Send in the audience


By Jennifer O’Reilly

Christopher Lueck and Amanda Pekoe are serious about clowning. The third Monday of every month, the two co-produce a variety show for clowns — and not just the red nosed, big shoed kind. Their last Downtown Clown Revue, for example, featured everything from a 16-year-old novice juggler to troupe of mock Eastern European acrobats. The hodgepodge of talent keeps it interesting, and also gives Lueck and Pekoe the chance to “expand the discussion of the art of clowning in New York City” — one of their major goals, according to Lueck. In advance of their Nov. 20 show at Under St. Marks (www.newyorkdowntownclown.com), I had the opportunity to talk with them both about the genesis and the future of the Downtown Clown Revue.

What gave you the idea for the Downtown Clown Revue?

Christopher Lueck: After Hurricane Katrina, there was a clown group [from New York] that went down to Louisiana and Mississippi through Clowns Without Borders, an organization like Doctors Without Borders in which clowns go to different areas of the world that need laughter. And they were having a fundraiser to pay for their way down there and they had several clown acts performing and they asked me to do it. Afterwards, I was like ‘That was a blast… Is there a chance for us to do this again?’ And all the clowns I asked were like ‘No, there’s not really an outlet for that’ and I thought OK, I can do that. And two months later we had the Downtown Clown Revue.

How do you choose the clowns who perform in your show?

CL: Sometimes we have auditions. But a lot of them have seen our work.

Amanda Pekoe: If they haven’t, our vision is to present the broadest scope of clowning, so if they write in to the website and say they want to perform we…

CL: We just say OK!

AP: Yeah, and we don’t even ask them for copies of their DVDs. We just say sure, you want to perform, why not? Because we are there to be this hub of clowning in New York City and offer a platform for anyone who wants to be a part of that. From the beginning it was a definite decision to offer the freest interpretation of clowning possible. We want to bring in everything from more experienced clowns to beginner clowns. And that’s also true on an aesthetic level.

We have both the creepy clowns and the cutesy clowns.   

So would you say that clowning is more than just for kids?

CL: It is!

AP: It’s definitely more than just for kids.

What makes it more serious for you?

CL: Well, clowning is a different thing from what comedy has become, [which is basically] standing on stage and telling people what you think about the world. Clowning is about going out there and experiencing the world for what it is and not making fun of the audience but letting the audience laugh at you. What’s really beautiful about clowning to me is the openness, and how it’s a direct conversation with the audience. It invites the audience in instead of mocking them.  

I heard there were some famous clowns at your show the last month.

AP: Yeah, Barry Lubin was there.

CL: All the guys doing the Big Apple Circus ­— Francesco, Barry Lubin (Grandma in the Big Apple), Hovey Burgess, Silly Billy…

AP: Right, Silly Billy was there! And I just want to say that it’s great when we get well-known clowns to perform, but having well-known clown figures in the audience is pretty unbelievable in itself. 

What are your aspirations for the Downtown Clown Revue?

CL: That’s a big question. I guess one of the biggest things is for the audience to grow and for people to start looking at clown theater as an art form rather than looking at clowns as an image they can use in other plays. Part of our bigger purpose in doing this is to create an opportunity for clowns to explore work but also for audiences to explore what clowning is and to really understand what that is. That would be our biggest dream.