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Old 01-12-12, 03:34 AM   #1
martin ewen
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Default Funky the Bear, Breaking the Rules.

I harbour certain conceits.
I know what ‘funny’ is. It may well be, as I say, a conceit however I’ve studied it. A lot, all my life, because there’s something contained inside what funny is that makes my life bearable and interesting.
Not all of what I consider funny do I find personally funny. I’m not saying my sense of humor is some elevated, evolved, superior thing. I’m saying that on both an instinctive and intellectual level after decades of study and a life spent among professionally funny people I can tell the difference between that that contains whatever essence required to produce laughter in most cultures and what does not.

A great deal of the various structural mechanics are mundane and banal when you look deconstructively at the production of comedy yet they are powerful, so powerful that unfunny people can use them alone to create a semblance of comedy that works successfully.
I admit already my conceit and admit also it’s subjective but humor is deep or at least I’ve found it so.

I suffer from bouts of extreme depression, I sometimes go years without laughing, I took pills for a couple of years and the mildness they created scared me because I feared I was being smothered of my small gift. Knowing what was funny. While depressed pre-medicated I could hunt out funny people and watch their work and while they would not make me laugh they would make me smile inside as I luxuriated in the presence of ‘funny’.

It has to be said too that I am considered funny which is a relief as I’ve been a professional international clown soloist for nearly thirty years,
[I love that phrase ‘international clown soloist’. To me it’s as hardfought and risky as ‘fighter pilot’]
I use knowing what's funny to be funny and the world tends to reward me...when I pull my head out of my ass.

I stopped taking my medicine a few years back, became impossible to endure, lost everything including my mind as it melted down trying vainly to recapture bedrock from the shifting sands of my despair but slowly my strength is returning. In order to do what I do I have to be impossibly strong. I get my ‘funny’ from dangerous places. There’s a wistful hopelessness at the base of my humor that takes strength to keep on it’s bearing.
Surviving myself, as with everyone, is my largest challenge.
Personally I cope now by being frightened and fearless at the same time in a wave/ particle arrangement. It’s not easy but it is funny.

My other conceit, contained as a subset inside the first is that I know what ‘Clown’ is.

Admittedly it comes down to individual driven performance art that contains some preset litmus of whimsy. I believe everyone, from the most staid, externally boring to the most eccentric carries with them an inner dialogue teeming with absurd tangential branches. Everyone is an iceberg in that only a small portion of them is ever visible.
This aspect is for the most part too personal and too untamed to risk sharing and additionally sharing would require a degree of articulation that is simply as potentially socially dangerous as it is seemingly impossible.


Clowns skillfully externalise this process and do make it possible, they simulate a form of naked thought and if they succeed it is recognised by their audience as part of that subconscious flow we paradoxically all share individually.

The relief of this communal recognition is spelled in laughter.

I know many many clowns from many cultures, I have travelled to meet them and there was, at the first international clown festival held in China, where I represented NZ, a situation where I realised that I was a conduit of sorts, being the only Clown there who knew as many of the north American clowns as European and knowing also personally many from other places.

I had to try and mend a rift between Europe and North America that threatened clown harmony but that's another story.
I just mention this to reinforce a description given me by others that I'm a clown's clown.
Just to undermine any idea that you might have that I'm simply a narcissistic deluded pontificating burnout. I am but that's only part of the picture.
Three elements are used in any clown performance, Form, content and performance.

The third is an amalgam of the first two and the weighing and blend constitutes it being an element in its own right.

Sometimes form carries the comedy and sometimes it’s the content but for me when they are as illogically ill suited as many of the impulsive thoughts that reside hissing and bubbling in our own heads and yet are brought together re performance by a clown to make within some context some small surreal cohesive sense.

Well that’s what keeps me interested.

For me when external whimsy shortcircuits my own internal rabid hamster, that is the essence of happiness for me and when I can be in a number of people sharing that experience then that is when relief morphs into celebration.

Now a story, a recollection, the joy I feel when I come across a clown.


Funky the Bear was a guy in a bear suit. A cartoonish bear suit, the fancy dress variety rather than the authentic grizzly.

Funky was an artist, in that he created his own reality and projected it. Funky didn’t fit in, the world just had to adapt. Funky was funny and Funky was a clown.

