Something About Clowns

For those who may not know, Mump and Smoot are probably the best-known theatre clowns in the country.

Not many people my age know it, that’s for sure. If only there were a Mump and Smoot video game …

They even had a cult following back in the 1990s. That is a feat in itself, especially while calling themselves “Horror Clowns”.

In spite of how that sounds, Mump and Smoot are not in the same vein as the film It, or that creep, Ronald McDonald.

“It’s the juxtaposition of the terms that really defines how we make fear and pain funny,” says Mike Kennard (Mump).

“It’s mostly to say that we’re not for kids. But my niece and nephew have been going since they were really small. It’s more the parents that get messed up about it,” adds John Turner (Smoot).

Speaking for myself, I don’t think the word “horror” does their brilliance enough justice.

When I saw their most recently-created show, Cracked, I found myself baffled at how Mump amputating Smoot’s leg could be so touching and hilarious that it brought me to tears. Both kinds.

Their show Something, which will be at the Yukon Arts Centre for three 8 pm performances September 29 through October 1, is actually the first they created as the duo.

That was back in 1989. In the 22 years since, it has remained one of Mump and Smoot’s most toured shows.

“It’s a great introduction to our characters, and it’s our romp show; just a lot of fun,” says Kennard.

Mump and Smoot are a classic Joey and Auguste pair, meaning one is the manipulator and one is the victim.

“Any comedy duo is a Joey and Auguste team, whether they know it or not,” Turner explains.

“Unlike the classic European approach, though, periodically we switch roles. We all possess all aspects of humanity, but sometimes it’s not good for me to be the boss.”

Kennard and Turner are both from Toronto and met at the Second City Training Centre, where they also met their director, Karen Hines (CBC’s The Newsroom and Married Life).

They all bonded over gibberish exercises and felt comfortable on stage together, so they went on to study clowning with the late, great Richard Pochinko.

The Pochinko technique is a cross between European and Native American styles of clowning. The training involves creating a personal mythology by making six masks (North, South, East, West, Below below, Above above).

Each mask represents a different part of the self, and each has two sides: innocence and experience. The purpose is that eventually they all face inward and we can laugh at the ridiculousness of the self.

“It’s about exploring the areas of yourself that aren’t as comfortable. You can see the work is firmly based on the techniques, but I learned as much about clowning from bartending, certainly about maintaining multiple conversations with an audience,” Turner admits.

It was Mike Kennard who introduced me to (and made me fall in love with) the Pochinko clown technique at Humber Comedy School in Toronto. In fact, his class was one of the only things that really made sense to me there.

“The comedy school serves a great purpose,” he says.

“There were some unruly kids there, but that’s the nature of comedy students; they usually come from unruly backgrounds.”

Kennard now teaches clown in the Theatre program at the University of Alberta. When I spoke with him by phone, he had just finished orientation week with 350 new students.

John Turner runs the Clown Farm on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, where I attended his Clown Boot Camp just last summer.

After living in the city, camping on the farm and clowning in his converted-barn studio was a much-appreciated break for this Yukoner.

Living on opposite sides of the country obviously hasn’t stopped Turner and Kennard from continuing to tour together.

Since coming up with their names over a bottle of rum almost 25 years ago, they have toured as Mump and Smoot all over the world and won awards and acclaim from many respected sources.

Personally, I am honoured to be home in the Yukon to welcome my beloved teachers and clown mavens to our beautiful land.

In the meantime, I’ll check out their website:

And maybe get to work on the Mump and Smoot video game.

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