Charlie The Juggling Clown
Creating Happy Memories that Last a Lifetime
Kurt Browning as Raggidon the Clown
By Bruce “Charlie” Johnson
Kurt Browning's new act for the 1999 Canadian tour of Discover Stars On ice is an excellent solo skating clown act. I've seen it on television twice because he has performed it in professional skating competitions.
In preparation for the number, Kurt, four times Canadian Champion and four times World Champion, studied the history and theory of clowning with a professional clown.
Then Michael Seibert located a song called "Rag-Gidon-Time" to use for the number.
Sandra Bezic, director of Discover Stars On Ice, worked with Kurt as choreographer on the number. They used a workshop process where Kurt and Sandra would each demonstrate what they thought could be funny movements to go with each segment of music. According to Bezic, they sometimes spent two hours working out a four second segment. Kurt wore knee and elbow pads while attempting possible moves, but still had many bruises. Kurt said, "you play. One time we jumped on the boards (the barrier around the ice rink) and thought maybe that would be funny. You really don't know until you try."
Commenting on the performance at the Canadian Open, Peter Caruthers said, "as simple as this looks, this is very well planned out, and it took many hours of practice to look this relaxed and loose."
It is an incredibly difficult program technically. For example, Kurt moves from wide fluid movements into a spread eagle move where his skates have to be lined up exactly and he glides without moving. He goes from the spread eagle to circular steps, and then without any set up moves into a double axle jump. There are also two triple jumps, and a triple-triple jump combination in the program. He has to be able to do the technical skating so well that he doesn't have to think about it, because he has to maintain his clown character with subtle expressions and moves.
Sandra Bezic said, "I can't tell you how difficult this program is because landing the jumps on the notes we choose, working on the subtleties, holding to the character is so difficult to perform. I don't know anyone else who can do this."
According to Kurt, "those moves can very easily not work and the comedy can get away from you. To say you are going to be funny and stand there with a red nose on is scarier then I thought."
Kurt stays in character during the entire time he is in public view. At the Canadian Open Competition, while the previous skater was waiting for his scores, Kurt was using his warm up period to get into character and connect with the audience. He first made his entrance onto the ice with his blade protectors still on his skates. He had to slip and slide back to the opening in the boards to take the protectors off. When he reached center ice he kept mugging the audience and motioning them to be quiet. At the World Professional Championships, Kurt played around with the judges after finishing the number, even doing a comedy handshake with one judge. When he returned to the center to take his bow, he acted irate that somebody had thrown a rose at him. He refused to leave the ice until a young boy skated out, put up his fists, and then grabbed Kurt's ear leading him off.
For the number, Kurt wears black-and-white-plaid pants, suspenders, a red-and-yellow-striped shirt, and a red nose. He performs without a wig.
The number starts with Kurt standing at center ice. With the second note of the music, his right knee buckles. He pushes it back. It buckles again. He pushes it back. It buckles a third time. He pushes it back, and straightens up. Then his left foot slides forward. He tugs at his pant leg to pull it back. It slides forward. He pulls it back, and it knocks his right foot out of the way. Through out the act parts of his body move out of control.
The jumps and other technical elements flow seamlessly from the comic movements. At one point he glides backwards on one foot, and then without warning, and without putting the other foot down, he goes into the splits on the ice. Kurt's character seems surprised and amazed by the difficult tricks he performs. This is combined with subtle touches. During a spin combination he sticks one arm straight out, and then raises his thumb to the audience.
In one amazing sequence his feet slide out from under him and he collapses forward onto the ice. Then he seems to reverse the process as if a string from overhead pulls him back to his feet. The trick is so astonishing that he repeats it so the audience has a chance to verify what they thought they had seen. Moving away from this slippery spot, he looks back over his shoulder. Confidant that he is safe, he turns forward, trips, and goes into a forward roll. He comes up onto his skates in a tucked position with his hands on top of his head. He holds this position a moment, and then he cautiously reaches up feeling for the hard object that just hit his head, not realizing that he had hit his head on the ice which is now under his feet. His hands return to their original position. Then he raises his head, rests his chin on his hands, and looks carefully around. Reassured that it is safe, he stands up and resumes his skating.
To completely describe the routine in print is impossible because there are so many subtle moves that individually don't seem like much, but all contribute to the overall impression. The entire four-minute-and-forty-second-routine is packed with little details.
The competition judges appreciated the content of Kurt's routine. At the Canadian Open he received four perfect 6.0's, the only perfect scores awarded at that competition. At the World Championship he also received four perfect 6.0's.
Sandra Bezic said, “In order to sustain a professional career you have to take chances. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. It is so sweet when they do."
The best clowning has always been based on outstanding technical skill combined with a strong comic character. Kurt Browning's new routine is certainly great clowning.
(Originally published in The Clown In Times Volume Five Issue 3 Spring 1999. Copyright 1999 by Bruce “Charlie” Johnson. All rights reserved.)