Gina “GiGi” Allison – Funny Girl!
Gina “GiGi” Allison loves to clown around. She first joined the Ringling Red Unit in 1986 as a Showgirl. After attending RBBB Clown College in 1988 under the direction of Steve Smith, she then went on to the Blue Unit where she met and began clowning around with Chris Allison, who was also a member of the world famous Ringling Clown Alley.
Currently they work together in a fast paced comic clown show that gets audiences roaring. The part that makes it very fun for her and her audience is the extra ad-libbed comedy that comes during the show. She says she loves this “on the spot” inspiration. This is partly a result of having a wild, comic clown as her cohort, the resulting improvisation makes the show sharper, and the laughs louder. Gina says, “We are always trying to improve through improvisation and with that, you can really keep things fresh. That makes clowning around even more fun!” Many of the new bits get a permanent spot in the show and then over time the show just keeps getting funnier.
Gina loves to clown and has been making people laugh for more than 25 years. “It may be cliché but it really comes down to this… At the end of the day… bringing joy to others brings joy to you. It’s really that simple.”
Gina studied hard to be silly while at Clown College. She has many influences including her favorites Carol Burnett and Lucy.
However, her greatest comic influence was probably her Grandmother. “From the time I was five years old until 6th grade I remember my grandmother made me a new clown costume every year. I don’t know why, maybe because they were easy to sew.” Her Grandmother was a huge inspiration. “My Grandmother was naturally, just so darn funny! She was short and plump and yet she did not really know it. She would stand in middle of the kitchen and suddenly jump into a fake tap dance number. She was a hoot and often had my twin sister and me in a fit of giggles.”
Gina also recalls the pranks her Grandmother pulled. “One of Grandma’s craziest gags was when she bought a whole fish and took out the eyes, wrapped them up in a nice gift box and gave them to a friend. She was very – “in the moment.” She was always just creating fun and funny situations. I would go to her house every day. It was always fun.” Gina’s twin sister also loved Grandma’s pranks, but chose what many of us would see as a more straight and normal life, as a TV anchor woman.
When it comes to the creative process Gina bounces her ideas off her husband, Chris. “He is really the lead clown and I help to tweak things along the way. We have performed many of the same routines for years, but they still continue to evolve and it’s those changes that make it better and keep it fresh. It is mostly me suggesting things and him saying “no” (she says with a laugh).” But as all good brain-stormers know, a lot of ideas on the table will lead to that one, perfect idea.
Chris “Bucky” Allison toured with Ringling Bros. for a total of 11 years and Gina traveled with the big show for 9 years. They clowned together on the Blue & Red Units for 7 years.
Leaving the Circus was a difficult adjustment. “The circus was a totally different world. The first year we left the circus it was very difficult to find our way. I don’t know how we didn’t kill each other. After the circus, the first job we had together was traveling and performing full circus style clowning on a boat. I won’t call it a cruise ship as it was more of a party barge. We went from Finland to Sweden, back and forth. It was basically like a booze cruise.”
On these “cruises” at 10:00PM the passengers packed into the lounge for the show. It was a Vegas style showroom with booths, small round tables, etc. She does not recall the length of the performance. “Whatever length the show, it was too long. We had a lot to learn, we didn’t know how to really play that type of crowd, but another challenge was that half the audience was drunk. (The other half was waiting at the bar for a drink, on their way to getting drunk). We did not know how to utilize the audience. In the circus, you had 3 -10 minutes to get in, get the laugh, and get out. We are still learning how to improvise and adapt to the audience and our surroundings. It continues to be a work in progress.”
Gina’s transformation from dancer in the circus to full-fledged clown was a great challenge. “For me it was a really big step into those large shoes. I was a trained dancer and performed professionally for Ringling and then, I totally turned that around by becoming a clown. I tried to make them two totally separate things. I did not want to be labeled. I tried to push the dancer away. But, over the years I became more confident as a clown, so then I could embrace the dancer in me.”
A dancer’s training could be considered a very good stepping stone into the comedy world. Dancers have poise, posture and a real sense of communicating through non-verbal methods. A dancer in the circus also has a sense for interacting with other acts and the ability to focus attention where needed. A dancer also has a strong physical ability that can help with pratfalls. Dancing could probably be a perfect training ground for the theatrics of clowning.
She knew how to communicate silently, yet at first she kept the dancing skills separate. “At the beginning, I shied away from the dancing background because I wanted the other performers to respect me. I later embraced it and realized the benefits.”
Her advice to us, as clowns, “Embrace who you are, and what you have, and let that really shine through. Magnify the real you. A lot of clowning is just amp-ing up your own personality.”
# # # Norman the Clown is an entertainer from Minnesota and has performed across the U.S. and in 8 other countries. Norman