John Towsen



Be sure to check out his current blog:
All Fall Down: The Craft & Art of Physical Comedy

John Towsen & Physical Comedy

• Began performance career at the age of seven acting in a skit with Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason on The Red Skelton Show.  Subsequently acted in over twenty television shows and as many commercials, working alongside such names as Gary Moore, Julie Andrews, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Robert Preston, Tab Hunter, Ed Wynn, Claude Rains, Walter Slezak, Kate Smith, Shirley Booth, Margaret Hamilton, Patty Duke, and Joseph Papp.

• Studied circus, clown, commedia, theatre movement, and improvisation at NYU (Hovey Burgess), Ringling Brothers Clown College, the Valley Studio (Reid Gilbert, William Burdick, Tom Leabhart, Joe Martinez), the Dell’Arte School (Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, Jon-Paul Cook, Joan Schirle, Frank Condon), and the Center for Circus Arts (Gregory Fedin, Nina Krasavina), and many other places and people.

• Author of Clowns: A Panoramic History (NY: Hawthorn, 1976) and multiple articles for Yale Theater, Mime Journal, and other publications.  Ph.D. from NYU in Drama.

• Performed physical comedy and clown-theatre for fifteen years or so, most of it in partnership with Fred Yockers, including work with several circuses.  Also partnered with Jim Moore, Zeke Peterhoff, Joe Killian, Michael Zerphy, Jan Greenfield, and others.

• In 1975 co-founded with Fred Yockers the clown-arts organization If Every Fool, Inc., sponsoring touring shows, workshops, and festivals. Artistic Director of NY International Festival of Clown-Theatre (1983, 1985).

• Developed the first full-length college course in physical comedy — combining technical skill, improvisational work, and character & plot development — at Ohio University (Athens) in 1982. Taught it there for 5 summers, plus at Ohio State University (Columbus), Colorado Mountain College (Breckenridge), the Institut d’Art Dramatique (Rabat, Morocco), the University of British Columbia (Vancouver), Princeton University, and for six years in the Acting Program at the Juilliard School. Students have included Laura Linney, Drew Richardson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jane Adams, Michael Hayden, Andre Braugher, and Michael Stuhlbarg.

• Awarded 1989 NEH Summer Seminar Fellowship to study Anthropology of Humor at the University of California, Berkeley.

• Received 1989-90 Fulbright Research Fellowship to France to do research on physical comedy. Studied in the clown stage at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq, years after having retired from performing,

• Taught at Ringling Brothers Clown College (Baraboo, 1994) and for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit (New York City, 2003?)

  2 Responses to “John Towsen”

  1. John,

    I’m collecting stories from old VS folks in order to compile them for all to share. If I have your regular email address I’ll attach the form I’m asking people to use.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    I’d also like to have addresses for any VS folks you may know about.

  2. John,
    My name is Matt Kaiser and I am an aspiring variety arts performer. Your book, “Clowns” was a resource I used more than once for various things while I was a student at Towson University. At Towson I studied clown, stand up, improv, props, etc. under Tomi Casciero, once a professional mime and street performer. I am still very much associated with him and I continue to work with him. I also recently met Drew Richardson AKA Drew the Dramatic Fool and did a workshop with him.

    Right now I am very much interested in forming comedy duos that have elements of clown and physical comedy. I am also looking into developing solo projects but I prefer working with others. I understand you taught at Ohio University. Does Ohio University still offer such a course in clowning?

    I have all my comedy stuff on YouTube and I provided the link. I hope you’ll watch some of my clown related stuff.

    Matt Kaiser