CLOWN TOM BOLTON
The action comedy show that's fun for everyone!
Clown Tom Bolton’s fan page
A personal view of Tom’s performing experiences
…So, what´s the Clown Tom Bolton show all about?…
Well, like I advertise “fun for everyone”. This means it’s a clown show that entertains people of all ages from kids and adults to the grandparents. It’s fun on an intelligent level that either a room full of kids or a bunch of executive business people can appreciate.
I try to make the people feel involved without just embarrassing them. Getting an 80 year old German here in Stuttgart to play along and „shake their booty“ or do something weird is really what clowning is all about for me. Yet most clowns seem to stick to a cliché about costumes. I avoid the overly gaudy look. Doing tricks, like juggling and unicycling, are also rather difficult in extreme costumes. I also like to be unique; practical and look a bit silly but subtle.
Fun over technique
I like to use my technical skills of juggling, unicycling, magic, pantomime, improvisation and balloon modelling. Yet my emphasis is on fun rather than technique. A well timed appearance of a rubber snake or even just a funny face can be more entertaining than juggling 5 clubs behind the back. I love improvising and making my show interactive with the audience. My background as a street performer trained me to adapt to nearly any situation. Although I especially like to play at festivals, even when I play on a stage, I try to integrate the audience into the show.
The stereotype of the painted clown with the gaudy cloths and big shoes using old boring clichés for gags are not what clowning is about for me. Kids love the show without me playing the pathetic „kiddy clown“. Actually, nothing scares a 2-3 year old more than a painted face. With a big red nose and the older kids are thinking of Stephen King’s or Ted Bundy’s version. Thus I have a red, or sometimes purple, nose but don’t wear face paint.
…Number one question I get asked…
How did you get started in all of this? Did ya´grow up in a circus family or what?
Not exactly, although having 9 brothers and sisters it seemed like a zoo at times. I got a degree in finance and economics at the University of Dayton. There I started juggling and unicycling as a hobby. Having added some magic, balloon-twisting and improvisation, by the end of my studies, street shows were putting food on the table. Rather do a normal 9 to 5 job, I decided to travel and see the world. I gave it a shot to make my way by performing.
Now live in Germany
I currently live in Stuttgart in the southwestern part of Germany called Baden-Württemberg. Since 1983, I’ve based myself in Europe, making most of my money in the warmer months. When I have the time and money, I travel in winter to somewhere in Asia, Latin America or Africa. In third world countries I often make spontaneous shows for the people just for fun. Often I’ll use fruits in the market places to juggle with, or do workshops at any circus school projects I locate. It establishes a nice contact with the locals, who I’ve often photographed. I’ve exhibited my photos however never pursued this on a professional level. I have a separate website with stories and photos from my world travels at www.world-traveler.eu
It has been a special pleasure for me to have met many fellow jugglers and performers throughout the world. Especially in Latin America, I’ve been inspired by the efforts of many performers. One’s who not only teach circus skills to children but through their performances help to educate people about human rights and dignity. This inspires many to see beyond their experiences of poverty, war and violence. I’ve published stories about my ideas on juggling, clowning and performing, including tales of my travels. Unfortunately, both Kaskade (a European juggling magazine) and 2-Ply Press (a US juggling publication) are now defunct.
…Second most asked question…
Can you live from this?
Well, I’m still alive and have earned my money exclusively from performing since attending University. But I’m not rich and doubt I ever will be. Are there any rich clowns? Unfortunately, it seems to be getting tougher to make it as a performer. People do not realize that for every hour one is actually making a show, there is at least 5 hours office work. In addition comes training and designing promo material, costumes or new material.
Promote fairness for artists
Recently many promoters have been organizing events as a competition. Professionals should compete like beginners and be judged under arbitrary criteria to see who actually gets paid something. Worse yet, some organizers neither pay nor give a prize. Participating performers should beg with our hats while the organizers pocket all the profits. Some festivals bring in literally tens of millions of dollars to the local economy. And yet the performers are hardly paid. The line they usually try to sell this with is that one will get exposure. But one gets exposure when paid and exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
I refuse to support this shameful mistreatment of artists. If a city festival’s budget for rental-toilets is more than the budget for the performers, then there is something wrong. This, by the way, means increase the money for the artists! Not just decrease the budget for the toilets as one brilliant organizer suggested! Please support fair treatment of the entertainers who bring a little joy into peoples lives!
