With stand-up dominated by the one-comic-and-a mic-form of observational humour, it's little wonder that some comedians are seeking more alternative modes of expression to set themselves apart. The Boy with Tape On His Face distinguishes himself with a joyously retro presentation of silent, performance-led humour, while the bestowal of the Edinburgh Comedy Award on Phil Burgers last year, for his mute, sexualised and playfully scary bouffon Dr Brown, echoed and endorsed the stand-up circuit's burgeoning interest in clowning.
Taught, like Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter, by the famed clown tutor Philippe Gaulier, Burgers has been conducting workshops for the last three years, often to groups that include his fellow comedians. His award-winning show Befrdfgth grew organically out of these lessons, specifically an exercise where "you have nothing", the Californian explains. "I just thought, 'Well, if I'm making these people do it, I should probably see if it works for me.'"
Intensifying the process, last week at the Underbelly on the Edinburgh Fringe he performed an all-day experiment, Bexperiments, made up of eight consecutive 50-minute shows. James Hamilton, a writer-performer in the sketch group Casual Violence, took Burgers' three-day clowning workshop at London's Soho Theatre last year. "I found it horrific," he says. "As a performer, you bring certain things to the table, your own way of doing it. And he really made me question those and second guess myself a lot."
Luisa Omielan enjoyed word-of-mouth success in 2012 with What Would Beyoncé Do? and has reprised the show this year, exposing her tortured soul to a degree rare in stand-up. After studying clowning at the Second City school in Chicago, where alumni included Bill Murray, Tina Fey and Steve Carell, the Londoner credits her time there, and, subsequently, with tutor Mick Barnfather in the UK, with enabling her "to be more honest, realising that I've got the potential to be funny even if I don't say anything. You have to really get in tune with what you're doing and be your most vulnerable."
Fringe comedian Stuart Goldsmith has attended several clowning courses since 1997, including Burgers'. He says: "I feel that if I go back enough times, I will get close. I can be funny anywhere, all the time, with no preparation."