You might know the Red Bastard. If you don’t, this video won’t give you the entire feeling of how fun it is to have him poke fun at you in person when you’re a member of the live audience, but it gives you an idea for how great the Red Bastard is and how much fun you WOULD have if he were performing for you!
You should really watch this, even if it means your boss stops and stares and guffaws at your screen. For my favorite part, skip to 2:42.
So you know the Red Bastard. But you might not know Eric Davis, the man behind the Red Bastard.
What the heck is that French-sounding word, you ask?
A bouffon is a character developed by Jacque Lecoq, a French actor and mime who trained Geoffrey Rush, Isla Fisher and many a clown, for starters.
The bouffon actually goes beyond the common conception of a clowning buffoon, superseding such mere tomfoolery by transferring the attention from “Let’s mock the clown and, by exposing his vulnerabilities, expose humanity’s flaws,” to “Let’s poke fun at you as an audience member and draw attention to your flaws and your humanity and the fact that you are present here as part of this dialogue.”
In the process, the bouffon makes you laugh so hard that you keep asking for more attention from him.
Eric Davis is one of the best known bouffons in the world. One of Eric’s personas, the Red Bastard, is delightful in contrarian, surprising ways: ridiculously, ruddily misshapen, yet incredibly visually appealing in his complete bizarreness; mocking and exposing of your flaws and vulnerabilities, yet completely accessible and even lovable; stodgy-looking yet incredibly dexterous and light on his feet when he hops and mimes.
Eric is also, as aforementioned, an experienced clown and actor in non-bouffon form, who has acted in various plays and co-founded The New York Clown Theatre Festival.
Eric is also an experienced teacher and director. He is available for corporate workshops in teamwork and communication, private and public events, and development for artists.
Eric’s goal, whether teaching corporate CEOs or full-time artists, is to “seek the ability for people to be present and to connect with the audience, the people they are working with, and themselves, and for them to find a true fearless joy in a high state of play.”
And though it may surprise you, this handsome man is below all those layers of white face paint and those red lumpy body bumps. When you hire him as a teacher or director or see him walking home from the grocery store juggling apples, he’ll most likely be showing up looking like this.
Eric is our Grade A Geek of the Week. He’s a creative genius and a credit to what the performing arts community can produce when it gives freedom of thought and exploration to a intuitively talented, hardworking, intellectual actor and clown who really thinks through his process and applies his theory to his performance. We hope you’ll read our interview with him below.
You’re a teacher and a director as well as a performer. What do you do in those capacities — clowning workshops, movement lessons, improvisation, etc.? Does that work in a corporate environment?
I do corporate workshops with teamwork and communication. I work with CEOs and corporations and crews for all kinds of things using improv as a metaphor for working together, and I do development for artists. I also teach clown and bouffon and movement.
Tell us about your different personas, from the Red Bastard to clowning.
Over the last two years, I’ve been doing more bouffon. I have been doing more of the Red Bastard character recently and developing a show for that. I also have a clown show. Between the two of them, the clown has more range than the bouffon. There’s much more vulnerability.
Why have you done more of the Red Bastard lately?
The responses were just so much more powerful that even as a bizarre thing, it’s more marketable.
Tell us about this little-known character, the bouffon, in your words.
The bouffon style came out of the exploration of the Lecoq school, in trying to find somebody who could mock anything. Initially, they were looking at the medieval age for models for that, people who were outcasts from the city and then would have the chance at the Feast of Fools carnival to turn that around and make a mockery of the audience. It’s someone who’s a bit of a demigod, not even of this earth necessarily, a strange mysterious creature who is watching us. I think more of him as that sort of thing, a collective unconscious, kind of poking at their fears and dreams.
I think there’s a reason that there are not a lot of bouffons, which is probably that it’s not done well often. If you see really fantastic clowns, it’s great, and if it’s bad, it’s the worst ever, and bouffons are the same. Clowns are light, but the bouffon brings criticism to the stage and a sense of grotesqueness. For me, everything has to be on top of a sort of jubilation or pleasure. Before you be mean, you have to be charming. Status and ambitions are good themes. The character is based on plays on themes of elitisim, status and ambitions. That’s something that people can almost always relate to in all different fields.
How did you start down the road to the dangerous, Bond-like world of international clowning?
It’s strange. One day I was looking at my resume and I said, “I have to stop calling myself an actor because my work is clown and bouffon work; I’m going to start calling myself a clown.” It was really scary for me to happen at that point.
I started doing a lot of improvisation at this place called Comedy Sports in Kansas City. I think a lot of the beginnings of the base of my career were in improvisation of comedy. It was the golden age of that era and I worked with really talented people. I did that for 8 years and then I had a couple of influential teachers at the University of Kansas, one of them a movement teacher I’m doing a loving parody of. One day in class he asked if there was something a style we wanted to cover that we hadn’t done yet. We heard that they had done this clown at a school in Paris. He said, “Well, the thing about the clown is, if the people don’t like you, they don’t like you.” We created a clown show of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with the John Brown theater company and we did this show in Kansas City and then we packed it all in in a U-Haul and moved to New York.
How did you come to found the New York Clown Theatre Festival?
A guy named Devon had proposed to them to do it. He contacted me and Audrey Crabtree. We’ve done it for three years now and have decided to do it every other year, so the next one is in 2010.
This is an opportunity to promote clowning and and it’s interesting because we see a lot of different types of clown there, a broad range that is not just for the circus. These are clowns who are making theater pieces. This is a hazy, interesting line to try to figure out. It’s maybe more intimate and has a longer arc.
It’s a month of shows, usually around 30 different shows from all over the world, and we have a night of cabaret pieces.
Tell us about working with Cirque du Soleil and how that informed the work you do now.
Working with Cirque was a great experience. They treated me really well. I was on one of their touring shows called Quidam. I was in two clown pieces by David Shiner, who’s going to be installing a vaudeville show here in New York. I was working in the circus at a grand scale and it was great getting to go to China and Korea. It was weird not to be doing your own work as a clown but these numbers are very very similar in terms of my sensibility and David’s.
One of them was where I’m a director and we’re filming a movie, an old time melodrama, setting up really clear intentions so that the audience members understand what they’re supposed to do, handing it over to them, and then noticing the deviations of how they do it, and then making fun of and with it.
The other act is me me going out on a date driving this car and trying to get a kiss from this girl in the audience and not getting what I want.
The script is sixty percent and the rest is improv and the audience.
You say you use European and Native American clowning philosophies. I thought the Native American part was an inside joke, but it seems like that’s for real.
The work we try to do in the teaching of clown is to be able to hear and really experience who you really are, how you feel, what you think and how you feel, not to filter it out because of what society wants you to feel. This is who I am, how I feel, acknowledge that and give it a space onstage. So most indigenous tribes or societies have some sort of clown figure in them and it’s usually an important figure, who has a high status within that society and in many tribes in North America, they had just as much power as the chief. It was a system of checks and balances. Clowns were tradition keepers who kept people in line in some sense.
So when Pachinko left the Lecoq School, he started to explore Native American philosophies and combine them with Lecoq. He created this system called Clown through Mask. You make six masks which you wear once and then you’re done with them. This is not exactly Comedia dell’Arte masks, but instead quite unusual shapes. It’s very much an experience of how you deal with pleasure and loss and experience. With these six masks, there are twelve aspects of your personality and the native idea for the clown is to be able to face all directions at once and laugh with the ridiculousness at yourself. And I really like this method. Everyone has their own methods. I really like this because it’s an opportunity in each of these explorations for no particular answer or expectations, delving into your imagination.