence for include: Dance Is Physical Theatre Non-Clown ClownHow To Clown, etc. and the more socio-political Posts – Today’s Sense of Humor TestHave Fun Kids.

Since 2022 most of my Posts are on Clown Secret Group on FB. Additionally there are now more than 80 blog-essays via www.iraseid.com/blog

Numerous times I have also Posted regarding many great clowns who transitioned their own careers from live Stage performances to Screen performances. To transition the evidence shows that those truly great clowns absolutely needed and depended upon Writers and Directors first and foremost. Not just any writer or any director!!!!!! But Writers and Directors who were already professional at their craft – AND – who intimately knew Comedy and Clown!!!!

Additionally as I have noted in my social media Posts such truly great clowns also relied upon gifted and intelligent Producers. Those clowns also relied completely upon collegial professional relationships with a team of excellent Actors who intimately and intuitively knew the crafts of Clown and Comedy.

The Three Stooges with their Alphabet Song

Generally speaking the Clowns and Writers and Directors I am referring to, almost none of them, went to university. Many did not graduate High School. Virtually none of them went to clown training. However, almost every one of those Clowns, Writers, or Directors actually saw the authentic Vaudeville.

Their schooling in other words was seeing a huge variety of experienced professional excellent performers of all genres. The individuals notably had a driving interest in the Stage and Screen.

More often than not the long list of such people in the USA who became enormously successful originally were simply seeking the fastest way out of dire poverty.  As is well documented, they took any menial job simply to enter the mysterious world of comedy, clown, and entertainers and get to see how it actually operated. 

Sid Caesar however started in the Catskills as a saxophonist age 14. But, by that age he had been working in the small 24-hours luncheonette that his Parents managed. Sid as a child working as a waiter and cleaning tables already was clowning while working and had a gift for mimicry and gibberish.

Those individuals would have been ‘all eyes and ears’ grabbing at any morsel of information about the crafts and piecing those stray elements into their own coherent creative and technical method. As soon as their experience began to take hold they were able to continually ask their stage seniors for practical advice.

The work of a Producer in Stage or Screen is not as clear cut a role as Director, Actor, Writer, Designer etc. Nonetheless the Producer is absolutely a key driving force for any production of Stage or Screen.

The Producers Hal Roach and Mack Sennett were two of the greatest Producers of Clown for screen. Notably, Hal Roach Directed 74 short films starring the legendary Clown Harold Lloyd between 1915-1917. After which Roach began his legacy as a Producer.

Hal Roach with Laurel and Hardy. Roach is the person that teamed Laurel and Hardy together.

Laurel & Hardy made 107 films together. The first was 1921 The Lucky Dog.

“For about a year, Roach had Laurel work at the studio as a writer… Laurel and Hardy were then put together in a film, and they seemed to complement each other. Comedy teams were usually composed of a straight man and a funny man, but these two were both comedians; however, each knew how to play the straight man when the script required it. Roach said, “You could always cut to a close-up of either one, and their reaction was good for another laugh.” ” (quote from from wikip.)

Chaplin assuredly was perhaps the single greatest Clown who excelled in combining his work as Lead Actor; Screenwriter; Director; Producer.  Those who were closest to his excellence in combining those roles, include, for example: Jacques Tati; Jerry Lewis; Woody Allen; and, Steve Martin. 

Many other great Clowns worked in those four roles occasionally. Although, not necessarily all four roles in any one film or TV series.

Notably, the first Woman to fully combine the roles as Writer, Producer, Lead Actor was the comedian Gertrude Berg. Her creation began as a Radio series from 1929-1946. Then as a TV Series from 1949-1956. Her Clown character was a housewife and mother named Molly Goldberg.  

Gertrude was born in Harlem, NYC to Russian immigrants in 1899. Her Father started a family Summer resort in the Catskills Mountains north of NYC. There was an enclave of such family resorts in the Catskills. Early on each resort did nightly skit comedy shows like a revue. In the beginning it was communal and amateurs. But it became the most profound breeding ground for Clowns many of whom became stars of Las Vegas, Burlesque, and Television. It was a place where teenage hospitality workers would develop their ability to write skits and to Clown every night. Jerry Lewis started there like many, as a busboy and waiter, aged 14. His Father would perform at several resorts each night during Summer.  

Gertrude Berg as a youth began to write skits for her Father’s resort’s nightly revue show.  Her Father Jacob Edelstein bought the Fleishmann’s farm and resort in 1910. Gertrude was 11.

At the age of 30 she wrote, starred, and produced her Radio show The Rise of the Goldbergs. That was a pioneer Radio show in comedy-drama. It was also a pioneer Sit-Com! (situation comedy). First in Radio and in 1949 in Television. I Love Lucy started in October 1951. Make Room For Daddy staring Danny Thomas began in 1953.  Those three TV Sit-Coms were about a single family and neighbors. Each had a theme of Ethnic assimilation. Notably Lucy’s real and screen husband was shown to be a Cuban immigrant. Danny Thomas real and screen was a Lebanese-American. One of the featured Clowns in that show was Uncle Tonoos from Lebanon.  The actor who played Uncle Tonoos was Hans Conried was not Lebanese. His Mother was a descendent of the original Pilgrims, and his Father was a Jewish immigrant from Vienna.

Later Gertrude Berg won an Emmy, and, a Tony Award – each as Best Lead Actress.

For this blog I want to emphasize solely the combined creativity of Steve W Smith and his great blog on Writing; and, one of his posts about Screenwriter David Seidler.

Below are two short videos. First is Smith talking about learning Writing. The second is Seidler giving a few words to the wise.  At the end is a link to Smith’s blog.

Steve W Smith Writing Teacher and Writing Blogger

Screenwriter David Seidler
Steve W Smith’s blog Screenwriting from Iowa

For Direct Contact: iraseid@gmail.com and www.iraseid.com

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