The earliest evidence of masks being used for tribal ceremonies and rituals is 7000 BC. My first experience was in 1975.
Like many kids, I always enjoyed making friends and laugh with goofy walks and funny faces, but I was not prepared for the incredibly liberating feeling that wearing a mask can give you. I was working in the payroll department of Consolidated Edison in Manhattan, and trying with every free moment to get the progressive rock band I was singing in, “Turn Down Broadway”, signed with a record label. (We actually did get signed with a label, but that’s a sad story for another time.)
I decided to sign up for some clowning classes at the 92nd Street Y. To this day, I still don’t know why; but it was a pivotal moment in my life. The four-week class started with physical comedy and it soon became evident that I was a natural. I took to it like a duck to water. But when we started working on grease paint makeup and costuming, I wasn’t prepared for exhilarating feeling that came over me once I was wearing the mask. I was no longer inhibited, hesitant, or meek. I was bold, brazen and unstoppable. It was my first experience with inhabiting another character; except with clowning, the character was really me! My strengths, my shortcomings, my attitude toward life and the people around me – all magnified by 10.
Over the next few years I started experimenting with reducing the amount and the stylization of the makeup I wore; first moving to more of a mime face with subtle color touches, and then to just a red nose (the smallest mask).
I even studied and performed with character masks and commedia dell'arte. As I moved away from the big Ringling-style makeup, I discovered I could still experience the abandonment without covering my entire face.
Once I had found the clown inside of me, I was eventually brave enough to transition out of grease paint, and I started working as a comedy magician. Once you experience the world though your personal clown’s eyes, you can perform in any costume. I have incorporated many different masks over the years, both visible and invisible, but still treasure the profound experience that clowning gave to me.
My inner clown is with me always, but the folks at the grocery store or the gym never see him. He is special, and he is reserved for my audiences. Only my daughter, and now her son, have ever seen him off stage.