The Acrobuffos: Clowning Around Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone are two clowns who met in Afghanistan, fell in love and ran away to join the circus.
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The Acrobuffos: Clowning Around

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The Acrobuffos: Clowning Around

The Acrobuffos: Clowning Around

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Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg. And joining me is Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone.


EISENBERG: Seth and Christina, welcome.


SETH BLOOM: Thanks for having us.

EISENBERG: Thank you. Now, did you always want to be a clown, Seth, your whole life?

BLOOM: No, I never thought about being a clown until I saw an audition for clown college. And I thought it'd be more fun to go throw pies and put on makeup and put on big shoes than, you know, four more years of calculus and biology.


BLOOM: And it was true. I actually went to three clown colleges.

GELSONE: Yeah, and...

EISENBERG: What, you kept failing out? Like, how did that work?


BLOOM: You could say it that way, but she...

GELSONE: And I went to Princeton.




EISENBERG: So you went to the premier clown college.

GELSONE: Yes. Sideshow Bob actually tells Cecil that he went to a clown college.


GELSONE: Princeton.

EISENBERG: Princeton.

GELSONE: So I'm in good company there.

EISENBERG: What you're doing in the Big Apple Circus as the headliner, that is a real marker of success, right? That's a big deal, like...

BLOOM: It's awesome.

GELSONE: Yeah, it's a big deal.

BLOOM: It's the best circus gig you can get in the states as a clown.




BLOOM: And it's the only - it's actually really the only clown gig we're going to get in the states doing what we do. Mostly, we work in Europe. We work for 10, 15...

GELSONE: And Asia.

BLOOM: ...20 different countries.

GELSONE: Twenty-eight, something like that.

EISENBERG: So when you say "doing what we do," what do you mean by that?

GELSONE: Non-verbal comedy.

EISENBERG: Yeah, just non-verbal. So basically there's...

GELSONE: No words, yeah.

EISENBERG: There's not a lot of opportunities otherwise to...

BLOOM: No, but we want to travel and eat at all the McDonald's that you mentioned earlier in the show.


BLOOM: We got all those questions right, by the way.

EISENBERG: Well done.

BLOOM: Because we've been in all those countries performing. But if we speak, then we can't work anywhere outside of English language countries.

EISENBERG: Of course, right.

BLOOM: So all our shows are mostly silent or mildly verbal.

EISENBERG: I as a comedian, when I do standup, if stuff doesn't work out, which happens in my act constantly...


EISENBERG: I have the ability to like talk to the crowd or admit that that didn't work out, or I can do a lot of things at least to make it know that I get it. Like how does that work for you when you do a bit, physical or nonverbal or...

BLOOM: If it doesn't work, usually we just go try to kiss someone in the audience.


BLOOM: Yeah.


BLOOM: We're equal opportunity kissers, so if Christina kisses a guy, I go for him and see if he'll kiss me. We actually start our act like that at Big Apple.

EISENBERG: I went to the show. I loved it.

BLOOM: Awesome.

EISENBERG: I did not get kissed, but there's still time.

GELSONE: Seth, grab her now.

EISENBERG: There's still time. Hey, relax.


BLOOM: They can't see it on air, but we can do the sounds.


GELSONE: He licked her.


EISENBERG: And this right there, that was a great example. You guys work together. Is there a lot of clown duos out there? How did you find each other?

BLOOM: We met in Afghanistan. Actually, I met Christina - seriously, I met Christina at a blown out building where she was performing for 10,000 boys, surrounded by military. Serious.

GELSONE: There was just four ISOF people sitting there with guns.

BLOOM: With guns, that's true.

GELSONE: To protect us.

BLOOM: Yeah.

GELSONE: It was just four.



BLOOM: This is true.

EISENBERG: You were just doing a little entertaining.

BLOOM: Well, I had gone to Afghanistan to start a circus project for kids, and then I'd heard that this woman who'd gone to one of the many clown colleges I went to.


BLOOM: See, I failed out of all of them, because I did too much calculus. And I heard she was there, and then she heard that I was there, and so we emailed each other and actually met up, in Kabul, in 2003.

EISENBERG: And then you started performing soon after? How did that start?

GELSONE: No, we saw each other in Afghanistan more than we saw each other in the States.

BLOOM: Yeah.

GELSONE: Kept going back and then became clown partners a couple of years later.

BLOOM: Yeah, and started working - and once you find a good person to work with, you don't ever want to give it up, because if it's funny and it's working, you want to keep that together.

EISENBERG: And what is that characteristic of finding your right clown duo partner?

GELSONE: Someone who makes you funny.

EISENBERG: Just someone else that makes you funny.

GELSONE: And you make them funny.

EISENBERG: Right, okay.

BLOOM: We're much funnier together than we are apart.

GELSONE: Oh yeah.

BLOOM: At least when we're working, you know, either onstage or on the street.

EISENBERG: And when did it turn from duo, clown duo to clown duo with benefits?



BLOOM: Well, not soon enough for me.




BLOOM: A bell went off in my head and I said that's the woman I should be with the rest of my life. It went like that. No holding hands, no flirting, no kissing. I said I want to be the rest of my life with you.

EISENBERG: Did you have clowns at your wedding?

GELSONE: Oh, my gosh. Did we have like 20 or 40 or something?

EISENBERG: Oh, I was kidding.

BLOOM: Eighty, eighty clowns.

EISENBERG: I was kidding.

BLOOM: No, I'm serious. You can tell the story.

GELSONE: Actually, we got married in China, in Hangzhou at a clown festival. Yes.

