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Charlie The Juggling Clown

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A Tribute to the Boy Scouts of America

From a Circus Clown

By Bruce “Charlie” Johnson


During 2010, Boy Scouts of America and Campfire Girls each celebrated their centennials.  Although not founded to promote the circus, the Boy Scout organization has contributed to the world of the circus. 

 At the campfire during my first Boy Scout camping trip in 1965, two scouts entered from opposite sides of the circle of boys watching the fire.  The first boy said, “Let’s play a game.  You can be the King Bee and I’ll be the worker.  I’ll gather the pollen, and when I return I’ll go ‘hmmm, hmmm.’  Then you say, ‘Let me have it.’  And then, boy, I’ll let you have it.”

The second boy said, “That sounds like fun.”

The first boy moved off to the side, turned his back, and took a big sip from his canteen.  He returned to the center, and said, “hmmm, hmmm.”

The second boy said, “Let me have it.”

The first boy sprayed the water in his mouth on the second boy.

When the second boy got mad, the first boy said, “Hold it.  That’s a funny trick.  Now that you know it you can play it on somebody else.  Look here comes somebody now.”

A third boy entered from the side.  The second boy said, “Hey, I’ve got a great game we can play.  You can be the King Bee and I’ll be the worker.  I’ll gather the pollen, and when I return I’ll go ‘hmmm, hmmm.”  Then you say, ‘Let me have it.’  And then I’ll let you have it.”

The third boy said, “That really sounds like a lot of fun.  I want to play.”

The second and third boys turned their backs to each other and took a big sip from their canteens.  When they faced each other and returned to the center, the second boy said, “hmmm, hmmm.”  The third boy was silent.  The second boy repeated, “hmmm, hmmm.”  Again the third boy stayed silent.  The second boy swallowed the water in his mouth, and said, “You were supposed to say, ‘let me have it.”  The third pay sprayed the water in his mouth on the second boy.  Then they ran out of the campfire circle.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a traditional circus clown skit titled Busy Bee.  Leon McBryde told me that Michael “ Coco ” Polakovs brought it to America from European circuses.  (McBryde and Polakovs are both inductees into the International Clown Hall of Fame.)  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts traditionally perform skits at their meetings and campfires.  Those skits have been handed down from older boys to younger boys through the generations.  I recently attended a campfire at a Cub Scout Day Camp with my grandson and saw boys performing a skit that I had performed when I was in Cub Scouts.  Many of the skits frequently used by scouts are based upon classic clown skits.  So, Scouting has helped to preserve some of that material originally created by clowns.  As a professional clown I have performed skits that I originally learned through the scouting program.  (Hopefully I do a better job of performing them now then I did as a child.)

The circus is often used as a theme for Scout meetings and events which acquaints the boys with the circus as a form of entertainment.  At the age of eight I participated in my first Scout-O-Rama (fair).  My Cub Scout Pack selected a circus theme for our booth.  Each den had different responsibilities.  Some of the dens created the decorations.  One of the dens performed sideshow acts like a strong man who lifted papier mache weights.  My den was selected to perform a clown skit at the booth.  Our den leader taught us to perform a classic circus clown act, the barber shop.  The boy playing the barber wore a swim cap to make him look bald.  I was the customer.  After he finished cutting my hair with oversized tools, he held up the mirror for me to see what I looked like.  However, the mirror was just a frame without any glass.  When I looked through the empty frame, I saw his bald head, and thought he had cut all of my hair off.  I got angry and chased him out of our booth.  My father had made a cane for me by adding a handle to a section of garden hose.  I waved that at the barber as we ran.  We raced all over the fair grounds where the Scout-O-Rama was being held.  In between show times, I wandered around in my clown costume and mask.  (We didn’t know how to apply make up.  My parents found me a plastic tramp clown Halloween mask to wear.  It is amazing how much that first appearance foretold my eventual professional clown character.)  I would pause to lean on my cane, but since it was flexible it collapsed and I fell to the ground.

Bruce clowning at Scout-O-Rama

Bruce, at the age of eight, clowning at a Scout-O-Rama.

