Thursday, October 4, 2007

Clown & Web 2.0

I recently arrived in Vancouver (from San Francisco) to visit my girlfriend for a bit. Because I'm a US citizen, I had to go through customs and get questioned by a customs agent. Here is a snippet of the dialogue ...

What do you do in San Francisco?

I'm a marketing consultant for a few web 2.0 start-ups.

What are you doing in Vancouver?

I'm visiting my girlfriend.

Where'd you meet your girlfriend?

In a clown workshop in Toronto.

At this point, the customs agent looked up, focused, as if he had caught me in some kind of lie (or worse, a trap).

What's someone involved in marketing doing taking a clown workshop?

Do you really want to know?


Are you sure?

Yes, I want to know.

Ok, well, here goes nothin' ...

And that's when I explained the link not between clown and marketing but between clown & web 2.0 - hoping I'd still be allowed across the border. Ever since I finished taking Sue Morrison's Intro to Clown workshop last January, I've been struck by the metaphors between clown & the world around us. In particular, I've been both flabbergasted & inspired by how the values of the world of theatre clowning I had experience in Toronto intersected and shed light on the world of Web 2.0 I had then immersed myself in in California.

I asked the Customs Agent if he knew what the term "Web 2.0" meant.

He said, "Not really."

I said, "'Web 2.0' is basically a buzzword that's been applied to the new web -- the web that has emerged from the last dot-com bust, with new technologies & philosophies that offer a ton of new possibilities, both online & off."

The Customs Agent said, "Go on."

Then I went on to explain that Web 2.0 is all about helping people connect. Sue Morrison had always defined moments of clown as being those where audience and performer truly connect. In that ether between audience and performer - in that space - in that moment of true eye contact. You could say clowns don't exist, they exist between.

With Web 2.0, it's the same thing. We exist where we connect with others. Web 2.0 has given birth to an explosion of social networks - most innovative among them is Facebook. Facebook is famous for having almost obliterated static profiles and instead having replaced these with dynamic ever-changing "News Feeds." Your Facebook News Feed is a series of public announcements of how you've interacted with others on the network. Your News Feed constantly changes as your write on your friend's wall or attend an event with other Facebook users. So on Facebook, as represented through your Facebook News Feed, your entire existence is defined by these moments of connecting with others.

Then I offered a brief explanation to the customs agent about how transparency is rampant in both a clown show and in Web 2.0. You almost always know how a clown is feeling when they're performing. Clowns train to be as emotionally naked as possible. If they're sad, you'll see it. If they're angry, you better watch out!

Web 2.0 has enabled anyone and any group to be as transparent as they want. This is most aptly scene in the Web 2.0 phenomenon of blogging. Blogging, or the act of writing blogs, is akin to writing an online journal for everyone else to read. Millions of blogs are created every day and many people are using them to share their darkest secret, to be open about their inner feelings, or just write about what they did today. In fact, many business coaches try and convince CEOs and business owners to blog as frequently as possible. Being transparent is the new “in” as it can create numerous competitive edges for businesses & companies both small and large. Wired magazine's cover for their April issue had the heading “Get Naked!” and Clive Thompson (the writer of that issue's feature article "The See Through CEO") has even written on his personal blog: "The only way to improve and buff your reputation is to dive in and participate. Be open. Be generous. Throw stuff out there -- your thoughts, your ideas, your personality."

I then wrapped up a quick description of how clowns and Web 2.0 both embrace collaboration. A clown show is literally created between a clown and her audience. Clown shows don't generally have concretely written scripts. Rather, a show is more like a map a clown navigates with the audience. The NY-based clown, Eric Davis, is known for bringing his audience onstage with him, going into his audience to involve someone in his show, or asking a surprised theatre-goer a barrage of questions, whose answers could change the entire course of the performance. His teacher (and mine), Sue Morrison used to say, “There's no such thing as a one-man clown show!” -- implying that every clown show needs its audience to even exist.

Web 2.0 is the same thing. A wide array of web sites that have been born in the new Web 2.0 bubble bring people together not just for the sake of coming together – but to create something more. Wikipedia is the obvious example. This is a platform where anyone can create and contribute to the world's free encyclopedia. Wikipedia wouldn't exist without its users and continues to grow as more people use it and contribute. Flickr is another platform where people have created the world's largest photo library by uploading their personal photo collections. Many Web 2.0 technologies in particular also enable real-time online collaboration – ranging from web conferencing, interactive whiteboards, & the unlimited collaborative possibilities in virtual worlds like Second Life.

The customs agent seemed a bit bored by this point, as if he was expecting an entirely different answer involving undercover agents and a huge international clown bust. He handed me back my passport and said “You're good to go.”

I took my passport, quickly added that both clowns and web 2.0 websites are always in perpetual beta, and walked across the border.


Mary said...


Matthew said...

i love it !!! this is a phenomenal, well-put, amazingly articulate and succinct gem. it's nice to see you organize the ideas that you've been 'rorschaching' over the past year. your insights remind me why i do this type of work (web2.0 + clown) and beg me to review my endeavors: is what i'm doing clownlike? am i engaging, evolving, listening, empowering...

kudos !

Joe Solomon said...

Thanks Matt!!
I wouldn't have been able to write this without your help! It's one year worth of late-night phone calls, attacking white-boards together, office brainstorming & midnight epiphanies! I'm glad you found that it related to your work/life =)

In case you're interested - here's the registration page to Sue's upcoming workshop(s) -

Robert A. Ficcaglia said...

What is it with Canada!? I was once kept in a dark room in the Montreal airport under harsh lighting conditions by an agent who reminded me of the principal's assistant from Ferris Bueller with heartburn and a scary rash...she didn't seem to believe that I was going to the Jazz didn't help that I had no clue who was playing or even what the exact dates were.

Still, I’ve been through customs in Tijuana, Moscow and Mumbai faster and with more professionalism...and they had big guns and no dental insurance!

Monica Hamburg said...


Great meeting and working with you on the Ad Hack ad!

This post was both funny and illuminating.

Having this conversation with a customs agent is wonderfully surreal. I assume answering "clown workshop" in response to ANY question is bound to lead to a fun conversation.

Reaper Charlie said...

Wow this is a very emphatic post, both mentally and emotionally. I never would have thought of the link between clowns and Web 2.0 as anything to be grasped. But strangely, it is.

Also, it's pretty nice finally knowing what Web 2.0 means. It's strange being a web designer and not knowing what it is, believe me.

- Joe

(p.s. I'm that guy that you and Brandt met in the Royal Ground coffee in San Francisco that one morning)

daddy said...

OMG! Thank you. I must go back to blogging... or microblogging or something.
btw, i rarely use the tribe... get overwhelmed by the facebook... still stalk on the myspace... and crosspost on livejournal just to eventually turn back time and convert everything into an ljbook format.
I definitely want to cross into Toronto next time I visit Detroit tho.

Amy Sample Ward said...

Joe, this is terrific! Thank you for sharing it with me!

I think the most important part of social media and clowning is the flexibility: diving in, nothing knowing what is really going to happen, and continue to go with it wherever it goes go, whatever the audience/community wants to do or say or create. This is why I don't like the idea of a "community gardener" (opposed to a community builder or supporter) because gardens are filled with beautiful plants and flowers that have been cut and trimmed and tied into the shape that the gardener wanted. That's the opposite way I approach social media and the opposite way I advise nonprofits to do so.

How do we continue to keep ourselves in check? How do we evaluate if we are still being flexible, in the moment? How do we prevent the gardener/director from coming out?