Dear Jumbo: A clown who stops trying to be funny

For most of my life, I’ve been taught to work hard. Although this work ethic has served me well, it can also hold me back. College for me has been about unlearning this hardworking mentality and learning to let go instead. 

Clowning was one of those classes where not trying hard is the way. Last spring, I took it because it sounded fun. Humor is to life like soda is to pizza: You can have the latter without the former, but it’s pretty dry.

I did learn some techniques to act like a clown, many of which I have forgotten. More importantly though, I learned what it meant to be a clown.

In a sense, being funny is like being happy: Both are not goals we can directly strive toward. Instead, we have to accept that we are already so.

The clown does not try to be funny. He is fascinated with life, and as such, he makes everything surrounding the audience fascinating. A funny moment is a byproduct of this fascination. Once in a while, the clown discovers the funny chord just like a coal miner finds a piece of gold.

While technique is important, the real practice is to stay fascinated and keep digging. Clowning is not a skill; it is a state of being. And I’ve learned that I cannot think my way into this state.

Let me tell you this story of the clown who stops trying to be funny.

I’ve got a self-image of being a thoughtful and insightful guy. That image got me decently far in life, but not in clowning. My clown teacher told me early on, “Khuyen, normally you enjoy being witty, but for this class I want you to drop that. Try being bold and loud with your body instead.” My usual self resisted hard — how on earth could a thoughtful guy *think* about how to be in the body?

I remember in one class, we were asked to go on stage one by one and just say something. It scared the heck out of me — what on earth would I say? Sensing my hesitation, my teacher yelled, “GOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” which jolted the usual ‘thoughtful guy’ out of me. My body rushed on the stage, overriding the cerebral part that felt helpless, out of control, not knowing what to do. The whole of me stood still for a few seconds — the longest, most dramatic moment in the class for me.

Then, magic happened. The belly started laughing hard; it had never felt so alive. The cerebrum couldn’t think of why the whole scene was that funny, but the belly knew it. Other bellies in the room knew it too. I said nothing. I just laughed, the best laugh ever.

Letting go of older identities is frightening, but remember, we don’t completely discard them. We just realize we could be so much more. With that realization comes an immense liberation. I could not take myself too seriously, for who “myself” is changes or, more precisely, reveals itself over time.  The Joker got it right: “Why so serious?”

Thoughts? Stories? Let me know at