Vintage, Retro and Perfect Imperfection

Maybe it’s because our idols are from an earlier time. Maybe it’s because we are inherently escapsists. Whatever the reasons, a lot of people involved with live performance love vintage.

I was so lucky to be the first clown at Giffords Circus, a beautifully styled, old fashioned, travelling circus. The gorgeous costumes and hand painted waggons are as much a part of the show as the spectacular acts.

Similarly, the burlesque scene in the UK is increasingly defined by its retro costumes. And there is hardly a clown in the western world whose outfit is not, at least partly, a tribute to costumes of yesteryear.

But is there more to it than just love of vintage fashion, or just a desire to recreate our favourite images of theatre and performance?

For me, there is something very specific about the things that we appropriate from the past. It is partly the luxuriant textures of wood, velvet and heavy cloth – as opposed to plastic, polyester and plastic.

But more importantly, many of these vintage items come from a time before the efficient homogeneity of mass production – they are imperfect – and for visual comedy, there is nothing better than something that is imperfect!

To create some good, simple gags, choose a scenario and then find props for that situation which don’t quite work properly. It won’t take too much exploration and repetition to create some good fun.

One of my favourite routines is trying to pick up some old trestle table legs. The trestle legs are a perfect example of an imperfect prop from a bygone age. They have been quickly knocked up in a shed, they have not been designed to be perfect, they have not been designed to high safety standards(!) and they are unique and unpredictable. I also do this gag with modern folding chairs, but it’s just not the same: the hinges operate smoothly, they don’t make a funny clacking noise and, frankly, they work properly.

On one level I love vintage for the timelessness that it allows – an audience can imagine a world undefined by the context of occurring on a specific date. On another level, I love the luxurious materials. And finally and most importantly, it is filled with imperfection, which for a visual comedian, who is looking for things to go wrong, is… perfection!

Is vintage is just about clinging too hard to our influences?

Or does vintage style add something to a performance?

Or is it about something else?

Please let me know what you think!

We want New Slapstick as a resource for everyone involved in visual comedy of any kind.

We’re putting our money where our mouths are and creating films of our own. To have a look at the attempts so far, click here: