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The Jester of Buckingham bringing Middle Ages Silliness back to Britain.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Modern Day Jesters

Who are the modern day Jesters?

Mr Lloyd is coming in with the questions at the moment. I really appreciate it as it gives me something to ponder and suggests that someone is interested in what I am scrawling onto these pages. Mr Lloyd actually asked this question a few days ago and I did not update my blog immediately as I was trying to actually formulate some sort of answer that both did the job of answering the question but one that I was also very happy with. So, what was that question posing the most elusive of answers? Who would be the Jesters of today? Hmm, whom could I Jester with, whom would wear the old cap'n'bells well. Has stand-up comedy taken over from where Jesters faded out.

It is a tricky question and one that I have been giving a lot of thought to. So, I need someone alive, in the public eye and amusing that would make a good Jester. I suppose we really have to look at the skills of the Jester before we decide whom is the modern embodiment of them. As a Jester I look for various aspects to appear in my act. 

I want it to be funny first and foremost. What is the point of a Jester if they do not make people laugh. I want it to be versatile, I don't just want to be doing magic in a costume. I want to incorporate other skills such as acting, music, mime and juggling.  I want the act to be accessible to all ages and cultures. Even if they don't understand what I say all the time for whatever reason, I want them to be able to visually follow what I am doing and be happy because of it. So, Funny, Versatile and Universal. 

My first thoughts obviously went to the greats such as Tommy Cooper and Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. Those modern day clowns without the red nose. However it is sad that they have all since passed on and could no longer take their rightful place as Modern Jester. 

I think I have come up with a few that I find suitable. Let's see if you agree.

Rowan Atkinson
The man that bought Mr Bean and Blackadder to life. From excellent cameos as bumbling priests in Four Weddings and a Funeral to the camp perfectionist sales assistant in Love Actually. Atkinson is a modern day genius. (A word that is used far too often to describe the talents of any Tom, Dick or Harry but one that is fully suitable here) - Some of his early stand up material featured a lot of mime work. His invisible drums, his piano performance. Both fantastically crafted pieces of stage work that could be enjoyed by anyone. His mastery of accents, his facial expressions, his range of characters. Just when I thought I had seen the full range of his abilities (he mimed in Bean, he acted in Blackadder, he used accents and characters galore in his stand-up and sang for Comic Relief) he goes and suprises me by appearing in the West End in the demanding role of Fagin, more characterisation, more singing and a lot of dancing too. Reviews have been amazing and people have flocked to see him. Hardly suprising really. He is a performer but shy and retiring when he is out of costume. 

John Cleese
Another performer that has influenced me over the years has to be the lanky python, Mr Cleese. He definitely has funny bones, I believe he is a man you can just look at and find funny. His face does it. (That sounds a little cruel?)but he does have a funny features. He is very expressive with his eyes, his mouth and even the way his nose moves. Those long legs have amused us in various forms, from insane walking in The Ministry of Silly Walks to mock goose-stepping in Fawlty Towers. John Cleese is a natural comic, he is intelligent enough to make good use of his speech but also not reserved so that he cannot use his body as a (very funny) tool. It is a deadly combination of comedy class. Not only that be I believe he is a genuine English eccentric. There are not as many of those around as we believe but I think he is one of them. Also, he is not afraid to be occasionally shocking - his eulogy for Graham Chapman is a fine example of bad taste in good taste. The faces of the congregation as he swore profusely and said "Good Riddence" was classic.

Boris Johnson
Yes, I have included the Mayor of London on my list of modern day Jesters. Boris is often described in the media as a clown or a buffoon. If you look at the dictionary definition of Jester. buffoon and clown appear there too. I think there is a certain innocence about Boris which masks a razor sharp political mind and I think that is the closest we have to Jesters of olde. Often the olde Jesters were keen courtiers as well as Jesters and gained a huge amount of influence and power despite their appearance as foolish. Boris may appear foolish at times but he has indeed won a seat of extreme influence and power (And good on him I say) - When asked about the recent snow he came out with such naturally witty lines as "No one can deny it is the right quality just in the wrong quantity" and when challenged by Jeremy Clarkson about being a buffoon in public but clever below he replied with "You cannot ignore the distinct possibility that under the carefully constructed veneer of a buffoon there actually is a buffoon" (or words to that effect)  - Boris has a natural charm and charisma that means that people adore him and trust him with their city. No one could believe it when he became Mayor. Just like The Duke of Buckingham could not believe it when Archy the Jester became the most important foreign man in the Spanish court. The similarities are too numerous to ignore. (Also it seems very Jester-like to be reprimanded for riding a bicycle in City Hall!)

So there we are, three modern day Jesters in my mind. Atkinson for his high class of skill and many different abilities, Cleese for his attitude and his general eccentric nature and Johnson for striking similarities to the political games played by the Jesters of olde.

I hope that will suffice as an apt answer. If you have someone you think I should have included (or indeed you feel one of my trinity should be change or removed) please do let me know. I like a good discussion. If you cannot have totally free speech on a blog of a Jester, where can you, eh?


  1. An absolutely top class post that answers my question posed in a superb way. I am running out of superlatives but Boris as a modern day Jester is just inspired.
    And yet soooooooo true!!

    If these are your foolish thoughts, remind me never to get into an intellectual debate with you.

  2. Excellent post! While I'm not familiar with the mayor of London, I'll completely agree with Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese. I've never thought about it the way you describe, but they are truly our modern day jesters.

    I look forward to your posts!