Confessions of a failed clown

One version of my potted biography running around out there alleges:

He has attended clown school and the University of California at Berkeley.

Leaving aside for the moment the obvious question of whether this refers to two separate institutions, or just one—as certain alumni of a certain pine-tree-obsessed farm school have suggested—I should clarify that I did not attend a full-time course in the art of clowning. (Just as well, really. I don’t mind following in the footsteps of famous Poles—but since I don’t have a back yard, I can’t really emulate John Wayne Gacy.)

What I did do was attempt to learn clowning for the Great Y Circus. Being an idiot at the time—er, a younger idiot, I should say—I figured that the primary skills involved in clowning were things like balloon animals, distance and accuracy in pie hurling, inflicting lifelong traumas and phobias on small children, and the like. However, while these are important, they are also fairly easy to learn. Hence, in order to weed out the people who weren’t going to make it, the instructors started with the hard stuff.

I could handle myself on the trampoline—more or less. That is to say, I did not at any point go flying off the trampoline skull-first to impact with the ground hard enough to cause injury. Nothing permanent, at least, although some forms of brain damage are difficult to image… I was never going to be a star, but those also serve who can about manage a backflip on a good day.

That left juggling.

Now, it has been said that with enough practice, any idiot can learn how to juggle. This turned out to be true in my case. After a few weeks of chasing balls all over the gym, I had mastered the basic fountain and a few minor and umimpressive tricks—bouncing balls off the walls, the floor, the backs of the heads of people I didn’t like much, and so on. Time for the next level: rings and pins. Rings were tricky, but I made progress. Pins, on the other hand…

Now, your basic “pin” is about the same size and shape as a bowling pin—but, mercifully, hollow. The fundamental move is flipping it up into the air—it goes up, the broad end rotating towards you, comes down, and you catch it by the skinny end with your other hand.

Mental block. I couldn’t let go of the pin.

This didn’t happen every time—but often. I’d do the move, but I’d hold onto the pin—thus constraining where it could go, which meant I’d bring it all the way up and hit myself in the forehead with the broad end. I spent days doing this. I raised a bruise. The instructors—who would have fitted into Full Metal Jacket just fine, since there’s nobody as dour as someone whose job it is to try to teach people to be funny—tried yelling at me. That didn’t work. So they swiched to plan B, which was yelling louder.

Around the time they got to Plan E—yelling, with flecks of foam—I gave up. Besides, I could see that even if I did learn not to hit myself in the head, the next level involved juggling while riding a unicycle. I inferred that if I was sufficiently uncoordinated to brain myself with a club, trying to juggle while balancing on my perenium put me at grave risk of permanent sterility.

That’s why I had to go to Berkeley and get a degree in computer science. I wasn’t smart enough to be a clown.