People are cheap when it comes to kids‘ entertainment
Another thing I find sad is that people in Germany always claim to love their children. Yet they won’t budget money for quality entertainment for them. A good magician is provided for the adults; he does a 40 minute show and gets a few thousand euros. But the clown should play all day long in a corner somewhere. Often there’ll be no dressing room, place to rest or food. And he should be happy with getting a few hundred euros.
When I say my prices, I often hear „what! But it’s for kids!“ As if it is self-evident that what is good for kids cannot have much value. Many people refuse to pay a couple hundred Euros for a kid’s birthday party. Yet taking them to an amusement park or the cinema and getting them popcorn would probably cost more. And these are often people who have a Porsche or two parked in front of their mansion. If you don’t support quality entertainment then the only thing left available will be junk. Sadly, there is more than we need of that.
How did you end up in Germany?
Good question. Wish I had a good answer. I considered it like missionary work to bring humor to the Germans… But truthfully every culture and person has a funny bone. That’s the challenge for a good clown, to find out what it is and give it a good tweak. Actually, I would travel throughout Europe from Scandinavia to Italy, from Spain to Austria. Germany just happens to be in the middle. The economy is in fair shape (compared to say Albania anyway) and neither your person nor your vehicle gets robbed often. I mean there are worse places to be! (aren’t there?)
What`s your most interesting performing experience?
Gosh, guess I’d have to mention a few. I did an impromptu show once in Papua New Guinea where people freaked out when I magically made a handkerchief vanish. Sorcery is assumed to be behind most negative occurrences and I was obviously a dude to be reckoned with. Then, I casually said I would return to the market place in a couple of hours. When I arrived there were about 2000 people waiting for me. I also had someone dive off the top of a department store just around the corner from where I was performing. Either the guy didn’t like my show much or else he just got a little too close to the edge trying to check out the action.
The coolest thing has to be when the wife of an American GI based in Stuttgart went into labor from laughing so hard at my show. The GI told me he thinks of me every time he sees his daughter. So, take this as a disclaimer. My show may not be suitable for pregnant women (or men) with an overly excitable sense of humor. Otherwise, my show is healthy for providing 100% of the daily recommended dosage of laughter.
…What`s the future?…
If I knew that, I would have stuck to finance and made zillions picking stocks. As a clown and performer, I hope to establish myself a little better. More gigs like a 1 week festival in Copenhagen or 2 weeks in Singapore would be nice. This is more interesting than just 1 day bratwurst and sauerkraut fests or Sunday openings for auto dealerships. I always give 100% and do well at these small events. But it’s also nice to have the opportunity to try different venues and see new places as well.
Clown and juggler Tom Bolton in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany is a real entertainer. Whether shows, walk-around entertainment (walk-act) or balloon modeling, Tom offers the best entertainment for all ages, all events. Clown and performer for: festivals, galas and conventions, fairs and openings.Tom also does parties, private happenings like weddings or anniversaries, birthdays and baptisms, confirmations and so much more!
Further details about Tom’s performing philosophy
Here I am going to go into more detail about my philosophy of clowning. Like, why be a clown at all? Since to be honest most clowns are not very funny. At least not the stereotyped ones with the big shoes and painted faces. And nothing ruins an event quicker than having a crappy clown. I agree that nice costumes can help create an atmosphere. However, the cliché of gaudy cloths is rather creepy. I find it restricting to those of us who also like to display technical skills like juggling and unicycling. My approach to modern clowning is to use subtle methods. The goal is to interact with people to make them laugh or to at least think about some things from a different angle. It is not to be as loud as possible. Nor to do nothing but nonsense relying on the idea that acting strange is somehow funny. That can be funny but it isn’t necessarily so.
Modern clowns don’t need face paint
Actually, a painted face is the easiest way to scare small kids. It’s also a disaster for the user in hot weather. Many modern clowns don’t even have a red nose. Laurel and Hardy were popular clowns in their time and didn’t paint their faces or use outlandish costumes either. A painted face is not a prerequisite for a clown.
