What follows when the dream’s over? The circus art belongs to the past, so does the boyhood of a clown Steve Muñoz. We attempted to come back and shake the history one more time… Circus used to be shocking, it used to be a display cabinet of strangeness, but now it’s more about authenticity and life-style, which is not acceptable for society anymore. I intend to enter the personal life of people from the circus, especially into their childhood’s perception of this environment. I try to leave some space between them and circus stuff. I’m interviewing them as an extension of their film characters from Birdies, Orphans and Fools (Juraj Jakubisko), The Drifters (Jay Walker)…
ŠM: You’re from a circus family that goes back 8 generations. Can you tell me more about growing up in the circus?
SM: My first memory is when I was about 5 years old and we had lived in a circus in Germany. I remember very clearly that I used to watch the show every day with my grandmother because I loved to see my grandfather act as a clown. I liked to do many other things when I was a child, I wanted to become a football player at one point but the circus was my one true passion I would say. It started with juggling, not with a comedy. I used footballs and stuff like that, but then I came to the point I think three years ago when I felt the need to change my career a bit. Since my grandfather told me he sees me as a funny person and thinks I have a talent for comedy and I should try it, I said why not.
ŠM: What happened after this decision?
SM: Immediate success! (laugh) I became a clown, now I do not do juggling anymore, I make a fool of myself every day. My first public experience as a comedian was in Spain. It happened in a circus, where I did my first steps and where they offered me a place, but in the meantime I did not stay.
Clowns have to invent some jokes that are comprehensible anywhere on the planet and Spanish or Latinx seem to have a very specific taste. Some of them would never work in the Czech Republic for example. Imagine there is a blindfolded guy pushed against the wall. He’s holding a balloon between his legs. The clown has a gun and puts a packet underneath the man’s legs. It would mean straight away, that if he misses, man’s balls will fall into the packet. In Spain, it’s very funny, but when I did it in Czechia people did not understand. The joke continues like this: you put a big packet underneath the balloon, then you look at the guy and gesticulate like no, no, no you have a small penis, so you put the small packet and then people laugh.
In Czechia, the mentality is different again and people don’t laugh, they even look baffled, and in the end, you come out from the situation as a true fool.
It’s refreshing to work in Czechia or any other country, where you can learn new stuff and get new ideas, implement different types of humour and opinions to your artistic work. It’s beneficial not only for circus art but more for all kinds of arts if you can adjust to every country.
Different cultures have different ways of thinking and if you succeed to work anywhere and catch attention, you have become more valuable.
In case my jokes would exclusively fit Latin standards, I wouldn’t be able to reach the international audience! That’s what my goal is! I deserve to have a name in different countries, better the whole world, at least in the world of circus!
ŠM: Then my question is why don’t you use new technologies/mediums to go worldwide?
SM: Honestly, I don’t have the knowledge to do this kind of thing and I’m the person who gets anxious when I’m lost in technology. I prefer not to play around, I prefer not to make myself look stupid…
ŠM: How is that? You’ve changed your mind and became a clown, even though you had no idea what could be the result.
SM: Yes, but it still belongs to the world of circus, in which I feel comfortable. In the ring I do not shy away, whereas in real life I am very shy. The ring gives me the power and I feel like no one is better than me, even funnier or better juggler… When you have this mindset, you win. Confidence sells well, but you can’t bring it outside, because you might become cocky and nobody likes a cocky person. That’s what I learned from my grandfather. He was the real gentleman… humble and kind person, even though famous in the circus world. He would never talk about his success. As he says: “Good is not when you say it, it is when other people talk about you.”
ŠM: How had he become so famous?
SM: Now, I’ll tell you a bit of a family history from my grandfather’s side: My grandfather’s father didn’t come from a circus. Actually, he was a magician for the king of Spain, which means he was Spanish. After he met with a beautiful Portuguese woman from the circus Cardinale (the great circus at that time) they fell in love, they became a couple and they seeded the Muñoz lineage. Angelo Muñoz has 6 brothers and they are all used to working together. Having a big family is typical for circus life in the past since it’s extremely useful: one family collaborates for 5 or 6 acts (clown acts, trampoline, acrobats, etc.). And what he told me about his popularity is that one needs the years of practice, years of making people laugh. The success goes hand in hand with the experience. You never know if your act is good or bad before you try it in public. It’s always a risk.
ŠM: What is important for clowns?
SM: To have a routine! Three parts: start, middle, and end. This creates the chemistry in all the acts.
ŠM: How would you describe your childhood?
