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Big Apple Clown, Adam Kuchler

“Why am I out here doing it? I believed what circus can be and I had a desire to keep my Smirkus heart when performing.”

Adam Kuchler, clown and juggler

Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour alumnus Adam Kuchler is now clowning and juggling cigar boxes in the newest Big Apple Circus show. And he carries the spirit of Smirkus with him wherever he goes. Since 1995, he has worked in 43 of the United States and 14 countries around the globe, in circuses, variety theaters, parks, cruise ships, and once in a bullfighting ring. He  appeared on Late Night with David Letterman multiple times, and in 2012, was honored to be awarded a special prize for clowning at the International Circus Festival in Figueres, Spain. In his spare time, Adam enjoys playing ukulele and eating popcorn.

Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Adam followed in his uncle’s footsteps and became a clown. He grew up always wanting to be a clown – juggling, unicycling, stilting – mainly having learned about it through his uncle who was a Ringling Clown in the late 60’s.  “There was a circus parade in Milwaukee and my uncle came into town to do Ernest Borgnine’s makeup, and it was the coolest thing in the parade.”

“I found out about Circus Smirkus through books. There was no Internet back then and I was learning about circus from whatever books I could find.” One such publication was The Circus Report, a weekly magazine about circus in America. At the back of the magazine were classified ads with shows looking for clowns. “I told my mom I was going to join a circus and she responded that it needed to be a circus for kids. In the magazine I saw a review about Circus Smirkus, a circus for kids, and the reviewer talked about it like it was a real circus. My mom was trapped.”

Adam then called up government offices in Vermont to check up on Smirkus and found that it looked alright. He wrote a letter to Smirkus and sent a video to Rob Mermin that was 40 minutes long doing everything he knew about clowning, juggling and costumes. He once asked Rob why he was accepted to tour and Rob said that he took kids he saw were dedicated – kids who found ways to learn on their own, for example, people who did straps in their garages. Adam had that quality. And that summer, Adam’s father drove him from Wisconsin to Vermont.

Adam traveled two Big Top Tours with Circus Smirkus; 1994 in Houdini Lives and 1995 in Class Clowns. The first year was also the year Jeff & Julie Jenkins of Midnight Circus were the directors, which was the year that Rob Mermin was co-director of clown college at Ringling. Adam came to Smirkus wanting to be Ringling clown (and eventually went on to clown college and toured with Ringling for 4 years). He did no acrobatics and at first he thought everyone at Smirkus was better. But after time, he realized that Smirkus was more the spirit, not just the skills. He says, “Skill is a part and personality is the difference.”

“Rob had a gentleness to him – there was a poetry about him in the ring – and Smirkus also set me up for the connection with an audience and a community. A feeling that a circus can be important and beautiful. Those are things that I carry with me.” Adam learned about clowning with coach Stewart Lippe, whose taught ideas of aesthetic and qualities of how to get a laugh. Adam says, “Yes, you can get a laugh, but that doesn’t mean you should – don’t be mean for a laugh. Stewart taught us to take responsibility towards humanity in our work. It was important to think about where the laughs were coming from and find ways to touch people emotionally. I learned it hard from them.”

“Children are natural clowns and in performing they have to make choices. Clowning is all about the character, and their heart, and how they show it. Rob has that gentleness. Today in society there’s too much consciousness – some stuff that may have been funny in the past, isn’t funny anymore. Violence is not funny or gender or sexuality. This has changed clowning. It’s more important today to understand, ‘why is that funny?’ ”

At Smirkus, Adam’s skill was cigar box juggling. And even years later, this is what got him into the Big Apple Circus. Even though it’s been a long time since Smirkus, there are parts that are still central in his life. “There’s a value in learning circus – circus is for everybody. We’re all valuable, circus is not just for the professionals. Circus brings people together.”

Adam’s parting words, “Circus as a professional is a terrible idea. 24 years later there aren’t many people around from when I started and not many who have made a lot of money. It is a life of insecurity and I don’t like to be involved with encouraging others to go into circus. You must follow your heart – if people want to be in the circus, they are going to. Let the kind of work you’re interested in doing guide you in your pursuits. But you must WORK HARD. You can’t be lazy about it. And you need to always be a good person. All the jobs come from relationships that you form with people. There are very few talent scouts and work comes from your connections and networks.”

Watch this video of Adam Kuchler and his clowning partner Mark Gindick in a TV interview promoting the Big Apple Circus: