What defines a clown? Is it the elaborate costume one wears, from the heavy makeup to the red nose and shiny shoes? Is it their unique ability to make people laugh in so many ways? Is it both? Or, is it much more than that? Clowns have been a part of many diverse civilizations and cultures throughout the world, each different in their own way. Yet, throughout the years, and especially through popular culture, the world’s perception of clowns has changed dramatically. Some people have been frightened by them. Others feel that the term ‘clown’ may not exactly apply to just someone in a fancy suit who entertains children at birthday parties; rather that it applies to some of the world’s most talented performers whose abilities transcend the label of ‘clown’. Now in its second season, the documentary web series A FOOL’S IDEA, created by Brian A. Bernhard of Blight Productions, takes an intelligent in-depth look at these performers, their lives, and especially the changing face and perception of the term itself.

The series’ first season debuted with 8 episodes back in 2010, airs on its official Youtube page (see link below), and Bernhard says that season 2 will eventually amount to 40 episodes, some of which will be as two or three parters on a given subject primarily due to the extensive amount of interviews conducted throughout the series, as well as the length of those interviews (episodes will run approximately 5 to 10 minutes). Each episode airs every other Wednesday on a bi-monthly basis, which Bernhard says will give him more time to produce the remaining episodes.

In addition to the main episodes, there’s also a podcast which has aired 22 episodes to date, featuring Bernhard’s one on one interviews with many of the show’s featured artists from both seasons, plus other iconic performers from around the world including actor Doug Jones (from the HELLBOY series, plus the hit TNT series FALLING SKIES, and also from his appearances on web series like THE GUILD, THE LEAGUE OF S.T.E.A.M. and RESEARCH, previously featured here), and comedian Reggie Watts (currently appearing in the IFC comedy series COMEDY BANG! BANG!)

The podcast, which completed its second season last month, can be accessed for download through Itunes, as well as other platforms including Soundcloud and Stitcher Radio. (See links below). While no tentative date has been announced for the debut of the new season, Bernhard has more interviews “in the can”, and those episodes will air every other Monday on a staggered basis with the documentary web series. As he explains, the podcast brings viewers of the web series a more intimate, in-depth experience that the time constraints of webisodes cannot. “I felt like that was a different way to get people to know these artists better, in a different context, where you could just sit back in your car and listen to a conversation, and in that format I could get into different aspects of what that person has to offer.”

New for this season is a supplemental series called A FOOL’S IDEA PRESENTS, airing on an alternating basis with the main series, and which features the inspiring, humorous, and overall incredible personal stories behind many of these artists. (More on that later). The series is currently running a crowd-funding campaign through the new sustainable fundraising web site Patreon (see link below), where people can chip in any amount from $1 to $50 or more towards the production of new episodes of the series. Those who give to the campaign will only be charged if those episodes are released, and viewers name their price per episode.

Along with being an Emmy-winning TV producer and filmmaker, Bernhard is also a talented musician and visual artist, having majored in sculpture and minored in painting at Virginia Commonwealth University. Much of that art was inspired by his other talent as a performance artist, and in particular, his experience with the world of clowning. As a teenager, when he saw the famous wax figure of Emmett Kelly as “Weary Willie” in a wax museum he worked at, he became enthralled with clowns, eventually performing as one at the museum, and also at a fun house.

Later, he elevated his clown-inspired performance art to corporate video, but when he realized that life as a video artist wasn’t exactly a financially sustainable way of life, he entered the world of TV, and eventually went on to produce the Emmy-nominated docu-series ART OR SOMETHING LIKE IT for a New York television station, as well as winning an Emmy for producing, directing and editing two segments of another series.

Yet, after Bernhard had some creative differences with station executives, he became an independent filmmaker. Through A FOOL’S IDEA, as well as the web series format, he set out to bring viewers stories told in his own distinct style, while letting them be a part of the show’s interactive experience by contributing valuable feedback on, and suggestions for, his series through its Facebook page (see link below), a page that now has over 5,000 fans.

His journey towards a greater understanding of the clown world, as well as towards the development of A FOOL’S IDEA itself, began when he performed as a clown in a rock band called THINGS OUTSIDE THE SKIN. Yet, when audiences didn’t connect to the character as much as he had hoped, the young documentarian quickly decided to take a deeper look at the history behind the people who don thick makeup and red noses. Save for some books and movies depicting clowning, Bernhard didn’t have a clear understanding of the profession until he became familiar with the city’s thriving clown community. “I found a clown workshop in New York being taught by Jef Johnson. I went to the clown workshop, and my original idea was just to talk to people and to interview people, and he eventually convinced me to start taking classes. I started taking his classes for a couple of years, and he was my bridge into the larger clown world. He introduced me to the people from SLAVA’S SNOWSHOW (the acclaimed, award-winning children’s circus show created by legendary Russian clown Slava Polunin), and from Cirque du Soleil, and he introduced me to Jango Edwards.”