SM: While I and my brother were growing up, our mum schooled us. But, as my poor mother is not a teacher and she got two boys, one worse than the other, and even though she has English, French, and Portugese language diplomas, it didn’t work well… I must say that my brother turned out smarter than me, more polite than me, and in total a very good boy. He grew up in the town, where he went to a normal school and was living in a normal house with our, at that time, already retired grandparents. Without constant moving forward… I, one year, I was doing school in Germany, then another year in Holland, then back to Portugal, then Italy and it was quite chaotic. Then, there was a circus school for all nomadic children in Italy, where they settled in a boarding school with private teachers…That was when I was around 12. I’ve spent 1 year there and they had the best teachers for acrobatics, but not for juggling and I’ve set my mind on juggling…
ŠM: How did you earn your skill then?
SM: After a little self-reflection I know I’m not a great juggler, but what makes me a bit more proud is that no one taught me and I had the mental power to say “if no one wants to show me, I’ll teach it myself.” If you put your hand and time to it, you can do whatever you want… simple.
ŠM: What about your son?
SM: Angelo’s now in a football club training, he’s gonna be 7 this year. Her mum took him to Moldova when we got a divorce. At the time, he was about 4-5… I mean he was still quite young but used to be very enthusiastic about the circus. What child doesn’t like the circus? Moreover, once a child lives in such an environment, they’re not happy to leave it. When we got divorced I became a clown. It’s the right time to make things funny… When you’re trying to entertain at the times you’re sad, during the worst period of your life, it might give your act a very sarcastic impression… I was not at the right place at that moment, neither physically nor mentally. My head was in the clouds. To become a clown was the only opportunity to take my mind off things, to relax, until I really had to stop for a while and put myself together to clear my vision.
After all, it is all worth it when my son looks up to me as to his father… He does mimic the funny faces and everything… But to be true, I’d be happy as well if he becomes a football player. It brings you a greater career than circus and he has already been recognized as the biggest young talent in Moldova. I’m so proud of him! Of course, I’d love to be there and support him as much as possible, but the season started, so I can’t leave now. I wouldn’t say my ex-wife doesn’t support him enough, but it’s a different style… He trains every single day and if I’m there, the sound of clapping hands follows every little goal of his. He just got it! Other children could be sometimes waiting for the ball to come back, but he got an endless flow!
ŠM: As a child, did you have an opportunity to make friends outside the circus?
SM: Not so much. It’s not like you don’t want to, but many people would discriminate against you, cause you’re living in a caravan, you’re like gypsies and stuff. So, I do not have many. I don’t like people who are critical without further knowledge… I mean yes, there are circuses which treat animals bad… Nobody says that they do not exist, I’m not going to lie. But we have treated our animals well through all the generations. I don’t think is fair, that one idiot did something stupid that we all have to suffer for it. That’s why I don’t have many friends. People judge you and automatically see you in a bad light when you say you’re from the circus environment, where people are working with animals. I don’t have animals, but I’m of that ilk. We always had animals in my family. (My father’s side of the family had animals, my mother’s side did acrobatics, clowns, etc.). It’s hard. You try to be nice and make some friends around, but the moment when you should tell everybody where you are from is always crucial…
ŠM: So, who are your friends from the outside world?
SM: In Portugal, I made those friends when I was 13-18. I used to come there every summer, it was my holidays after a whole year of work. My parents stayed in the circus and I went to see my grandparents. That’s how I made friends there. But now, no one is living there anymore.
Let me give you an example. In this country, it’s not really a smart thing to say you’re from the circus when you go downtown. In Czechia, you better don’t say it. Doesn’t matter to whom you talk, I can give you many examples of that when you try to be nice and… Me and Amedeo went to a disco, we found some friends there, some young people, we started talking… There is laughter and there comes the question: “Your guys are funny, where are you from?” We say: “Portugal, Italy…” etc. “Oh, what do you guys do?” they’re still friendly, very friendly…the moment we say “We do circus.” Moreover, I always try to say I’m a comedian. But you know, Amedeo has elephants… To me it sounds amazing, dreamily when you say “I have two elephants.”, but the moment you utter this sentence, every time it is the same story: “Ah no, you guys beat up the animals, it’s not good to have them in the circus.” In other words, they already talk shit to me, without even knowing me. That’s why I don’t like to tell people, at least not in the Czech Republic, cause you always get this shitty tone. No one says anymore “Wow, you work in the circus! Can I see your show?!” This is the reaction I’d like to get from people. From this moment, when the secret is revealed, you already feel they are distancing from you. You dance alone. They got the stereotype of a horrible man beating the animals in their heads, so you can’t really do nothing, you’re helpless. I think we’re a bit lost for other people… Yes, that’s true. The audience is not excited anymore. But, we just need the sound of clapping hands. The better the audience, the better the performance.
ŠM: Thank you for your time.