Clown Tom Bolton, an American professional entertainer living in Stuttgart, in Baden-Württemberg in the south of Germany who has travelled and performed in over 50 countries world-wide since 1981.
Clown Tom Bolton's unique style of silent clown comedy combines
technical skills, like juggling, unicycling, balloon
animals and magic with original gags and improvisation,
often including people from the audience in the action in a fun
but respectful way.
The result is a dynamic clown show that appeals to both adults
and children of every class, culture and
Whether itís an opening, corporate party or marketing event for Sony or Mercedes, a street festival or a wedding, the unique magical quality of his show has made him the absolute highlight of many events for firms, organizations, cities or private customers.
Clown Tomís sympathetic humor and interaction with his public brings many fans back to see his clown show again and again. He creates real laughter that isnít possible with just flashy costumes and special effects. Itís simply fun!
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 partys, private happenings like weddings or anniversaries, birthdays and baptisms,
confirmations and so much more!
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 the stereotyped ones with the big shoes
and painted faces. And nothing ruins an event quicker than having a crappy clown. While I agree that nice costumes
can help create an atmosphere, the cliché of gaudy cloths is rather creepy and quite 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 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 or 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.
Actually, a painted face is the easiest way to
scare small kids and is a disaster for the user in hot weather. Many modern clowns don't even have a red nose
but then Laurel and Hardy were popular clowns in their time and didn't paint their faces or use outlandish costumes either.
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.
Yet I have to admit that growing up I never foresaw going
into the field of entertainment. I was always rather shy and reserved and saw the theater people at school as the extroverts capable of
showing off at the drop of a hat. I was always more of an observer of human nature which 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 it to be in a positive way so that the people involved are the ones most likely to congratulate me after the show rather than sulk
away in embarrassment, which seems to unfortunately be the result of many performers' efforts. If I set someone up to look silly, it is usually
turned around in the end so that I come out with the short end of the stick and my participant is the hero.
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 because we would inevitably be requested to sing for one thing or another and my voice was so bad that the
teachers 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 think I can sing although I can't but then lots of people already do this on the current casting shows on
TV to the delight of people who love seeing people make fools of themselves. 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. And while they don't want to see failure, saying
dropping the props too often while juggling, the 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.
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 and 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 for an audience that was often busy speaking
to their neighbors and didn't show much interest in what I was doing to begin with. 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 the 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 will later complain that they weren't properly entertained.
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 and then dinner is delayed so that the people are starving and tired.
While I might still blow them away with my show after they have gotten to eat; trying to get their attention during the meal is just
annoying to them. In recent years, there have been lots of dinner theater events and many business dinners hope to mimic this phenomena.
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 best avoided if the space is too confining, the background music or noise too loud or the people too hungry. Then when
the people have had their fill, hit them with a show, either before or after dessert and 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
and then feel let down they didn't play Mozart then it is probably your own fault.
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 but they are merely a bridge 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 so 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, thus interesting the
people to stay at the stand and get more information.
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 all combined with a lot of gags and improvisation emphasizing the comedy aspects
rather than the technical achievements. 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 which is situation comedy where I joke around with
people and 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. Yet, I have occasionally heard comments like; "well he didn't really do anything" 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 and in 2 hours I might entertain as many people as I would with a 30 minute show but just a few people at a time. And it is
physically impossible for me to do a roaring 8 hour long show at an event where new people keep showing up or to do back to back shows all
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 but no, 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 but 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
and 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 while just doing juggling tricks was limited
to the circus and short vaudeville routines for millennium. 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.
While I don't think juggling is necessarily the most entertaining skill available, 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 after people have seen my show.
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 team work and meeting the challenge of learning new skills and learning to juggle can be a fun way to incorporate
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 so that 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, which 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 have me yet didn't bother to advertise the fact or had me perform
in some back corner drowned out by music, so that they didn't get the full benefits of having my entertainment. And while 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.
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. I went the direction of silent clowning because I had a weak voice and liked the emphasis of what I do 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. One
reason is that while people like such performances, organizers seem to think that no matter how experienced and good you are, if they
call you a street performer, then you should work just for tips. I like to get paid for my work like everybody else.
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 including
the finale of 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 for the exact same show than if I used torches instead. 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 rather than 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, 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?