Doctor’s orders Doctor Brown’s anarchic clowning won him many fans and plaudits when he debuted at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011. This year he’s back, and he is entering the world of kids’ comedy. Tom Hackett finds out what makes him tick.
’m just bored. I’m just really bored,” says Phil Burgers, partway through our interview. He’s been extolling the pleasure of “pure, raw” live performance and “silly, stupid play” for a good five minutes, so this sudden comment comes as a surprise. You’re bored? “Yeah man, so many things out there are just so, so boring.” Reports of Burgers’ live shows, in which he performs as his mostly mute, borderline insane clown character ‘Doctor Brown’, make it clear how this boredom manifests itself. The bushy-bearded, slightly wild-eyed American takes out his frustration with the mundane by creating an anarchic world in which normal social boundaries seem to be stripped away. Many of the things that Doctor Brown does on stage are hard to watch, and harder to describe. He brings out props and acts out strange, ritualistic dances with them. He moves amongst his audience and invites people up on stage to help him with odd tasks, or participate in awkward role plays. He does all manner of daft things with bananas, fans, masks, and swivel chairs. In his shows for adults, which he has been touring to great acclaim for a few years, he frequently gets semi-naked and often seems to pose a physical threat to the punters. Burgers describes his kids’ show, which premiered at the Fringe last year, as pretty much the same thing “minus all the adult themes.” This is hard to imagine, because the adult-oriented menace of his shows is the main impression many people leave with. But for him, the transition was elementary. “I realised that I was already doing a kids’ show for adults,” he states, “and I thought I might as well just do it for kids.” The playfulness that kids naturally respond to was already there, and all he had to do was strip out the “sex and violence,” and develop what was left. “I’m just being an idiot with kids, in the same way as you would be with your nephews or your children,” he says, perhaps too modestly. “I think anyone has done a clown show, if you like kids and if you’ve made a child laugh before. It’s just that. But done in
a theatrical setting, with some of the tricks of the trade.” Burgers is almost evangelical about playfulness. “I just believe in play, in children’s play. I just believe in it as a form of living,” he says excitedly. “I love playing and being a total idiot. I love it. It’s free, as opposed to having to get things right, and be good, and be moral, and be educational. I don’t wanna have to do stuff I don’t wanna do.” He has a kind of down-home directness in conversation, and resists over-analysing his approach. He trained in Paris with Philippe Gaulier, a legendary scholar of clowning and a notoriously hard taskmaster, but the only thing he’ll say about this is that it was “very difficult… But good. Difficult was good.” When I press him further on his training and career thus far, his frustration with anything too pat or obvious erupts again: “Is this going to be another boring question?”
84 fest edinburgh festival preview guide 2012
Right Dr Brown Left Magical signing tiger
Published on Jul 15, 2012