BLOOM: So Christina wore a dress made of white balloons that were tied into very little small balls all the way around her body.

GELSONE: Really thin gorgeous balloons.

EISENBERG: That sounds amazing.

GELSONE: When I saw the dress, I was just gobsmacked.

BLOOM: Yeah, it took them like 16 hours to twist the dress into its shape.

GELSONE: It's a big...


EISENBERG: This sounds like - well, it sounds just like a normal wedding, actually. It took them 16 hours to twist the gown. But it was balloons.

BLOOM: It was made of balloons. I didn't get to pop her out of the dress though.


EISENBERG: We talked about Grandma Clown in the little bit of trivia we did about you. And Grandma Clown, obviously huge...

GELSONE: The Grand Poobah of Clowns.

EISENBERG: The Grand Poobah of Clowns, right.


EISENBERG: PBS special, New York Times profiled.


EISENBERG: So those were big clown shoes to step into, basically.



BLOOM: Unfortunately, we don't use any clown shoes in our show.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So what was that like?

GELSONE: Oh, we're the sacrificial clowns, we know.


GELSONE: Oh yeah. We know that people are going to be like "Where's Grandma?" and we're like, "he moved to Sweden for better healthcare."

EISENBERG: Is that the truth?

GELSONE: That's actually true.

BLOOM: That's the truth.


EISENBERG: That sounds like a joke.

GELSONE: He retired in Europe. Goodbye.

EISENBERG: Everyone's like, oh, all right. All right, speaking of clowning around, I will ask you this very important question right now.

GELSONE: Is this the quiz?

EISENBERG: Not yet. I just need to know right now, are you both, Seth and Christina, ready to do an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge? Are you up to it?

GELSONE: It is the quiz.

BLOOM: For sure, yeah.

EISENBERG: All right.


EISENBERG: One more round of applause for our VIPs.


EISENBERG: And let's welcome back our puzzle guru Will Hines.



EISENBERG: And our musician extraordinaire, Julian Velard.



EISENBERG: Now, Seth and Christina, we are pitting you against each other...


EISENBERG: ...because you both have - don't get too excited. You have impressive credits, each of you, but we need to find out who is boss clown.


EISENBERG: So we've come up with a little game about what else, circuses and clowns. Are you ready?

GELSONE: I hope so.

BLOOM: Oh yeah, sure.

EISENBERG: P. T. Barnum famously bought an African bush elephant for $10,000 and brought him into the United States in 1882. What was the name of this legendary elephant, whose name became a synonym for extremely large?


BLOOM: Jumbo.


GELSONE: How do you know it was you?

EISENBERG: Seth, you got it right.

BLOOM: I got it right.

EISENBERG: You got it right, Seth. You got it right.


HINES: They survived a war on the circus, but one question into this and the marriage is destroyed.


BLOOM: Am I allowed to tickle her?

EISENBERG: No, you're not allowed. Stop that. The two of you, stop that.

VELARD: Okay, Seth and Christina, I have a musical question for you. Name this song, made famous by the one and only Melissa Manchester.


VELARD: Baby cried the day the circus came to town, 'cause she didn't want parades just passing by her. So she painted on a smile and took up with some clown, while she danced without a net upon the wire. I know a lot about her, 'cause you see, baby is an awful lot like me.


VELARD: It's very dramatic.


GELSONE: "Tears of Clown."


EISENBERG: Good guess. That was a good guess, Christina. Good guess.


VELARD: Don't cry out loud.

GELSONE: Oh, I have heard that song.


VELARD: Keep it inside. Learn how to hide your feelings.


EISENBERG: Yeah, "Learn How to Hide Your Feelings." What, you didn't just sit at home with a glass of merlot and a journal?


EISENBERG: A rookie circus performer is given what nickname, which was typically the date he started working that year?


EISENBERG: Christina?

GELSONE: First of May.

EISENBERG: First of May.


HINES: One for one.

EISENBERG: So, on the first day of headlining, were you guys called that, the First of May.

BLOOM: No, actually not.

EISENBERG: No, because you...

GELSONE: No, no one called us that.


GELSONE: We deserve a pie or something.

BLOOM: Yeah, that's right.

EISENBERG: Oh, okay. Sorry, I brought up a little sore spot.

VELARD: Okay, you need to name this song, and I don't want to let the register of my voice deceive you.


VELARD: Circus life, under the big top world. We all need the clowns to make us smile. Through space and time, always another show, wondering where I am, lost without you.



EISENBERG: Christina?

GELSONE: Is it the band or the song? I think it's Journey.

VELARD: It is a Journey song.

GELSONE: I missed the '80s, so I'm very proud of that.


EISENBERG: You just skipped over the '80s? You just missed them?

GELSONE: I was in ballet, so I was just listening to Tchaikovsky all the time.

EISENBERG: Oh, okay, I understand.

HINES: If you've been in a bar after midnight, anywhere in America, you might know this song.



VELARD: I'm forever yours.

GELSONE: Faithfully.


VELARD: That was good.

EISENBERG: All right, well it turns out, Christina you won that round.


GELSONE: What? I never win.

EISENBERG: You just did it.

GELSONE: I can't believe it.

EISENBERG: I will award you with the thing that has been missing from your life, an NPR ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.



EISENBERG: And because we love you, we're giving you one too, Seth. Here you go.


EISENBERG: Thank you so much, Seth and Christina for playing.


BLOOM: Thanks for having us.

EISENBERG: Those were our VIPs from the Big Apple Circus, Christina Gelsone and Seth Bloom.

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