The French master teacher Philippe Gaulier has worked with stars like Sacha Baron Cohen. But at 78, are his methods, which include insults, outdated?
ÉTAMPES, France — It’s unlikely anyone alive has made more clowns cry than Philippe Gaulier.
In a supposedly more sensitive era, hundreds of people regularly travel from all around the world to a small town an hour outside of Paris to study clowning with Gaulier, a gruff 78-year-old éminence grise known for his blunt, flamboyantly negative feedback. Wearing a pink tie, beret and stern look over a bushy white beard on a recent tour of the school, he looked the part of the guru — a mischievous one. He pointed at a large photo of himself teaching in China and joked he was “Clown Chairman Mao.”
In his office, sitting across from his wife, Michiko Miyazaki Gaulier, a former student who is now a colleague, he made no apologies for his pugnacious style, saying students who are not funny have a choice: “You have to change or leave the school. You are boring. If you want to stay boring all your life, you will never be a clown.”
Gaulier has been teaching clowns for about half a century, but his stature has grown in recent years, becoming an influential and divisive figure of considerable mystique, the Dumbledore of round red noses. The primary reason for his raised profile is the success of Sacha Baron Cohen, a former student who praised Gaulier on Marc Maron’s podcast in 2016 and described receiving bad reviews from him in a 2021 appearance on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
“I was always interested in comedy, but it was Gaulier who helped me understand how to be funny,” Baron Cohen wrote in the preface to Gaulier’s book “The Tormentor.”….. Read the full length article by Jason Zinoman in the New York Times.