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Clowning around

Every class has its clown, but it's pretty hard to stand out in comedy school. Nevertheless, the Yukon's Claire Ness managed to annoy instructors and fellow students alike with her over-the-top personality.

Every class has its clown, but it’s pretty hard to stand out in comedy school.

Nevertheless, the Yukon’s Claire Ness managed to annoy instructors and fellow students alike with her over-the-top personality.

“People didn’t appreciate my positivity,” she said last week.

“People think comics need to be morose.”

Ness is anything but.

The Yukon born and bred all-around-entertainer has spent nearly seven years working and training outside of the territory.

Now she’s back, looking to entertain her hometown and teach others to do the same.

Ness spent two years at Toronto’s Humber College studying comedy writing and performance.

But it was outside the classroom that Ness discovered her true passion.

On a whim, she started training at a circus gym.

“That’s where I met my circus family,” said Ness.

She began training with the friends she met at the gym and performing as well.

The group put on shows and organized a monthly circus cabaret, where Ness would do vaudeville, comedy and acrobatics as well as clowning and singing.

“It was like a variety show,” said Ness.

“It was crazy, just like its name: we called it the Lunacy Cabaret.”

After completing her program at Humber, Ness became the head coach of the kids programming at Zero Gravity Circus in Toronto.

For four years, she ran circus summer camps and after-school programs.

She also continued performing, did some corporate shows and even played a starring role as the only clown at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Despite all her experience, Ness wanted more training.

She decided to run away from one circus and join another, moving to Montreal to do a year-long trainer’s program at the National Circus School.

The school is the Harvard of clown colleges, and is the main recruiting ground for Cirque du Soleil.

But Ness didn’t want to work for the world’s most popular circus.

“I was more interested in coming back to the Yukon to give back to the community and start from scratch on my own,” she said.

“I never felt needed in Montreal - it’s so saturated with circus.

“I wanted to start from a place where I feel inspired and can really make a difference within the community.”

Ness started by offering her services as a singing and dancing stilt walker, balloon animal twister, face painter and clown.

You’ll probably see and hear the stilt-walking Ness towering above you at the next festival or event you attend.

For those who would like to get a taste of the circus - before making the decision to run away and join one yourself - Ness is offering adult circus classes.

The weeklong night classes run from 6 to 8 p.m. at Leaping Feats.

The week of July 25, she’ll be offering a circus props intensive - teaching students to spin hula hoops, poi and juggling balls.

A beginner clown intensive starts August 1. The advanced clown intensive begins August 16.

And the week of August 22, Ness is putting on a bouffon intensive.

Bouffon, for the uninitiated, is the fine art of being a fool.

It’s basically satire. By making fun of herself, the bouffon makes the audience squirm in their seats - like Borat or Homer Simpson.

“It came from when the king and queen used to invite the swamp people - all the rejects of society, the hunchbacks and the deformed people - once a year to put on a play,” Ness explained.

“They try to make fun of the king and queen and show them how terrible they are being to their people without it being too obvious.

“Their goal was that the king and queen go home and slit their wrists because they’re so terrible to their people. And if not that, then at least create some positive change for the kingdom.”

Ness doesn’t plan to stop there.

She wants to open a black-box theatre in Riverdale - something with high ceilings and rigging points where she could run a circus school and put on shows.

She’s also organizing a Solstice Cabaret at the Guild Hall.

“That’ll be the first sort of fundraiser for the Yukon Circus Society,” she said.

Ness is the only member of the circus society so far, but she hopes that she’ll inspire enough people to join very soon.

Organizing a society, putting on classes, starting a theatre and working certain government-run events is a lot of work, said Ness.

And not the entertaining type of work that she loves. There’s a lot of organizing, a lot of paperwork and a lot of red tape.

“It all involves a lot of jumping through hoops,” she said.

“But we trained for that at the circus.”

All of Ness’s weeklong workshops cost between $175 and $200 and are available in both French and English.

You can register at Leaping Feats.

Ness will also be offering some aerial workshops (silks, aerial hoop) and some circus camps for kids as soon as she can find the right venue.

Contact Chris Oke at