While visiting Singapore in November to represent the United States at the first Clown-Around-The-World Festival, Char-lie the Juggling Clown found time to visit a hospital and prison, on top of his stage schedule.
"They don't have a long tradition of clowning there, but everything we did was certainly well-received," he said. "I've also had the opportunity to perform in Europe, and I've seen that audiences are pretty much the same. Laughter is a universal language."
Charlie, a.k.a. Bruce Johnson, brings his show to Juneau Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, as the guest of the Juneau Joeys, a local clown group. He will perform in a private school assembly at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Riverbend Elementary, and a public show at 7 p.m. that night at Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Tickets are $5 per person or $15 for families. The evening is a fund-raiser for the Harborview Elementary PTA.
Charlie will also hold a series of free workshops from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, in the community room at Nugget Mall. The classes will cover how to apply makeup, comedy bits, trick cartoons, magic, audience interaction, the clown ministry and techniques for walk-around entertainment.
Both days are funded through donations to the Juneau Joeys and are dedicated to the memory of Maxine "Glee" McCoy, a Juneau Joey who died late last year.
Charlie has been a clown for the last 31 years. He's earned an international reputation from his home in Kenmore, Wash., where he lives with his wife, Pookie, a hospital clown. He's a regular instructor at the world-famous University of Wisconsin Clown Camp, an author of more than 500 clowning articles, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians and the Northwest regional director of the World Clown Association.
Charlie grew up as an amateur magician in Southern California. Once day in 1974 a friend who had joined an amateur clown club asked him to come to a show. He met some clowns who encouraged him to come to a workshop, and he found he had a knack for it.
The persona of Charlie was partly inspired by Emmett Kelly from the Red Skelton Show, partly by Charlie Brown and Charlie Tuna.
"I like the idea of the underdog who doesn't succeed, but keeps trying anyway," he said. "As I began performing, I would try out different things, and depending on how the audience responded I would continue in that direction."
"I'm normally quiet anyway, so that's one of my personal traits," he said. "One way I describe that character is that he's an imperfect gentleman. He gets things wrong. And so my approach to magic is that it's just something that happens to me. I'm kind of a bumbling character, and I'm just as surprised as the audience by the things that happen."
Charlie's shows are mostly pantomime, with a lot of juggling. He does routines with three and four balls, and a variety of club tricks. Sometime he'll take three items from the audience, and juggle those.
"I might up somebody's shoes and a doll that a girl is holding and a ballcap," Charlie said. "The hardest thing to juggle is popcorn, because it's so light."
By 1976, Charlie had incorporated magic and juggling into his act and had the skills to join the outdoor traveling circus circuit. He was a producing clown, planning acts other clowns performed, from 1976-1977 and 1980-1982. Between 1977 and 1980, he studied technical theater. From 1982 to 1984, he went solo, juggling with a small circus.
In 1985, he left the circus for an 11-year career as a strolling entertainer and solo clown at the Raging Waters Amuse-ment Park in San Dimas, Calif. It was while working there, and teaching at Clown Camp, that he met Pookie, who he married in 1993.
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.