In addition to preserving clown routines, the Scouting program teaches boys how to perform and speak in front of others.  It gives them confidence which aids them in life if they don’t become performers.  However, for anyone who becomes an entertainer it is a priceless foundation. 

Magic was one of my hobbies as a youngster, and Scouting provided an outlet for performances.  I performed magic acts at Court of Honors, Campfires, and trips to a mountain resort for Family Weekends.  Eventually I earned my Magic Merit Badge as a Boy Scout.  In addition to the Magic Merit Badge booklet, Boy Scouts of America published a book called Cub Scout Magic which was part of my education in the art.  The current Bear Handbook (for Cub Scouts in the third grade) includes a magic elective achievement boys can earn.  The tricks taught in the book include a comedy levitation routine that is a traditional circus clown act.  As a professional entertainer I still use some magic effects that I learned through the Scouting program.  (I have written a book, Simple Magic with Everyday Objects, that will help boys earn their magic elective.  You will find more information about it on my book page.  Books )

When I was in high school I began writing my own skits to perform at scout events.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing skills that I would later use in my profession to create original clown routines.

I became a clown only because of a relationship formed through Scouting.  I met Larry Lubbin when I went to the 1971 World Boy Scout Jamboree in Japan .  He was assigned to my group as Assistant Scoutmaster.  I lost contact with him after we returned.  I joined an Explorer scout group sponsored by REACT (Radio Emergency Assistance Citizen Team).  One of our duties was providing radio communications for a parade.  A clown approached me at my station and identified himself as Larry.  After the Jamboree he had joined the Klassic Klowns of Southern California , an amateur clown club.  He invited me to become involved with the club, which I did.  I discovered that I enjoyed clowning and seemed to have a flair for it.

In those days Boy Scouts of America published Exploring, a magazine for older boys.  One of the issues included a story about Circus Kirk, a show owned by Dr. Charles Boas.  High School and College students made up the cast and crew for the show which traveled from Memorial Day until Labor Day.  The article included an address for the show.  I wrote and was accepted for the season of 1976, my first professional booking as a clown.

That summer, I stayed in the Generator Sleeper.  It was a dormitory built into a semi trailer that also held the show’s electrical generator.  There were 23 young men living in that trailer sleeping in bunks three high.  While talking one rainy afternoon we discovered that 20 of us had earned the Boy Scout rank of Eagle.  (I was one of the 20.)  Doc Boas liked to hire Boy Scouts, especially Eagle Scouts, for two reasons.  First, the outdoor skills that we learned through scouting were useful around a circus.  A circus is like an extended camping trip only the tents are larger.  One of the things we all knew was how to splice rope.  When the Big Top blew down during tear down one night, a bunch of Eagle’s went to work, sewed the ripped canvass and fixed all of the ropes.  We had it repaired before it was time for the trucks to depart for the next lot in the morning.  Second, Scouting teaches leadership skills preparing young people for any position.  In 1977, my second season with Circus Kirk, my duties included day of the show publicist, clown photo studio manager, producing clown, personnel adviser, animal department assistant, half of the arrow and layout crew, keeping the canvass and ropes repaired, and filling in on the canvass crews as needed.  Over ten percent of the cast of Circus Kirk, including many like me who got their initial performing experience through the Boy Scouts program, continued as professional entertainers.

When I later became involved in the national and international clown organizations, and began teaching clowning on an international basis, I got to know many of the people who are the current leaders in the art of clowning.  I was amazed to discover that many of them also started in scouting and earned the Eagle Scout rank.  When they were active in Scouts they did not imagine that they would eventually become clowns.  However, when they became clowns after finishing school or later in life, the experience and lessons they had gained from Scouting prepared them for success both as entertainers and as leaders in clown and circus organizations.

I am grateful to the contributions Scouting made to my life and career.  It has contributed to the general circus world in general during the past century.  I am looking forward to another century of contributions by the Boy Scouts of America.

This article originally originally appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of White Tops published by the The Circus Fans Association of America.  To learn more about the CFA go to

Copyright 2010 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson. All rights reserved.

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