There is no such thing as a clown on autopilot.
I love laughing. It is one of the most enjoyable, fulfilling, relaxing, human activities. A man who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer explained that although doctors had given up on him, he survived by locking himself in a room and watching comedies for a month. This is how powerful laughter can be. Universal and primitive it may be triggered by a clever “mot d’esprit”, a spectacular fall or a gross metaphor. The beauty of comedy is that nobody has so far managed to completely crack the secret of it. Just like there is no guaranteed recipe only a few tricks of the trade for coining a successful movie.
What makes us laugh? This was the mouth-watering title of a degree unit at Sorbonne University in Paris. It turned out to be a very boring academic dissection of Bergson’s dry study of laughter: Laughter, an essay on the meaning of the comic. In short, Bergson’s theory is that comedy comes from “something mechanical encrusted on the living”. Possibly … but I much prefer the lively, funny and accurate demonstration of Jos Houben, a clown teacher at the Lecoq school, about what generates laughter: accident, tension, surprise, loss of dignity etc. This can be found on YouTube.
Laughter can come from character. And some people just have it naturally. If you’re a bit chubby, move clumsily, or if you are too thin or too long, you can use these “out of the norm” characteristics to make other people laugh. I know some professional clowns whose vocation grew on them during their teen years because they literally had to be funny so that they would not be ostracised by their peers.