Bernhard originally created A FOOL’S IDEA as a mini-thesis project during grad school, but given the sheer amount of interviews and footage, much of which featured several of today’s best physical comedians, performance artists and clowns, he decided to transform the project into a documentary. “I had these connections to these people, and I had a Flip camera. I was hanging out with Jango Edwards (more on him later); he came to New York City to visit, and I was hanging out with another friend Jef Johnson (another legendary clown and master teacher of up and coming performers) and we just started talking about clown stuff. I busted out the Flip camera, and then I had this weird interview where they’re on the sofa, throwing popcorn at each other, and then from that I got connected to these other performers,” he says.

“At the time, my only goal was to make that first episode. I didn’t think of it as a series at all. I’d done interviews with them all that were an hour long, and I had them talking about all these different things that were more than just ‘what is clown’, so I was like, ‘why don’t I just edit these things together to answer these different questions that I talked about?’, and it sort of just started falling into place,” Bernhard recalls.

The first season of A FOOL’S IDEA features interviews with performers like Jef Johnson, Zero Boy, Deanna Fleysher (who performs as private eye Butt Kapinski), Eric Davis, best known for his uproarious, critically-acclaimed one man show Red Bastard, plus other artists like Gabriela Munoz (co-founder of the troupe CLOWN ME IN, in addition to her service with the group CLOWNS WITHOUT BORDERS), physical comedian and Cirque du Soleil veteran John Towsen, and the legendary Jango Edwards, a ‘comedian’s comedian’ as described by Bernhard. “He (Edwards) was too edgy and over the top for mainstream America, but when they did COMIC RELIEF, he was the guy who was hired to entertain the comedians (Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams). Post that, he went to Europe and became kind of like a superstar, and nobody in the U.S. knows who this guy is unless you’re a clown or performer.”

Edwards’ reputation as a ‘clown’, as well as a master teacher of both current and aspiring performers, is legendary, and his Nouveau Clown Institute, based in Barcelona, Spain, where much of the second season of A FOOL’S IDEA is based, provides a teaching space for many of the world’s most talented young jesters, as well as an opportunity for them to learn alongside some of the best in the business. “They don’t necessarily focus on American style circus clowning, or European style clowning. It’s a merge of all of that, and students get this really interesting perspective on the global world of clowning,” Bernhard says.

The second season of episodes focuses on fifteen artists who were invited by Edwards to display their incredible talents as performers. Among them are juggler, fire breather and balloon sculptor Adam Zimmerman, circus performer and comedian Jessica Arpin, plus actor and physical comedian Johnny Delight, dancer/teacher/clown Giovanna Bellina, improv specialist Mila von Chobiak, who helped Edwards open the Nouveau Clown Institute in Barcelona, and comedian and juggler Rich Potter (the lone American interviewed in season 2). Potter studied at the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Clown College, and later performed as a clown for their company for three years.

As Bernhard completed grad school, all the footage he shot from New York and on his Spain trip still sat unattended on his computer’s hard drive, and between 2011 and 2012 he finally assembled the footage into a finished product. While the first season of A FOOL’S IDEA was purely an analytical exploration of clowning, the second season takes a different approach to its overall storytelling style, not to mention giving viewers a close-up look at the artists in action. “In the second season, (there’s) a lot of workshop footage that I have so you can see these artists working out ideas, and sort of building things so it’s not just these wacky, eccentric characters. You see the humans behind the creation of these characters, and this type of performance,” Bernhard says.

Viewing the footage gave Bernhard an opportunity to develop the show’s storytelling structure, one that changed over the course of its filming. “Now that I’ve sat with this footage from the second season for a while, I’ve been able to look at it, and I basically put together all the episodes before I start releasing them, so there’s more of an arc, where it’s like (in) the first episode, you get to learn who they are, and you get learn a bit more about what they do. The idea is to slowly reveal more about them, and to get you to care more about them as you watch the series. You learn who they are, and what inspires them. They tell really interesting, great personal stories.”

While A FOOL’S IDEA brings viewers the public side of clowning, Bernhard’s new supplemental series A FOOL’S IDEA PRESENTS gives viewers an intimate look at the private side. Airing every other week, the series depicts the struggles, successes and humorous moments experienced by many of today’s top performance artists. It’s a show that Bernhard hopes will resonate with many viewers, including those already familiar with the main series. “Given the nature of the construction of it, I didn’t feel that they had the immediate connectivity that most web video would need in order for people to share stuff, so I started playing around with this idea of a spinoff series, A FOOL’S IDEA PRESENTS, where I could make more immediately viscerally connected stories that introduce you to the core and the root of what makes up a particular artist. As I release those episodes, one week is sort of the more thesis, informative documentary series, the next is the more personal, visceral story. As I go back and forth releasing those different kind of stories, I’m hoping to sort of connect to a larger audience with that.”

