How to do a classic circus clown “Pants Drop”
In the good ol’ days of comedy we used to joke on the circus, “when all else fails drop your pants or blow something up!” Comedy does change. And we as performers need to change with it.
I remember being startled by the violence of some of the classic circus routines. I grew up watching reruns of Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, and Our Gang. But watching something on a little screen and seeing up close and personal is a different matter.
After the tragedies of September 11th and the Boston Marathon bombing, blowing things up just isn’t as funny any more.
Last year at Moose Camp we had the opportunity of a number of young people who were interested in becoming circus clowns. We brought back the classic circus routine “Fire House” for them to polish their skills. The gag begins with a mad bomber throwing a stick of dynamite into the house, thus blowing it up and needing the clown fire department to save the day.
We looked at each other and said, “We can’t do that anymore!” So instead we had a clown jogging by notice the smoke coming out of the house, and he called 911. We removed a few other bits that just didn’t play anymore and had a great gag the audience loved.
As a society we have become more sensitive to others and our comedy reflects that as well.
A classic pants drop is still funny as long as we make sure to remove ANY sexual innuendo. It needs to be an accident (not a deliberate prank by another clown), the appropriate polka-dotted or heart-patterned baggy clown underwear need to be worn, and the clown needs to be embarrassed to the point of hilarity. It’s not the drop of the pants that is funny, it is the clown’s reaction to loosing his pants that makes the joke.
A few tips for a good pants drop:
1. Wear button-on suspenders. The clip-on kind can come unclipped and ruin the gag.
2. Make sure the pants are at least 10 inches bigger than your waist or hips (whatever is bigger). You need enough extra fabric to have the pants fall freely. The fabric shouldn’t catch or snag; regular poly-cotton broadcloth is perfect.
3. Comedy boxers should come just above the knee as not to be too risque. They should be neither tight nor short!
4. If you have trouble getting the pants to fall freely you may need to sew washers or weights into the waistband. A quick little shimmy can help get them to drop faster and your audience will not even notice.
Dropping your pants is easy.
Just slide your hands quickly through the suspenders and raise your arms.
What to do after the drop?
Look down. Then look up. Then realize what has just happened. Take that extra second to let your audience enjoy the moment.
Then open your mouth and scream or holler with embarrassment. Reach down, grab your pants, and pull them up. Look embarrassed as you struggle to get your suspenders back in place on your shoulders.
Most clowns rush the entire bit. Take that extra 2 seconds and you will get more laughs.
What if you’re NOT intending a pants drop?
When it comes to suspenders for folks who are not doing pants drops they are still an important part of your clown outfit.
If you can wear your pants without suspenders they are too tight!
A lot of customers who hear me say this ask “Why?”
I have plenty of practical reasons. It is best to have some extra room. I like at least 6 extra inches.
- Close fitting clown pants are hot in the summer and warm climates. More room allows for air flow to keep you cool.
- For cooler climates, the extra room allows you to wear a layer of warmer clothes underneath for outside performances.
- Consider your exaggerated movements and any squatting or kneeling you do. Since department stores add 2″ to your hips for ease of movement in normal pants, it’s not too extreme to think that clowns would need 6″
- It also allows you some room to grow as most of our weights tend to fluctuate throughout the year. Remember those Thanksgiving pies and Christmas cookies?
What’s the best suspenders for clowns?
Elastic is better than cloth because it’s adjustable and allows for more hijinks and “snappy” photo poses.
X-back is better than Y-back because they give you more stability.
Clip-on suspenders can be useful for very light-weight pants. But you should get the ones with the heavy duty clips. The clips are the first thing to wear out. If you have a heavy pair of pants and try to clip on suspenders you can bend the clips. Also, the metal claws on clip-on suspenders can wear away at your fabric and eventually tear a hole in it. Bummer!
Button-on elastic X-back suspenders with leather thongs are the best clown suspenders. They are reliable, long-lasting, and don’t harm your pants.
$14.95 for Clip-on or Button-on Suspenders
for sale at Pricilla Mooseburger Originals
How to use button-on suspenders
- If your pants don’t already have buttons sewn inside the waistband, get some sturdy plastic 4-hole buttons. They don’t need to look clowny because they won’t show. To get the right size, buy buttons just a little smaller than the smallest slots in the leather tabs. At Pricilla Mooseburger Originals, we use .75″ diameter buttons.
- Sew them onto the inside of your waistband just above the seam. See photo for placement. Make sure your thread is secure.
- Fit the back tabs and front thongs onto the buttons and slide them up until the button thread is inside the “notch” you see in this photo.
- Adjust the metal slides so your pants waist is right across the widest part of your belly (usually where your belly button is).
- Remember to take your suspenders off your pants before you wash your clown costume! Don’t put your suspenders in the washing machine. If you spill makeup or food on the elastic part, spot-clean it with liquid detergent and a cloth.
There are some things that will always make us laugh. A pie in the face is golden! A classic pants drop in the right context is just plain funny. Even small explosions on the circus can get a good laugh.
Reworking old bits can be a lot of fun! Go to it folks!
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