Holly on radio 2!

Sep 11 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Punch Magazine, July 17, 1841

Yesterday, I got a call from one of Chris Evan's researchers. Earlier, during his breakfast show on radio 2, Chris had been pondering the origins of the gesture where you put your thumb to your nose and wiggle your fingers. "Well", thought the researcher, "who better to ask than a clown teacher?"

So here I am appearing as Chris Evans' mystery guest talking about thumbing ones nose and modern day clowning. You'll find the interview at 2 hours and 12.

Here's some of the research that didn't quite make it into the show:

To thumb one's nose is a derogatory gesture, perhaps dating back to the 1700's. It was apparently a very fashionable thing to do in the 1920's and 30's in the decadent wake of world war one.

The gesture is also known as 'cocking a snook' and there's various theories about why that might be. My favourite is the wiggling fingers represent a cockerel's comb, hence the 'cock,' but a 'snook' is a little fish and nothing to do with a nose at all. Perhaps it relates to 'snout' or 'Schnozz' which is yiddish for nose? Basically, to 'cock a snook' is to put a cockerel on the end of your nose, an unexpected gesture, which abruptly ends any previous argument.

The unexpected gesture throws focus on whatever has happened before, allowing both participants (the Nose Thumber and the Nose Thumbed) to view it through a ridiculous lens. The Nose Thumbed then has two choices - 1.) to laugh along with the Nose Thumber, thus dissolving the seriousity of their previous words or actions, allowing play and fun to take over, or 2.) to punch the Nose Thumber in the face. Either which way, the atmosphere and the course of action will change.

As a clown, this is the line I walk every day! Will they laugh or will they punch me in the face? As a clown, my job is to metaphorically raise my thumb to my nose and say "Ha ha, look at how stupid we all are!," offering people a chance to step away from their rigid view of "reality" and see themselves and each other from a different angle. This is the function of the clown, to offer alternative viewing points which create space around our fixed view of life and open us up to more expansive living.

So far in my 30 years of clowning, I have never been punched in the face. I put this down to the twinkle in my eye that invites people into an irresistible world of fun and play, a world we're all hankering to get back to in our complicated, busy lives. Come and see if this holds out during my clown residency at Bristol Museum this autumn.

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