Two episodes of A FOOL’S IDEA PRESENTS have aired, and so far the show has featured the stories of two talented performers: Chase Culp, a young clown who Bernhard filmed and interviewed at this past year’s South By Southwest Interactive Music, Film and Comedy Festival, and Summer Shapiro, a physical comedian and clown whose life was changed forever when she learned that she had been diagnosed with cancer, but whose drive and determination to continue her career and her life remains as strong as ever.

Through Edwards and Johnson, Bernhard also met the many great physical comedians, jugglers, mimes, and clowns that feature prominently in the series, and witnessed first hand their incredible skills as performers – much of it for the first time, and much of which can be seen throughout each episode of both seasons of the show. It wasn’t long after Bernhard met Edwards that the seeds would be planted for what would eventually become the series’ second season. “After I did the first interview with Jango, he got excited about the project, and that’s when he told me about the Nouveau Clown Institute. He’s like, ‘I’ve got this school where I’m going to have a bunch of teachers and a bunch of professional students, (and) it would be awesome if you came out and did a lot of your interviews here. I’ll hook you up with a place to stay, and it’ll be awesome’. After a few months, spring break came up for me after grad school, and I went out to Spain for a week and I shot as many interviews as I possibly could.”

After Bernhard arrived in Barcelona to begin filming the students and their activities at Edwards’ school, he soon found out that while they each spoke the universal language of ‘clown’, getting them to speak about their profession on camera was harder than expected. “There were forty people in the school, and there was a myriad of different teachers. I only managed to be able to get fifteen interviews during that week, because there were a lot of people that didn’t speak English and weren’t comfortable doing interviews in English. I managed to convince a number of people with language barriers to do the interviews anyway, with translators. I managed to do five interviews with people that didn’t speak English through a translator, and I honestly had no idea what their responses to my questions were until I got home and had paid somebody to subtitle all the footage for me so I could edit it, which was an interesting experience. The things that they said were pretty awesome, (with) different perspectives from people who are from a very different culture, so I think that itself adds a lot to the second season.”

Along with the increased emphasis on creating a narrative arc throughout the season,  another key difference between the first and second season of the show was the global diversity of its participants. While the first season was comprised almost entirely of American performers, there was one notable exception that would give Bernhard a unique perspective on what it means to be a clown. “There’s one person in there, who was a friend of Jef Johnson’s, Gabriela Munoz, who was from Mexico, and I had the chance to interview her because she visited New York for a festival. She offered a nice, different perspective, and I thought that in the second season I wanted to have more of that (larger) perspective.”

The series also presents viewers with a greater perspective on these performers, each of which brought Bernhard a unique view of their profession as performers, as well as the rewards and responsibilities that come with it.  “It seems like a lot of the people who perform in this world have a lot less ego than those who you see performing in the entertainment industry, because they have so much more exposure to so many other cultures. The ego tends to be left at the door, somewhere else. They have a lot more worldly experience than your average theatre performer or filmmaker. There’s a lot of people (who) take on a shamanic role in their teaching, and (they’re) trying to get people to open up and explore their creativity from a different perspective. When you meet them, they’re kind of just like normal, regular people, but when they go onstage, they have this ability to embody something otherworldly and much more fantastic than you would ever expect them to be able to do.”

While Bernhard doesn’t set out to change viewers’ perception of clowns, he hopes that A FOOL’S IDEA will bring them a greater understanding of them, through his stories of the struggles and triumphs of the incredible performers who not only entertain millions all over the world, but who also redefine the word ‘clown’ through their artistic talents; the kind of stories that he says he could never have been able to tell in his days in commercial television. Even though he sees no financial gain from the series as of yet, he also hopes for it to be sustainable, where he can continue to bring viewers a show that could also inspire them to take a completely different look at their lives, and at the world at large.

“There are so many great things that people never experience and never see, and especially artists and creative people who get stuck in ruts. I think it’s really interesting for them to see other people’s stories, and (to) see struggles that they’ve gone through, and how they’ve managed to deal with it, how they’ve grown through their careers and what they’re doing,” he says. “I want to build up enough of an audience that are interested in the idea of creative inspiration and learning about other cultures around the world, that they might find it of value enough to support a project like this, to keep it going so I can build more stories, and create better content for people to be inspired by,” Bernhard says.

ON THE WEB: www.afoolsidea.com

YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/blightproductions

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/blightprod

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/AFoolsIdea

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/blightproductions/id609236080

STITCHER: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/blight-productions/a-fools-idea

SOUNDCLOUD: https://soundcloud.com/blightproductions

To contribute to the fundraising campaign for A FOOL’S IDEA, visit: