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earlier interviews with buster, joey and coco
By Erik Bindervoet

On Pointless International

When I enter the lounge of the Schiller Hotel at the Amsterdam Rembrandtplein, Buster is already there, reading the newspaper.
– Tragedy! he says.
– What? Somebody died?
– No! I can’t read!

The tone is set. This will be a difficult interview. I will have to be on my guard constantly. I will be tricked, duped, cornered, fooled, kicked about even, in accordance with the (mal)function and the great glorious tradition of the clown, starting about two hundred years ago. A tradition that the three clowns gathering at the table say they wish to uphold, like a revolving plate on a sharp pointed stick, i.e. without being in any way restorative. But let me start by introducing them to you. First the clown who isn’t there, Sugar, the stagehand cum stagemanager. There is no stage here, so what’s the point of having one around? And therefore we can do without the otherwise indispensable services of this factotum for this interview. Then there is Joey, the silent clown who doesn’t speak, descendant and, like so many others, nicknamesake of the worldwide famous English clown Joseph Grimaldi.

– Why doesn’t he speak?
– Oh, he has been telling us for four weeks now that he is not going to say a single word.

Fortunately there is also the very talkative Coco, who tells me how much he feels like it. And immediately falls silent. Last but not least, there is the slightly older and wiser and quite possibly even sadder Buster, who started clowning at the early age of 22 and keeps an eye on everything to make sure that the acts will remain well within the lines. Yes, they will perform acts, but also bits, gags, magic tricks, blanks, frames, monologues, cascades, neckbreaking routines, gravity defying daredevil feats, mime, visual wordplay, entrГ©es and side dishes and black outs (never forget the black outs), in short the stock in trade of clownerie through the ages. But with a few marked differences: instead of being the filling, the entr’acte, they’ll be the main, or rather the only act for a full evening’s entertainment. And these clowns dispense with the customary red clown’s noses, flapping clown’s shoes and colorful costumes. They’ll bring us the bare essence of the complicated profession of being a clown, according to Buster:

– Coming on stage with your hands in your pockets. One clown wants something from the other and the third has to deliver it. That’s basically it. We climb. We fall. We build. We destroy. We’ll sit at the wrong side of the plank. We’ll shoot each other. The audience will either laugh or cry. Out of pity. It’s the fuss where in fact nothing happens. Being pointless has become a quality of ours.

– We’ll be the circus where only the clowns are left. The acrobats are gone. The lion tamer. The lions. All the other wild animals. The flees. The elephants. The dogs. The ringmaster. The singing goat. The sitting duck. The melting giraffe. The jellyfish posing as balloons. It’s just us, says Coco, wryly smiling.

– Us and the audience, adds Joey, firmly and audibly.

– At the specific request of the authorities the house will be packed every evening, asserts Buster. In the ring a situation is created in which the audience is needed in order to exist. The audience participates in the classical sense, not in the modern sense. It is the life force that directs the clowns, the actors to each other. It is an act of presence, or rather the presence of an act, and in that sense we combine the best of the theatre with the best of the circus. That’s where we came from. In the first place we were actors. Like so many clowns before us, we became clowns by coincidence, on the wave of a set of particular circumstances. Popov was a juggler. Many clowns are older.

– It is whopping hard, even dangerous. You definitely cannot learn it, says Coco. It’s up to the person and his ignorance or inability, his very own level of incompetence. The powerlessness. And that is something that you can bring to perfection, to a great extent. You have to go for the perfect failure.

- Much better! We much better all the time! repeats Joey, mysteriously.

– Every clown has his own specialty, his own area of expertise, says Buster. Some people are very good at wearing a hat, for instance. If we find someone like that, we can invite him. It’ll be like a real circus then. We are actors. We can do everything. We can lie, we can sing. Dance. Talk. It’s about doing classical acts or scenes in the dramaturgy of today. We’ll adapt them all the time.

– Now I’m alone! sings Joey, hiding under the table. Now I can do it! I am! I am doing it!

– Yes, it’s also about ways to get out of it, to slip out of it unnoticed, affirms Coco. You want to do an act, you want to act, but in fact you’ll do everything to wriggle yourself out of it. You have to bring it to a point that it can fail. That’s why the solo’s are so important.

– And we have to try to escape from the expectations, concludes Buster. Clowns are often irritated. We are irritated anyhow, so as a clown you can give free rein to this irritation and direct it at each other and the audience. It’s high time that the real problems are dealt with. Time to ask the questions to the answers that these times keep giving all the time.

– So, finally, what is your message? I ask, and before I know it, I experience a kind of black out. When I lift the white bucket from my head, all the clowns are gone, the lounge is in ruins and I only hear the sound of swearing, disappearing sirens and my own laughter.

On Polyinterpretability

So, anyway. The day started slowly, tentatively, hesitatingly, as did the conversation, as did this sentence, like some forgotten, distant fight song from the Caribbean where hurricane Irma was raging at the time. The first to arrive in their favorite haunt for interviews, the shimmering lounge of the Schiller Hotel at the Amsterdam Rembrandtplein, was Joey. I catch him assiduously reading some pages of script for the new show. – I have to make a selection out of it, he says. Because my friends are too lazy to do that. Or too dumb. I might just as well go it alone. Joey goes solo! He roars heartily at this seemingly flippant remark, but touches on an important theme of our conversation, and, who knows, of the entire show, subjectivism or even solipsism. As Jan Hanlo put it: “Understanding is a selection from the existent. Thus to understand something depends on what exists, but the choice from this reality is therefore arbitrary. This last factor (the choice) brings an element of subjectivity into the understanding. To make it in advance very clear that I am no ‘subjectivist’ at all, I would like to recall that, the instant somebody claims something from radical subjectivity, that person annihilates him- or herself. A subjectivist can never claim anything, because a claim that at the same time does not have to apply to somebody else is not a claim. It is nothing. It’s a silence.” So the title is no mean misnomer. It does exactly what it says. And everybody that can pronounce it, understands it, immediately. In doing so. But, to quote the famous clown Grock, “ theory and philosophy aside and practicalities and physicalities first”. Sugar arrives, the stagehand cum stage manager, by force of absence not present at the previous interview, but now all there and bright as ever, except for a small headache, caused by an arrow through the forehead carrying the sign “THIS WAY”, for which he has to see a doctor this afternoon. Buster comes in, complaining of the cold. And of a stiff upper neck. – From the cold? I ask, trying to concentrate on the sensory side of clowning, – No, from practicing my suspenders. – That’s the hardest part, concurs Joey: – Rehearsing. How do you rehearse as a clown? You can’t. How can you seize the moment if it is not there, i.e. not here and now? It’s impossible! Waruuuuuum? Nit mГΆГΆГΆГΆГΆglich! Cannot do it! And still we do it. Until we do it again. Time after time. Day in, day out. Anyway, I will do everything differently now. Especially now I have been to a Clowning Symposium in Rijswijk. – Can you tell us a little more about that? – No. Enter Coco, right at this moment, looking very much like chief Twisted Hair, but fitted with an impressive beard and wearing the classy trademark Pointless International sweater, still available at a suitable trading post, shopping mall or sweater emporium near you, if you hurry. Sugar tries to warn me for the good mood Buster is in: – That’s always dangerous. It can swing anytime, he whispers. But there is no sign of that on the horizon. Yet. Everything seems to be totally hunky-dory with the lads. Joey even has a present for Coco, which turns out to be a prop for a secret act that goes under the codename “Shaking the Box” and of which not too much can be revealed at this moment, except that the point of the act is in the title. Suffice it to say that there are strictly no elephants involved. They just got back from a long and exhausting international tour which brought them all the way to France and Belgium and on the brink of intensive contacts with Germany, England and even India. In order not to be recognized on the streets and to remain incognito they have to wear red noses now. But no time to rest on their hardy laurels for them and, though Buster claims that a second show is an impossibility for clowns, a second show is definitely waiting in the wings. – What may we not expect? I ask, looking forward to a bucket of water filled with confetti. – There are no guarantees of course. Everything is under reservation, replies Buster. – But we still obey the same set of rules, argues Coco. – In order to break them, or to turn them around, affirms Sugar. – And nothing pleases. So nothing is allowed. Therefore we won’t use artificial materials or emotional substitutes like little pumps, stamps or bags, states Buster, rather sternly. – But an explosive cigar is something else. That is an effect. And smoking is permitted on stage, allows Joey. – But drinking during the acts or drinking between the acts isn’t. And neither are laughing or swearing. And neither is sex, Coco hastily brings in the middle. – Rule 8a: opinions are divided on that matter. There has to be something erogenous going on, challenges Buster, and he continues: – Though clowns never talk about it. It is not an issue. It is not even a taboo. We just don’t mention it. – But there will be no elephants or naked chicks. We refuse to diversify. There are no female clowns, declares Sugar, almost dogmatically. – Yes, I ask, why is that? Because women are not ridiculous? Perhaps too loveable to be laughable? – I refer to rule number 8a, says Buster. – And there is always the possibility of apprenticeship, m/w, he adds. – There will certainly be flirtations with the ladies in the audience. They will not be short of attention, concludes Joey. – You mean now is the time for a charm offensive after all the bad publicity your sector got by the gangs of terror clowns that roamed the neighborhoods for a while to scare the shit out of the cultural coultrophobes in this country and abroad? – No way! Charm is offensive. We refuse to make it too easy on anybody. Especially ourselves. We argue a lot. And that is good. Why should you agree with everything? I am no advocate of that, exclaims Buster. Is this the mood swing Sugar tried to prepare me for? No. Buster is happy: the situation is so completely and utterly desperate that it’s only doable (and livable) for a clown, he says, wryly. – The circumstances haven’t changed. You don’t change because of it. You won’t change the world with it. There’s still no point in it. – And we’re still international! cheers Coco. – Talking about politics, I retort, are the houses still packed every evening at the specific request of the authorities? – O yes, with or without violence our lovely Mrs. Loyal gets the house packed all the time and we have a different audience every evening, says Buster.– The political climate is very much in our favor, according to Sugar. – Clowns reign supreme. Even so much so that you can replace the word ‘culture’ with ‘clowns’ and not lose a thing. We will even get our own ministry, as a follow up of the ministry of Onderwijs, Cultuur & Wetenschap [Education, Culture & Science] we will have the ministry of Onderwijs, Clowns & Weemoed [Education, Clowns & Wistfulness]. Everything is economized away these days except for clowns, so it seems. – The bottom line is still that we’re just a bunch of actors, says Buster. It is still all about the relationship between the audience and four weirdo’s, four different people. With an outflanking movement we try to escape from some sort of a hermetical construction. The first time you don’t know what you do. The second time again you don’t know what you do, but all the more pleasure if it succeeds. It is a means of passing the time. Time you can use to forget everything. For a while. God knows how. I have a delicate pair of trousers now. I try to keep them clean. I go where the trousers take me. – I just follow my intuition. That’s the only thing you can rely on, says Coco. – I agree, says Joey. – But I always agree with what Coco says. – I am a subjectivist. I don’t know what Joey is, says Sugar. – We just follow Buster, says Joey. – And his delicate trousers.