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How to Think Like a Fool in 60 Ways

Here's the complete list of blog posts with links: How to Think Like a Fool: RIPPO the Fool—5 Types of Fool Think RISK #1: Look for Trou...

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Guy Who Needed Exercise

This was the first of my short silent comedies shown before major motion pictures around the U.S.

I had been contacted by Wit's End Productions, asking if I had any one-minute silent movies ( I had made a longer silent movie for their comedy film and video festival). I said yes, but give me two weeks. I then madly started work on this demo movie. I built it around a routine/gag I do in my stage show, where I attempt to jump rope on a circus globe. When I perform, many people think the globe is an exercise ball, so I used exercise as the theme. I made the ball gag the ending, and with the premise that I read a book that said I would die if I didn't exercise, I built up to the end.

I shot about an hour of footage in one day for this one minute. They liked the movie and I got a contract to make 11 more in 11 months. It turned out to be a lot more work than I thought it would be.

The complete collection is available on DVD at silentcomedies.com.

Foolish Question:
How could you translate something you created for one creative medium into another?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reality... What a Concept

"'What kind of man are you?' he asked. 'I am a clown,' I said, 'and I collect moments.'"
—from The Clown by Heinrich Böll

What's really happening?

When I played with the "fools notice what others overlook" game from the previous entries on "Inventing Theatre Games and Exercises" (read parts one and two before you read this post), I ran through the activity of entering, juggling plungers, and exiting. The next time, when I paused after juggling the plungers with plastic handles, I noticed my hands hurt. I had not noticed this stinging sensation the first time, although I'm sure it was there.

It's a little detail, not really important if my goal was to show off my meager juggling skills. But that's not my goal. I love these little moments, because they are true and human and unexpected. Most of the time we gloss over them. Instead of moving on to the next trick, I could stop and react to the pain. I could try to solve the problem and make my hands feel better. I could struggle with another trick because of the pain. To me, this is much more interesting than just juggling.

Like a fool, notice what really happens between the lines of your routine, script, improv, painting, process, or even life event. What can you do with that information instead of ignoring it?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Invent Theatre Games and Exercises Part 2

So, I start with the question from the first part of inventing games and exercises to jump-start my drained battery: What problem would you like to work on, what goal do you have, or what concept would you like to play with?

In the spirit of this blog, let's say I want to practice thinking foolishly. To be more specific, I'll pick one of Roger Von Oech's tools (as listed in the previous entry, Think Like a Fool), fools notice things others overlook. Now I have to turn an abstract, intellectual concept into a physical exercise and I do this by asking questions:
Why do others overlook things? Why do I overlook things?
  • Their point of view is limited.
  • They look at what they are comfortable looking at out of habit.
  • They limit what they look at so as not to be overwhelmed.
What image associations do I have for the word, “overlook.”
  • Looking out into the grand canyon.
  • Looking over a four leaf clover.
  • Wearing blinders.
How can I notice things others overlook?
  • Open my eyes wider, be aware of things in the periphery.
  • Change my physical relationship to the world.
  • Take more time with each thing I encounter.
I pick taking more time as the basis of this exercise, but now I need some structure. Where will I play? What will I play with? I limit my choices to increase my freedom (which is a future blog post unto itself). I have backdrop curtains set up in my rehearsal studio. I will enter through the curtains, pick up three plungers, juggle them, and then exit. That's the activity. Step one is to run-through the activity. Step two is to run through the activity again, but to stop before, after, or in the middle of each action and take the time to notice at least three things I didn't notice the first time. If it's a repetitive action, I can keep repeating it until I notice three things. Step three is to do this again and find more things I didn't notice the first two times.

I can use all the senses, not just sight. The things I notice don't have to be anything profound, just stuff I didn't notice before. I try this exercise and come up with a step four, which is to act on what I notice. I enter and see that the three plungers look like bowling pins lined up, and I somersault towards them as if I am a bowling ball. From here, I begin to get ideas and develop material.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Invent Theatre Games and Exercises Part 1

As a solo performer, I'm constantly facing the problem of how to keep working creatively on a daily basis when I'm not out touring. The answer seems to be to rehearse daily, but it can be intimidating to fill the void of both time and space in an empty rehearsal studio.

