Meet the man for whom being a clown is serious business
A heavy resonant voice greeted us as we braced ourselves to speak to a man who wears colourful wigs, outlandish clothes, a huge red ball on his nose and a painted smile. ‘Hello’ the warm voice lured us into the interview and from the other end, Martin D’Souza an affable 45-year-old man spoke to us.
A scene from the soon-to-be-staged act by Flubber the Clown played by Martin D’Souza (centre)
What happens when someone who fears clowns talks to one, (thankfully on the phone) to find out what’s behind that wiry bubble gum wig, and that misleading painted mouth? Going back to the tradition of court jesters to circus clowns, it was our job to find out what attracted a 20-year-old Mumbai collegian in the 1990s to the world of white make-ups and rainbow clothes. “In St Xavier’s College, I was known as Mad Martin. Having my initials as MD, I simply added an ‘A’ to make it ‘mad’. I was known so because I could do anything and entertain people without even realising that it is a part of clowning,” says a calm and thoughtful person who doesn’t sound one bit like a ‘clown’.
Flubber the Clown during an act
Decoding mad Martin
Ask D’Souza that, and pat is his reply, “I became a clown” and after a pause, he makes up his mind, “...I have always been a clown.” Yet the interlude between ‘became’ and ‘have always been’ contain a life-changing episode as we later discover. “I started earning professionally by anchoring events as the master of ceremonies. I used to always conduct birthday parties as Martin in a suit or a jacket. Some party planner said that he’d pay me 50 bucks more if I would get into a clown costume. The biggest thing for me was ‘what if someone sees me in a clown costume?’ Another person suggested, ‘Aren’t you painting your face? Go ahead and do it. No one would recognise you...’”
Calling his background as “economically unhealthy” D’Souza knew that any income from entertainment was good income. “I painted my face with watercolours, which was the only make-up we knew then. By the end of the show, the watercolours were dripping all over my face and the make-up was falling apart but the audience was having a blast because I was into the music, the games, and the dance. Everybody at that point knew that Martin was doing it and not a clown. It made me realise make-up doesn’t matter, if people connect with you and you make them happy,” hearing which our fear slowly started dissolving. D’Souza corrected us as he told us that clowns make people happy but jokers only make them laugh.
Martin D’Souza with and without his clown attire
Picturing the true Martin/Flubber, we started learning of his joy in the art of juggling, magic, pantomime, which makes him feel wonderful as he is happy not to “worry to be a master of any one art and be more popular.” Now the Regional Director of West Asia and the Middle East of the World Clown Association, D’Souza didn’t always have it this easy. Nearly six-feet tall, the quiet boy from school could fathom how his height always made him “stand out from the rest of the pack.” Since the day the make-up melted away, D’Souza resolved to apply to the University of Wisconsin where after his scholarship to study clowning, he never looked back.
So, now that the fear was on the wane, we started probing to know how Flubber came into existence. “Did the name come from the film?” and surprisingly, shared a laugh as we questioned him. “Possibly so. Flubber is an auguste type of clown who has his face partially covered with make-up with few facial muscles showing. There are different clown traditions and styles — the whiteface clown, the auguste clown, the tramp clown (think Charlie Chaplin) and others.”
The auguste clown is bumbling and naughty, two words that had a nice ring to us.
Flubber with a child during his visit to the city hospital as part of the International Clown Festival in 2012
Boo-ya, no clown business
Admitting our fear, we ask the taboo question, “But isn’t there an eerie quality to clowns as well?” Not knowing about our fear, we sense a tirade, “There are people who hate clowns and are afraid of them. There are many movies like Batman and the Joker to support that. Clowns are easy prey to pick on.
Even movies find taking off from whiteface clowns easy in order to make them look ghost-like,” D’Souza further shares the cliché of internally sad clowns, thanks to Mera Naam Joker, “I always believe that if a clown has to make somebody happy, he has to be happy internally. This whole perception — that you are sad behind closed doors and suddenly, you go out and wear a mask — that doesn’t make sense in our clown world because I have interacted with over 1,000 clowns at various conventions; everybody has major hassles in life but they are not depressed souls.”
Flubber, who weighs 116 kg and is currently learning how to unicycle, stresses that all that he performs is meant only for families and children who are as young as two or three years old, and have never seen a character in their life. Still, they feel happy when they meet him.
Speaking of his act this weekend, he shares, “It’s about three friends who keep on fighting and getting back together.” Adding cherry on the cake — his trademark acts — are action songs like Hokey Pokey and the Birdy Dance that he has created on his own as well as performs some that are from the US and Australia. Sounding merry and fun, we admit of our fear to the clown and he asks us, “now that you know me, is your fear gone?” We smile.
On May 17 and 18, 2 pm
At Canvas Laugh Factory, Palladium, Lower Parel.
Fun and frolicked