BOOK: Amsterdam’s Compleat Fools.

Fools festival Barcelona 2022The Festival of Fools Barcelona 2022 is in fool swing right now.  I’ve seen a few of the shows this year so far, and have been posting excerpts of some of the videos I’ve taken over on my Instagram account:

If you want to catch any of the festival, you should check out their website There are plenty of tickets, and shows include a few talkbacks, street shows, cabarets, and a couple of full length shows.  The festival runs through October 4

I will post more videos and maybe a roundup post here, but right now I want to focus on the history of the fools festival, not its current iteration.


A book has recently come out about the history of the Fools Festival.  Amsterdam’s Compleat Fools by Johnny Melville and Michael Evans.  The book is a massive tome that features the history of the festival, but not in a scholarly way.  I don’t want to mistake this– there is a lot of scholarship involved.  But the history is told mostly by its participants and by the hundreds of photographs and scans of posters, programs, newspaper articles. This is less a history book and more a compilation of primary sources about the convergence of clown and mime into theatre in the 1970’s.  But it’s much more entertaining than that!Compleat Fools book




Author Johnny Melville

Co-Author Johnny Melville

Author Michael Evans

Co-Author Michael Evans






The co authors of the book- Johnny Melville and Michael Evans- have been intimately involved with the Fools Festival almost from the beginning.  I say almost– Johnny Melville has performed and helped organize every fools festival but the first, and Michael Evans was involved almost from the beginning as part of the Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe.

COMPLEAT FOOLS is a walk down memory lane

This book is a walk down memory lane, with hundreds of programs and ephemera from shows from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  It was a time when programs were not slickly produced, desktop publishing was not a thing, and you couldn’t look things up by internet.  Seeing this archive of programs is immensely exciting to me.  I don’t think I saw any of the shows listed- I was 11 when the shows started in 1975, and my interest in circus/clown/fool didn’t start until the end of the 80’s.)

Some of the performers went on to become stars, and some stopped performing after the festival, but all are worth remembering.  And there were unlikely bedfellows, including brand new band The Talking Heads making appearances at the festivals, as well as circus stalwart Justin Case, Spiderwoman Theatre Troupe, England’s Nola Rae, and tons more.  All spearheaded by merry prankster Jango Edwards. (Many of the touring editions of the festival were called Jango and Friends.)


What’s amazing about this time is that this is right at the beginning of the “New Vaudeville”. While Carlo Mazzone-Clemente was founding the Dell’arte School in Blue Lake, CA, and Tony Montonaro was creating the Celebration Barn, Jango and friends (many many friends) were squatting in houses in the Netherlands and creating festivals and shows that would eventually play on stages all over the world. All of this was happening at the same time, and the movement now known as New Vaudeville was being born in all of these areas.  This is a fantastic look inside this movement.



Here are some sample pages from The Compleat Fools  Please note, I was sent an uncorrected proof for review, so some of the images may have changed slightly (and they have a watermark Proof on them)

The images of the programs and other ephemera are a treasure trove, but in addition there are personal essays by many of the still living participants, talking about how they got involved, what the fools festival meant to them and to their career, and a lot of what in the circus world is called jackpotting— telling stories and tales of shows gone good and bad. This is delightful, and although occasionally can seem a little one sided, it’s from the point of view of the participant, many times a skilled raconteur, and it’s easy to forgive  stories that are not 100% vetted.

For anyone who wants to know what the burgeoning clown/mime scene was like in the 1970’s (especially in Europe, although a fair amount of American performers are also represented) this book is a must read.  It is thorough, fascinating, and entertaining.

The book is clearly a labor of love by the two authors, and not just a love of the festival itself, but a love of the performers and a love of the audiences- the thousands of people who experienced the Fools Festival over the years, and who would want to know more.


You can purchase the book on Amazon (where it says it was published in 2020, but that’s when it was supposed to come out– the pandemic strikes again!).  You can also purchase it directly from the author’s website here.

For those that are interesting in institutional wholesale pricing, you should email the co-authors directly:  [email protected]

You can watch an interview with Johnny Melville by Barnaby King here:

In short, this is a fantastic look into the history of clowning, physical comedy, almost 50 years ago, and would receive a bouquet of stars (If I had a rating system that involved stars). You should definitely pick it up!

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