For the next dossier, I was able to get in touch with Dave McKay of Toronto Clown and the Red Nose District. I sent him some questions and he opened up a beautiful vault of treasures to show me his answers. It blew me away. You get a real sense Dave’s been around for the development of clown in Canada and has been very important to its current framework and popularity here in Toronto.
That said, here’s dossier number two:
First off, who’re we talking with?
Dave McKay. I’m the co-producer of the Red Nose District show, Lunacy Cabaret, Belleville Ville and the Toronto Festival of Clowns.
What drew you down this path? (to the Red Nose District, to being a clown, to being wherever the hell you are in life?)
I used to play in a band and we put out and album and toured around. The other guys got married and had kids so we stopped playing. I guess I was more of a rock star than a musician. I always preferred the performance aspect of being in a band. In the mid-nineties I read a review of clown duo Mump and Smoot – the clowns of horror. I thought I would love to see that. I went to see them and then I wanted to do what they did. I had no idea where to start as a clown so I got into improv comedy instead. While in the Second City Conservatory program I met people who had studied clown with John Turner and Mike Kennard of Mump and Smoot. So when the time and money became available I took Mike Kennard’s Baby Clown/Clown Through Mask course. Sometimes while doing improv I would connect with a character and the audience and it would all just flow naturally. However while clowning it always happened. I had found my thing. At the time I was still doing improv, theatre, music and tv/film work. So in 2006 I told myself, “nothing but clown this year.” That year I started up TorontoClown.com, the Lunacy Cabaret (with Dan Nimmo, Jeff Krahn and Eli Chornenki) and the Toronto Festival of Clowns (with Srah Buski and Adam Lazarus). The Lunacy Cabaret has a very wild audience so you need to be an experienced performer to handle them and the Toronto Festival of Clowns features hour long shows. There needs to be a place where people who are starting out can get some experience in front of a friendly audience. In the past there were some small clown cabaret shows that people could get some stage time with, but eventually they ran their course and stopped. I created the Red Nose District show to fill that role. A place for new clowns who have just taken a workshop, experienced clowns to work on new material and for people who have left clowning to come back and try it again.
What’s you earliest memory of wanting, or needing to do this?
As I kid I had no affinity for clowns. In fact I just kind of ignored them and thought they were for little kids or unsophisticated people. It wasn’t until I started seeing several Pochinko style clowns that I got into it. In particular I was doing improv in a show that Neil Muscot produced and he had Helen Donnelly on doing her Foo character. Foo did a very simple turn where his ass was itchy and he searched the room until he found a box of Gold Bond powder in a bag in the back of the room. Foo looked into the bag and then up at the audience several times before revealing the contents. Each time he looked in and then out it was a completely different face and expression. This was beyond mugging, there was a whole story behind each expression. At this point I made the commitment to study Pochinko clown.
What can we expect, if anything, at the Red Nose District?
You can expect the performers to recognize that there is an audience in front of them and sometimes to engage the audience in their act.
Tell us about your favourite moment from this event in the past.
Once a year we put the Red Nose District show in the Toronto Festival of Clowns. We get Morro and Jasp to host it. They really take the hosting job seriously and put together one of the best nights at the festival. One year at the end of the show they started a popcorn fight with the audience, there was popcorn everywhere. We have pictures of the whole audience engaged in throwing stuff with huge smiles on their faces.
Describe the Red Nose District in three adjective or phrases.
Surprising, engaging and adult.
Do you have anything you want to share? A story? A photo? A song? A video?
I recently found these videos on Youtube of Richard Pochinko teaching a clown class. He is recognized as the father of modern Canadian clowning or as we sometimes call it Pochinko Clown. I never met him but he seems like at delightful, enchanted nutbar who created a wonderful thing that has turned into a tradition. I like to watch these videos once in a while so that I don’t take the whole clown thing too serious.
He gives a good description of what he is trying to accomplish at around 2:50 in this video.
Mump and Smoot with some of their dark humour, it starts getting really dark around 4:30.
A montage of Foo clips