What I often do to get restarted is invent a theatre game or exercise. I'll share some of these in upcoming entries, but I encourage you to invent your own. These can have more power than ones you get from others, although it's helpful to familiarize yourself with games and exercises from books by Viola Spolin, Clive Barker (not the horror writer), Keith Johnstone, Davis Robinson, John Wright, and others.

To start inventing ask: What problem would you like to work on, what goal do you have, or what concept would you like to play with? Try to be specific and keep it small and achievable. Can you already think of a game or exercise that you could adapt for your problem, goal, or concept?

To be continued...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Think Like A Fool

Photo by Heather Mull

One of the inspirations for this blog is a book by Roger Von Oech titled A Whack on the Side of the Head in which he has a chapter called Don't Be Foolish. He summarizes some of this chapter in his blog post, Think Like a Fool. Ironically, I find that many clowns and physical comedians could improve their acts by thinking foolishly more often. It's also a rich creativity tool.

Some of his tactics for thinking like a fool include:
  • Reverse standard assumptions
  • Notice things others overlook
  • Be irreverent
  • Be cryptic
  • Be absurd
  • Take the contrary position
In his book he also mentions other fool tools:
  • Laugh at it
  • Reverse your viewpoint
  • Parody the rules
In the coming weeks I'll be adding to his list, but I'll throw this question out to you—What other ways can you think like a fool?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Expectations Squished by Reality

I watched Dog Day Afternoon last week for the first time in many years and had forgotten how much slapstick comedy underlies its 70s style realism. The theme of squished expectations structures this movie, many clown acts, and quite a few silent comedies. It starts when a character or characters have a great idea, "I know, I'll do a juggling act," but have their faces rubbed into the fact, "I'm not a very good juggler." It happens in life quite a bit, too (at least in my life, which is one explanation why I am a professional fool).

In Dog Day Afternoon, the characters have images of successful crimes pulled off in movies and their own fantasies that contrast with the situations that follow (in the real life event that this story is based upon, the bank robbers watched The Godfather for inspiration before going to the bank). Sonny (Al Pacino) has probably mentally rehearsed the action of dramatically opening a box of flowers and quickly/coolly whipping out a gun to strike fear in the hearts of the bank employees. Instead his status is lowered as flower boxes aren't easy to open, especially when you are nervous and haven't physically practiced.

Dog Day Afternoon Trailer

The indifferent world outside ourselves is not as controllable as our imaginations.

There are many such moments throughout the film and also a number of unplanned successes. Plus, Al Pacino has a Buster Keaton vibe to his performance, especially in the expressiveness of his eyes. The ending, though, makes you forget there was comedy earlier.

Imagine yourself doing something perfectly, with style, finesse, and mastery. This could be realizing a childhood dream (performing a dramatic illusion show like David Copperfield), solving a problem (getting this room cleaned in an hour), or even achieving something simple act (brushing your teeth).

Now confidently enact what you imagined, and be aware when the world does not cooperate. You can even seek out potential stumbling blocks. At the very least write a scenario where everything you planned goes wrong. How could a solution to your problem or the center of a piece be found in the intersections of expectations and existence? What examples from your own life match this pattern? Can you laugh at them in retrospect?

: Interestingly, my childhood friend Matt wrote a more personal blog entry on the same subject at the same time I was writing this entry.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


"Looking back, my life seems like one long obstacle race, with me as its chief obstacle."—Jack Parr

Our house is trashed. Travels to various gigs and conferences, a yard sale, half-completed projects, and pieces of paper that seem to breed while I sleep, have all contributed to a mess that makes past states of disarray seem like the "good old days". Answering the phone is now an athletic event involving hops, leaps, dodges, and dances.
For performers:
What obstacles can you add to a routine or transitions between routines to add more drama, play, and challenge?

For everyone else:
Thinking creatively involves thinking foolishly. A non-fool would try to eliminate obstacles to solve a problem. A fool adds obstacles to a problem that has enough already and may just solve the problem by doing so. What obstacles can you add to your problem? How can you make things worse?