This speech was first given at a Toastmasters meeting,
and later
at University venue.

It is a philosophy of life, the way I see it.

The Circus of Life

Ya know … Life is a great big circus. And believe it or not, we’re all special people programmed to participate in life’s masquerade as a character in the circus in order to communicate a message or an idea. 

We learn to develop our own personas into being: husbands, wives, workers, lawyers, entertainers … clowns. And we all willingly aim ourselves to fit a stereotype in the great society … The Great Circus.

As a kid growing up in England, there were a couple of large circuses that toured the country.  I especially remember the huge big blue tent of the Billy Smart circus. They came to town with such pizzazz and created an atmosphere of real excitement for us kids.

The build up of anticipation was incredible. An extravaganza filled with color and wonder. I couldn’t wait for show-night, when I’d walk down the path on the way to the big tent and see the donkeys, horses, the camels and the elephants. Oh … I can smell it now, the air, thick with the aroma of dung.

 I also loved the clowns who would chat with the kids. One was called Coco; he had bright red hair that would rise up on both sides of his bald spot, and a big red nose. He smelled of grease paint.The clowns were so much fun.

As I got nearer to the entrance of the big top, I’d see the great man himself, Mr. Billy Smart, sitting in a deck chair smiling at his customers under a big white ten-gallon hat and a huge cigar sticking out the side of his mouth. A showman personified. He dressed the part and he was very successful. And as I wandered into the huge tent, the whole world of wonder and excitement would envelop this child’s dreams and imagination of what could be.

One time I remember my teacher asking the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. Cyril wanted to be a fireman, Roger, a market gardener, Joe, a policeman. One kid wanted to be a lawyer. Another a politician  …  no, he never made it. Then I stood proudly and revealed to the whole class that I wanted to be a clown in a circus. And the class roared with laughter. But they didn’t know what was in store for them. Did they? 

Each of us was dreaming about a character we wanted to play in life. We all do it. Perhaps we’re programmed to enjoy a certain thing so we fit the mold. Well, I did get into show business, but behind the scenes, as a Film Maker. Not a clown. I worked with show biz folk, and I traveled the world as a documentary cameraman, flying into places, which were …  quite different. But everywhere I went I saw the characters that the world had molded, and the Circus of Life started to unfold before me. 

They sent me to Communist Romania, to film Easter festivities in the churches of Moldavia, where the Black Nuns hammered on long thin planks to summon the faithful. Just a few miles up the road was the Soviet boarder where soldiers kept guard over a philosophy. Had they been programmed? But guess what province was just next-door? Transylvania. I remember looking high into the Carpathian mountains as we motored through the countryside.

There sat the ruins of Vlad’s castle. Vlad the Impaler was a character; he was so evil and blood thirsty that myths grew up around him in stories like Dracula.  

On another trip, I remember the journey between Egypt and Israel across the Sinai desert, seeing the railway tracks that Lawrence of Arabia had blown up. He was a man who created his own myth. Even the newspapers of the day talked about him as being such a shameless exhibitionist that he put the great circus leader, P.T. Barnum to shame. The Nazi armies were also a form of circus when they created rallies like Nuremberg, staged to inspire the masses into following a cause.  

There is circus everywhere. In the large arenas and in the small. And the most successful people learn how to create and control characters that attract lots of people. Abe Lincoln was a character with a tall black hat to make him look taller. Ben Franklyn was a character. round glasses, a Ladies man. How about Cornel Sanders, Donald Trump, Osama Bin Laden or Mickey Mouse?  

You are a character …  and you …  and all of us. Take Toastmasters, a great group of people who coach each other on how to get the message out. How to be better. You don’t care what the message is, but it’s all in the performance, the delivery.  It’s Showtime. I’ve joined Toastmasters in order to learn how to speak my message and to remember and articulate the story in an entertaining and informative way, so my message can be received with enthusiasm. To thrill … like a Circus thrills. What I’m looking for is how to perform, be a character, to communicate, entertain … Inspire  

As I look back at life, I see me dreaming of wanting to be a clown in the circus. And I realize, we’ve all made it. I don’t put on grease paint but I wear a costume, a suit. I don’t wear a red nose but I wear a red tie and sometimes a red rose. I don’t do acrobatics, but I drive the LA freeways and I do mental gymnastics as I grow my business. 

As I look toward the big top, I remember the old Circus master, Mr. Billy Smart, but I now see a President with a ten-gallon hat, and I see Governor, Arnold, with his big cigar sticking out the side of his mouth. Yes, even in politics there are elephants and donkeys. And I think probably some clowns. 

Life is a great big Circus. And all you need to play the game is to have a sense of wonder, excitement, imagination, and develop a really good sense of character and humor. Because life really isn’t as serious as we all make it out to be. It’s just a Circus, and we all take our turn to be the clowns. 

Thank you

Copyright©2005 Brian R. R. Hebb

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