I also have to admit that I am not the world’s best clown and probably not even in the top 5. And I don’t believe any performer is appropriate to all audiences. But that said, I think I am a pretty good clown and quite versatile to adapting my performances to a wide range of audiences. I am good with children but would not term my entertainment as a kiddy show since I actually work more for adults. Many of the same things work for both, just on different levels played with a different tone and speed.
I have to admit that growing up I never foresaw going into the field of entertainment. Who would have thought that I would some day have a fan page? I was always rather shy and reserved. The theater people at school were the extroverts capable of showing off at the drop of a hat. I was always more of an observer of human nature. This is also my strong point when it comes to improvising and mimicking members of my audience. Of course it is easy to make fun of peoples‘ handicaps with a below the belt gesture. People generally laugh when it is the other guy being made fun of. But to instantly analyze someone’s attitudes and expose their prejudices or lack of respect for others through a small gesture is a tricky thing to do.
In the end, nobody is safe at my show. Anybody might get pulled into participating but I like to entertain in a positive way. Thus the people involved are the ones most likely to congratulate me after the show rather than sulk away in embarrassment. Unfortunately, this is not standard for many performers‘ efforts. If I set someone up to look silly, it is usually turned around in the end. The result is that I come out with the short end of the stick. My volunteer becomes the hero.
Lack of music skills
A skill I total lack is musical ability in any shape or form. There are lots of classical clown routines involving music which have been requested at one time or another over my career. To which I have to admit that I cannot play an instrument or sing to save my life. Actually, I used to get kept after school. We would inevitably be requested to sing for one reason or another. My voice was so bad that the teachers always assumed I was fooling around. It’s not that I don’t like music and I would love to be able to sing. But I simply can’t. I guess I should make a routine up as if I can sing although I have zero talent. But then lots of people already do this on the current casting shows on TV. People seem delighted to see others make fools of themselves.
But I have humor
I like self-humor. Nothing worse than a performer who takes himself too seriously. I actually like to provoke members of my audience. Not to embarrass them but to set myself up to be the blunt of a joke or mishap. Audiences love to see the mischievous clown get a taste of his own medicine. They don’t want to see failure, saying dropping the props too often while juggling. Yet they LOVE to see me struggle. Juggling the rubber chickens on my tall unicycle suddenly becomes a lot more entertaining when it is done in a room where my head is nearly banging the ceiling and nobody (myself included) is sure if I will pull it off.
Which comes back to not being the world’s best clown. Because it took me a while to realize that one does not HAVE to be the best. One just has to be good and show the proper effort to entertain the given audience for a given event. How would it be if one couldn’t enjoy a meal unless it was the BEST meal one ever ate? This comes up because performing has a huge marketing angle to it. Every artist is supposed to be the biggest and best, bla, bla, bla. Sure, one needs to advertise and present one’s self in a positive light. But the hype expected gets on my nerves at times. And the result is often overblown expectations. One would think a clown should have a fan page selling merchandise. Who wants beer coasters and underwear with my image on it? I’ll stick to selling my show.
Avoid false expectations
Yeah, I had a gig in 2012 where my customer openly said he was disappointed. The show was good but the walk-around entertainment fell flat. Problem was that they had no idea of what a professional performer charges. I basically charged them for the show and threw in an hour of walk-around in for free. But in the end they expected, and I did, about 3 hours of walk around. But the audience was often busy speaking to their neighbors and didn’t express much interest in what I was doing anyway. Somehow they expected that the walk-about would be loud and entertain a whole room of people at the same time but that is not how it works. That’s how a show is presented. The walk-around is subtle improvisation that, in this case, I presented at the tables. And this is the fundamental struggle with performing at peoples tables. They are usually busy eating or talking and don’t want to be disturbed. Yet they’ll later complain that they weren’t properly entertained.
In recent years, there have been lots of dinner theater events and many business dinners hope to mimic this phenomenon. They want entertainment while poeple are stitting to eat. But these events rely on very short, often 6 – 8 minute, visual acts between the courses. And the funny waiters are tolerated because they are actually doing the service of bringing the food. My suggestion for such situations is that I greet the people at a dinner as they arrive and during the aperitif. Keep any entertainment at the tables short. And if the space is too confining, the background music or noise too loud or the people too hungry best avoided altogether. Then when the people have had their fill, only then present them with a show. This can be either before or after dessert. Or say, at a wedding, as a bridge to getting the people out on the dance floor.
