Alden Boon

Edmund Khong on the Business of Clowning, Making Children Laugh, and Overcoming Gaming Addiction

11/10/2017

Clad in loud overalls of eye-popping colours, Edmund Khong is hurling multiple balls into mid-air with ease and dexterity. Free falling, each ball lands and sticks onto his “helmet”, like an arrow aimed straight for a bullseye. Just as he settles into his rhythm, he misses and drops one! He hunkers down to pick up the ball, now rolling towards his audience: an assembly of children. One rogue stretches out his hand and in one fell swoop yanks Edmund’s headwear off. Immediately, a paroxysm of laughter rings out and echoes throughout the room.

“This is what we call a ‘happy accident’,” says Edmund. Unlike precision drills where the slightest mistake sounds the death knell, the clowning world is more forgiving of slip-ups, which are comical opportunities. Moreover, Edmund relishes playing the part of the gregarious Auguste, an antithesis of the classic, prima-donna whiteface clown — think pratfalls and exaggerated gestures and repartee. The Auguste is also maladroit, and every attempt to right a mistake only aggravates it. “It resonates with children because they enjoy seeing adults fail. They are always being told what they are supposed to do, and here is an adult who is always messing things up.”

Edmund describes himself as “The Human Cartoon”, channelling three personas who are what he calls “amplifications” of himself. Flamboyant, whimsical and wacky is Captain Bubbles: the archetype of a circus clown. Inspired by his time of being a scout, Professor Bananas is a safari explorer, and for this character Edmund pulls from his bag of considerable tricks that include juggling and closeup magic to be a ventriloquist. There is also Captain Dazzle, a stripped-down version of Captain Bubbles whom he concocted specially for the Singapore market, where the clowning scene is still diminutive.

Edmund Khong Professional Clown Singapore Funny
Edmund with his clown makeup teacher Jim Howle. Edmund takes one hour to put on makeup, a process he describes as therapeutic. “Some performers feel they are clowns only when they have makeup on. For me, the clown exists in me: I am still a funny person with or without makeup.”

“It’s interesting: our neighbours Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia all have a strong clown culture — you will spot a clown at carnivals, birthday parties and family-day events — yet it is not so in Singapore. I guess my generation, and the generations after mine, are not exposed to clown entertainment, our concept of comedy shaped by influences such as Mr Bean, Charlie Chaplin and duo Wang Sha and Ye Feng.”

Edmund Khong Professional Clowning Singapore
There is a gradual shift towards clown lite, which is characterised by minimal makeup. It is embraced by caring clowns, for example, who reach out to children in need and stage closeup performances.

Edmund’s first memories of performing arts? Tagging along with his father to shopping malls, sitting amongst other wide-eyed children and cheering at the magic, mime and juggling acts. These performances inspired him — instead of the society-foisted “doctor” and “lawyer” answers, he would envision himself as a magician when penning compositions on ambitions. “I had this dream of being the Asian answer to David Copperfield: handsome, wind in my face, sexy assistants. But later in life, I realised I had a goofy personality — I enjoy making people laugh, rather than have them be amazed. So, I began using magic as a comedic trick.”

Some people ask: “Why the makeup? Why must you put on a mask?” But it is not a mask. Makeup brings out my emotions; it accentuates my expressions. A smile is bigger; a frown sadder.

Roy Payamal, widely regarded by many as Singapore’s first clown, was one of Edmund’s mentors. Edmund shadowed Roy in numerous street performances, and the initial experience for the then apprentice was “awkward”. “Every artist in his or her first performances is trying to emulate someone else, and so was I. But after this rite of passage, there is a need to take risks, try different things and find something you really enjoy doing.”

Read how Tattooist Sumithra Debi Defies Stereotypes by Creating Art beyond Skin Deep

Edmund Khong Professional Clown Singapore
To get himself into his over-the-top characters, Edmund thinks about the end result. “I want to make the children happy, and I want to create positive memories for them.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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