This interview first appeared online on Gothamist.com on March 26th, 2007
When I think of the word clown, I think of Krusty, not a small theater in West Chelsea, but that’s exactly where one of the premiere clowns of our time, Eric Davis , works as a teacher at The PIT . Davis, who was recently hired by Cirque Du Soleil, discussed what clowning means to him, how he became the clown he is today, and what he expects of clowning in the future.
What does clowning mean to you?
For me, a clown is someone who feels and thinks on the outside of their skin. They have a great generosity to show their inner impulses, for better or worse, and expose their ridiculous qualities. You can find the clown in many places- on the street- the subway, the circus-the theater- in contemporary movies, television and sometimes in the mirror. There are many people who have their own rigid definitions of the clown, too. Some say he’s an idiot. Some focus on a childlike innocence. But I like to think that if we are adults our clowns are too.
What were you like in school?
I was painfully shy, cried too much, knocked my knees together when I ran, and yes eventually in high school I was a class clown. I love making people laugh.
How’d you get your laughs growing up?
Complete and utter stupidity. My mother and I used to play “make me laugh” by setting an egg timer to 60 seconds. We took turns trying to make each other laugh. The only rule was you couldn’t touch the other person. Other than that, anything went. I loved to make up ridiculous songs- repeat the previous weekend’s Saturday Night Live sketches. And I recall making a very lewd choose your own adventure book about my school’s faculty with a soon to be hoodlum friend.
What are some of your earliest memories of seeing or hearing things that made you laugh?
I remember an uncle would pull his hood sweatshirt up and stick his hand in it as if his face were a hand. Then he would talk to me for long amounts of time as “Handface”. I thought it was the funniest thing in the world. I loved to be tickled by my father. I also remember in 1st grade looking at some homework on my desk. It was a triangle with a cartoon face on it. My teacher said, “Isn’t that a funny face?” So I started looking at it and I was like, “Not really,” but then, as if hypnotized by the power of suggestion, it started to become funny. Then funnier and funnier. Then I realized that my teacher was yelling my name and that the entire class was looking at me. Apparently I had been in some sort of crazy laughing trance and was freaking everybody out. Is that the moment I became a clown? The Native American’s believe you’re chosen. Maybe I was chosen by that crazy face triangle on the funny smelling copy paper.