The first time I came across him he got arrested.
It was hilarious and I was lucky enough to see it unfold from beginning to end. I was ambling into the city [Perth Australia], passing through a large pedestrian plaza where the Art gallery and Museum reside, there was a fenced off area where one of Perths many variations of Arts festivals was eventing. [The 'ARTRAGE' festival]

As I walked into the area I came up behind two mounted policemen staring intently at an apparently drunk and antisocial bear who over the next few minutes staggered and fell, took wild swings at those who stopped to assist and who at one point began to take waste wood from a construction project and throw it into a public fountain.

Whether it was contrived or not it certainly appeared that this bear was simply out of control.

While we watched another , younger policeman arrived and watched with us, the bear was running amok about 100 meters away. The two mounted cops ordered the unmounted fresh faced cadet to “Go and deal with that.”

The bear had just swung another length of 2x4 into the fountain, over-rotated and fallen on his face then got up again when the Cop, about 20 feet away and approaching yelled. “Hey, stop!”

Funky turned and then did a classic cartoon doubletake, his arms thrown out wide, jumped into the air, spun 180 and landed running away, heading for the art event enclosure. It took only seconds for the policeman to catch up with him, he grabbed Funky by the shoulder but the bear kept running anyway. He ran the short distance up to the fence, missed the entrance point by a wide margin and ran straight into the chain link fence, froze a moment fully spreadeagled then slid dramatically down the fence to lie in a heap. The cop was now standing over him and a crowd was forming. Funky had done his best to make it look like the policeman was overreacting with violence at an innocent Bear

Trying to wrestle back the initiative the young improvising policeman thought it best to put an end to this antromorphic charade by yanking the bears costume head off. A good idea except the suits entry point was through the crutch and the head was not of the removable type.

The cop strained at yanking the bears head off and the bear milked it by throwing his arms out and exaggerating each attempt made at ripping his head off.

The now surrounded young cop who had moved on to brandishing his handcuffs only to find they didn’t fit round a bears wrists when the crowd that now surrounded him gave voice to their disapproval, adding to his woes. I presume the mounted cops were spectating stoically from a distance while howling with laughter within.

“You can’t arrest him ! He’s a conceptional artist!” someone barracked.

“You have the right to remain fluffy!” another yelled.

The typically Australian disdain for authority was given full play, no-one took it that seriously, the fact that the cop carried a sidearm meant nothing. He was embarrassed and stressed and trying to arrest a bear therefor the crowd became Bear champions and conceptual art sponsors instinctively.

Funky the bear put the policeman out of his misery by standing and head held low in shame offering his hand for the cop to take and lead him away, he shuffled meekly away, being towed by a policeman, the crowd good naturedly booing.

I heard later he was taken to the nearby station and mug-shots were taken with his costume still on before simply being let off with a warning. He was actually that year the official mascot of the festival so prosecuting him would have simply been more trouble than it was worth.

I saw him an hour or too later inside the enclosure and was impressed by the amount of expression he could muster inside that suit. He would dance until he attracted children then run away from them and lead them in a simple game of ‘catch the funny bear’ until he worked out who might be a parent and then he would rush up to them and drop to his knees and clasp his paws together in supplication, begging that the parents take their kids back.

He was funny, he was bitter and antisocial and trapped in a bear suit and that was his character.

Some months later I heard of his hijinks when paid to do roving atmospheric work at the grounds of the main Perth University.

He had thrown a rock at some reticulation pipe and burst it and spent part of his gig being chased around by the gardening staff. He’d run indoors to hide and walked into a full lecture hall mid lecture from a door at the front of the class. The lecturer looked at him and the amassed students looked down to him from their tiered seating. A moment frozen in strangeness as he entered. Funky then walked slowly and slyly towards the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk in his paw. Turned and wrote slowly and deliberately F..U..C..K on the board, then sprinted from the room.

We became friends when, at a later time I met the man who filled the costume.

Funky was funny and Funky was a Clown.
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Old 01-25-12, 02:29 PM   #2
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Reading a sentence like:

"the crowd became Bear champions and conceptual art sponsors instinctively."

makes me glad to be a member of this community,
to catch an essay like this once in awhile.

I don't know about most of the other stuff you wrote.
I am just grateful that if you can consistently make
large groups of people laugh, you don't have to be funny.

Great piece as usual, Martin.
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