When planning an event, I might have a number of questions or suggestions that occasionally surprise an organizer. I am experienced and can take the initiative even in difficult conditions. But the more I know about an event, it’s goals and intended audience, the better I can fulfill your desires. And understanding both of our expectations can avoid disappointments even if I have to refer you to another artist. I can always use more well paid gigs. But if I what I offer doesn’t fit to the situation, then it’s bad for both of us. A recommendation from contented customers is my most valued advertising. Then again, if you want classical music and hire a heavy metal band then feel let down they didn’t play Mozart then it is probably your own fault.
It’s always a judgment call about how far one goes to grabbing people’s attention. Often one goes quite far and the people are happy in the end they were convinced to go along despite their skepticism. Other times, there is really no hope. I’ve had a number of business events where the people had to sit through a long day of meetings. Then when dinner is also delayed, the people are starved and tired. I might still blow them away with my show after they have gotten to eat. But trying to get their attention during the meal is just annoying to them.
Trade fairs, trade shows, conventions
Another specialized situation is playing on trade-fairs. Such events need to be well planned. What product or service is being presented and is the public a technical or general one? What space is available and what is the probable background noise? Is it expected that the performer stays at the stand. Or is he wanted and allowed to circulate throughout the building? One must think that an artist can make an atmosphere at a stand, grab attention or give out information. However, they are merely assistance to the sales personnel. One hasn’t the time or expertise to sell the product.
The visitors to a convention or trade-fair usually have little time to talk at first contact. One cannot do long routines but rather short improvisation followed by an invitation to learn more at the stand. To just juggle, for example, often gets attention but might fail to get the potential customers to look further at the product. The more information about the product and the market it is being sold in, the more likely I can come up with a specialized gag or joke that fits the theme. This interests the people to stay at the stand and get more information.
Shows or strolling entertainment?
The question comes up sometimes; what is better, shows or walk-around? The answer is: it depends! I typically do a 30 minute show which includes juggling, some magic, a couple of balloon figures. This is combined with a lot of gags and improvisation emphasizing the comedy aspects rather than technical skills. But I encounter many situations where there is no space for a real show. Or there are too few people, or the people don’t have the time to watch a whole show.
Thus, I developed my walk-around entertainment which is situation comedy where I joke around with people. I use a small assortment of props carried in a bag; or in a baby stroller if it is an event with many kids. This is subtle yet intimate one-on-one or with a small group interaction. It is not big, loud and attention getting from far away; like pulling off a bombastic show with hundreds of cheering spectators. A situation where such entertainment is often requested is for open-houses at car dealers.
Yet, I have occasionally heard comments like; „well he didn’t really DO anything“. This after having made many clever jokes with people – because the people didn’t respond by clapping and going crazy. I often do walk-around for an extended period of time. In 2 hours, I might entertain as many people as I would with a 30 minute show. It’s just done a few people at a time. And it’s physically impossible to do a roaring 8 hour long show. At many events, new people keep showing up. But one cannot simply do back to back shows all day long. Such situations are better suited to walk-around entertainment.
While I can’t play music, I have good juggling skills and like to juggle on my tall unicycle as a finale. For a clown I am a very good juggler. Still, I am not a world class juggler who can do tricks with 7 clubs. But most of the people who on such a technical level are not every entertaining either. Having technical skills to build a show with is commendable. Yet the real skill in entertaining people is to get them to laugh.
Pure juggling technique, even on the highest level, seems to keep most audiences‘ attention for about 90 seconds. Then it is just some guy doing tricks and more tricks… Yet a guy doing simple tricks with 3 balls but enough good jokes can hold an audience indefinitely. That’s why comedy juggling became so popular a few decades back. And just doing juggling tricks became limited to venues like the circus and short vaudeville routines. I make jokes during my walk-around entertaining but my shows are silent, so I rely on funny tricks and other gags and keep the actual juggling routines short and sweet.
Teaching others to juggle
I don’t think juggling is necessarily the most entertaining skill available. However, it is a fun hobby and I am always happy to help people learn. It is not so often requested but it is nice when I get to offer a juggling workshop. This is interesting for many after having seen my show, which includes some nice juggling. For beginners, they are often surprised that with some expert assistance, most people can learn the basics in 30 minutes or so. For more advanced jugglers, they appreciate tips on new tricks and feedback on improving their skills. Especially business groups often concentrate on building team work. Meeting the challenge of learning new skills and learning to juggle can be a fun way to incorporate these ideas.
