Clown & Bouffon (Upd: Mar 10, ’21)

Clown has many parallels to the shadowbody method because both involve vulnerability. What differentiates clown from the bouffon (mentioned later in the page) is the treatment of the shadow. Whereas the bouffon exposes the shadow of the other or audience, the clown exposes the shadow, vulnerability, or weakness within him/her/themselves. The clown is also associated with innocence/naivety whereas the bouffon is like the ruthless wise creature. The clown is also associated with failure. See section failure.

For this reason, the clown can make equal use of shadow work. Once the shadow is located, the shadow is performed. If the clown archetype is to be adopted, it is a good idea to know the basic guidelines:

1. No laughing at own flops/naivety.

2. Connect to the audience and react to them accordingly.

3. Adopt a “Yes, And” attitude. Also see the Alchemist of Yes Mountain ritual.

Two of Tatsumi Hijikata’s Butoh-Fus that mention the clown/fool:6 (1) From Dry Dirt to Ghost; (2) Mescaline.

Psychodramas/Rituals Where Clown May Emerge

Winner/Loser for Life — Brings to the surface the cognitive distortions of catastrophizing, labeling, and/or black-and-white thinking from Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Slain In The Spirit — Religious ecstasy.

Happy Quickstand Victim — Edge or death resonance. Transformation.

Ego Feast — Ego resonance. Death.

Flopping Imbecile — Anti-fighting. Ineptitude.

Exercise 1: Don’t Crack!

We must train ourselves to remain in character despite an extraordinarily humorous situation. While in ash body, any number of folks will do anything to try to get you to crack (laugh, break character), utilizing any facial expression, movement, words, etc. But we must remain in character. If one has to, travel to another world. When someone laughs when they are not supposed to, that is a breaking of character called corpsing.4

Exercise 2: How would a cartoon do it?

With whatever qualia or movement you are engaged in, enter into the cartoon version of it.

Clown Flops

There are two main forms of flops a clown can take. To begin, we can search for something we feel we excel in. Though the shadows of our strengths can be generated, consider authentic vulnerabilities with our actual strengths. Jacques Lecoq identified two different kinds of flops.¹

Pretentious Flop

The clown acts out an absolute disaster while he/she/they appear to feel complete competent and masterful.

Accidental Flop

The clown simply fails to do what he/she/they intended.

Clown Double Image

The double image is a movement pun. Charlie Chaplin, Harpo and Chico Marx make great use of them. For instance, the act of throwing a strike in order to harm someone (then a police officer comes by) can be immediately shifted to throwing for a sport. In this way, shifting can also take the form of a lie. Essentially, the context shifts.

Another term for this is recontextualization, which is made great use of in absurdist literature such as that of Russian writer Daniil Kharms. In Tatsumi Hijikata’s Sick Dancing Princess, he notes that as a child he once noticed flickering lights coinciding with a woman’s cries, and so he concludes that the woman controls the lights with her cries.² This is a double image created out of correlation-to-cause shifting, and is a great tool for imagination building.


Bouffon is a trickster archetype. Bouffon is the art of mockery. It can be utilized on the audience, other dancers, or even the self. The usefulness comes from breaking down the seriousness or structure of both the target and instigator. In the act of breaking the foundation, novel movement or qualia can be discovered. The bouffon makes fun of, exaggerates, and may take on a bootleg, wobbly, decrepit, and/or half-rate version of the source material.

In Hijikata’s final writing piece Sick Dancing Princess, he stated, “Because of monotonic and anxious things stormed into the body, I might faintly be aiming at an opportunity to fabricate fake things within by wearing a haze to the body.”³ According to Rhizome Lee’s in-class commentary, “fabricating fake things” was a reversal of the “authenticity” or “real” goal of creation. This was one of Hijikata’s moments of humility.

Exercise 1: Fake Butoh

Dance what it feels like to be inauthentic, copycat, or a sell-out of butoh. Know of butoh stereotypes? Copy them. Dance with stereotype Kazuo Ohno fingers. Have you heard yourself or another mention what butoh is not? Engage that form. Maybe even dance butoh not for itself but as a means to an end (an ulterior motive). You might even be pretending to dance butoh because there is nothing else better to do.

Exercise 2: Bouffon Behind World

One or more participants are the bouffon who are the behind world while the target is the ash walker. The bouffons mock the ash walker to the very end.

Exercise 3: Bouffon Circle

Everybody is a bouffon in this exercise. The participants travel around in a circle. Everybody is mocking the person in front of them, but at the same time being mocked from behind.

Psychodramas Where Bouffon May Emerge

Disco Nightmare — Being limited, stuck body, being bullied.

Guardians of the Kingdom — Acceptance. Perseverance.

Shame On You — Releasing shame trauma.

Sleep Paralysis Victim — Resonating/overcoming sleep paralysis.

Winner/Loser for Life — Brings to the surface the cognitive distortions of catastrophizing, labeling, and/or black-and-white thinking from Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Demon Master — Shadow resonance and working with difficult edges.

You Better Not Spill One Drop — Releasing guilt and an over-disciplinary past.

Negativity Lens — About the cognitive distortion of discounting the positive from Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Name Calling a Bouffon

Woe to he/she/they who tries to insult a bouffon via names. The bouffon will eat up any insult and regurgitate it back. The scenario can however be an exercise, but it is especially not for the faint of heart.

Exercise: Stealing the Bullet

One participant calls another an insulting name (moron, pig, piece of shit, etc.) and the bouffon actually becomes the name in utmost mockery. For instance, if you are called a pig, you actually become one and enjoy being one, and may even bear a large smile.

Clown/Bouffon Hybrid

Because the bouffon and clown are cousins, there may come a point where the two merge. If this happens, it is a case when one’s own shadows/vulnerabilities are being shown while or in close proximity to others’ shadows. Everyone loses with the clown/bouffon hybrid. The thing both have in common is deep audience connection. Here are two examples.

1. An individual mocks the audience, but in doing so, slips (instant karma).

2. The clown is the ghost who does not know he/she/they are dead yet, and so mocks those who are mourning over him/her/them for killing the mood.

The clown have no clue that it is actually him/her/themselves that the mourners are mourning over.

Exercise: Butoh Fashion Show

As an exercise in fake butoh, we can take inspiration from the catwalk and show-off our greatest butoh body. This is a great exercise for bursting the ego.

Humor & Contemporary Metaphor Theory

A conceptual metaphor for humor is that of injury: EFFECTS OF HUMOR ARE INJURIES.

The source of the metaphor (source domain: injury) is mapped onto humor (target domain: humor). Examples given by George Lakoff: “(1) the performance killed them; (2) that joke really slayed me; (3) she nearly died of laughter.”

Due to this conceptual metaphor, a performance which shows the injury or weakening of the body can be perceived as funny.


¹ LeCoq, Jacques, et al. The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014.
² Hijikata, Tatsumi. Sick Dancing Princess. Translated by Rhizome Lee. 2017.
³ Ibid. Ch. 1, part 2.
4 TV Tropes. Corpsing.
Lakoff, George. Aspects Of The Self Are Distinct Individuals. Conceptual Metaphor Home Page. 1994.
Waguri, Yukio, Butoh-Fu CD-Rom. 2006.
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