Published on May 4th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson6
The (required) elements of surprise
Comedy can pop up where you least expect it. You can be consuming some form of non-comedic entertainment, and suddenly get gobsmacked by a goldmine of funny right under your nose. Many American fans of House have experienced this when learning of Hugh Laurie’s comedic roots.
My biggest comedy-discovery shock came a decade ago, when I was flipping channels and came across… wait for it… figure skating.
Every Canadian knows who Kurt Browning is, but at the time my knowledge was limited to “he’s a figure skater, and he uh… yeah, figure skater”.
When I saw this athlete guy on my tv wearing full clown garb – complete with red nose – my first thought was “whoa, this is a terrible idea”. Which is precisely why I kept watching. Carcrash appeal. But oh, how wrong I was. My jaw was on the floor by the end of it. (There’s a clip they often play on The Soup of Miley Cyrus reacting to the rumor of her own death with a monotone “whuuuuut”. That was me.)
Clown is something I wish I was better educated about, but it’s like any other artform: the tools can be learned, but to truly be great at it requires something special beyond textbook skills. Cheezy as this sounds, Kurt performed it with heart, which is a) pretty hard to fake, and b) something most people wouldn’t even know is important in a clown character. He had a natural ability to create a strong connection with the audience, and I was officially a fan from that point forward.
I scraped together enough cash for a nosebleed seat at Stars on Ice the following year, hoping to see the Rag-GIDON-Time number live, but was a year too late for that, and was instead treated to a series of improvisational entrées he did with essentially the same character. A few years later, Kurt did a another clown-type piece full of physical comedy called Slippery Side Up. By then I’d been fully indoctrinated into the world of skatefans, with a $120 on-ice seat that became worth every penny when he did a huge pratfall at my feet.
10 years later, I’m still in awe of his comedic abilities, both on the ice and off. Following his career closely and speaking with him on a few occasions, I can confidently confirm that his love of connecting with people is absolutely a natural part of him, as is his sense of fun. Indeed, great clowns are born, not made. And you never know where you’re going to find one.
I bring up Kurt in part because I had a fantastic weekend seeing two Stars On Ice shows in a row, but one comedic moment involving Kurt has me pondering something.
Between acts, pre-taped videos of the skaters interacting with each other appeared on the video screens. In one, Kurt is trying to intro a skater, but keeps getting interrupted by the others, and winds up getting pied in the face twice. Very well done and it got a pretty nice crowd reaction both nights.
One show was being taped for CBC television. This required retakes of some performances, and in turn a replay of the video, without sound, in order to cue up the other visual elements.
I watched the replay of the video with great anticipation, but when Kurt got nailed with those pies, there was complete silence from the crowd. Nothing. Not even a single giggle out of several thousand people. My friend blamed the missing element of surprise, which I concur with to a degree, but is the value of physical comedy *purely* in its unexpected nature?
Perhaps that’s a question for another day. In the meantime, I’d love to know: do any of you have tales of uncovering a surprising source of comedy?