Studied business, understand business goals
What some people don’t realize at first is that I studied Finance and Economic before I became a performer. Or more properly said, while I was becoming a performer since I put food on the table my last 2 years of University through comedy juggling street show earnings. So when I do a gig, I can often give advice. Not just from the angle of a seasoned performer but someone who understands business principles as well. This is important because I often work at Sunday openings for auto dealers or to bring attention to a stand at a convention or trade fair. The goal of these events is not to have the people go home only talking about the great clown they saw. The goal is to create a good atmosphere or to occupy the kids. Thus the sales personnel can present their products. If everyone is crowded around me but don’t look at the sales presentations, then I haven’t properly done my job.
Another factor is if hiring a performer is really cost effective? This depends on many factors. I can only entertain the people who show up for an event. I am not the Rolling Stones, so thousands of people are not going to show up just to get a glimpse of me. Yet, I have seen many events where people happily show up to look at cars or other products knowing that their kids would also get entertained. Surprisingly enough, I have also seen events that paid good money to hire me. Yet they didn’t bother to advertise the fact or had me perform in some back corner drowned out by music. The result being that they didn’t get the full benefits of having my entertainment.
Although I don’t begrudge a business person negotiating to the best terms he can get, I find it silly when I get hired and don’t get any cooperation. I have had organizers who seemed to think that their job consisted of making it as difficult as possible for me to present a good show. I am there to support you and your event and make people happy. This is not easy if you treat me as an adversary. You might be nervous or annoyed that less than the expected number of people show up. But this is not my fault and I am going to do my best to support you and make the best out of any given situation.
Artistic experience from street performing
I also have to admit that I have no formal training as a performer. I started juggling and unicycling as a hobby and evolved to comedy juggling. Then I went the direction of silent clowning. One because I had a weak voice, two because I liked the emphasis to be on making people laugh rather than trying to impress them. My career started as a traveling street performer. While I learned a lot from the street and still do the occasional street show, more for advertising purposes than to make a living, I do not call myself a street performer. While people like such performances, organizers often misuse them. They seem to think that if they label you a street performer, then you should work just for tips. How experienced and good you are doesn’t matter. I however, like to get paid for my work like everybody else.
Why working for tips is bad for artists & audiences
Working for tips means always making artistic compromises to bring in the cash. Loud and stupid sells; clever, subtle while creating real laughter – not so much. For example, when I started presenting myself as a clown I was still doing a lot of juggling. This included a finale with torches on a tall unicycle. Problem is that most every juggler ends his show with this trick. And I didn’t want to just be another juggling show. As a clown, I thought it would be funnier and more appropriate to use rubber chickens instead of torches. It is actually at least as difficult and I have some nice gags with the chickens that help to set my show off from all of the others. But when I do this on the street, I will make half as much money. And for the exact same show than if I used torches. I guess fire is more impressive, looks more dangerous but it is NOT as funny.
Street shows become a game with the goal of getting the most possible money out of the crowd. The goal is rarely trying one’s best to entertain the audience. Not to say that all street shows suck but this factor is one reason so many artists copy the same commercial routines. And often with low level humor; because that it what makes the most money. It is like being a great chef but having to limit oneself to making McDonalds style hamburgers because that is what sells the most. Is it a coincidence that McDonalds advertises with a scary looking clown with big shoes and a painted face?
Now living in Stuttgart, Germany
Clown and juggler Tom Bolton in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany is a real entertainer. Whether shows, walk-around entertainment (walk-act) or balloon modeling, Tom offers the best entertainment for all ages, all events. Clown and performer for: festivals, galas and conventions, fairs, openings or parties, private happenings like weddings or anniversaries, birthdays and baptisms, confirmations and so much more. If you’ve enjoyed his fan page, consider contacting Tom for your next special event!
✓ Super performance ✓ For all audiences ✓ Spontaneous improvisation
firstname.lastname@example.org Gutenbergstr. 73, 70197 Stuttgart, Germany Tel. +49 (0)711 6741600