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"The Kid" at 100: Q&A with Renowned "Chaplin" Choreographer, Dan Kamin

Wed, Mar 23, 2022

Written by: Dan Kamin

The Kid at 100, the 133th birthday celebration of legendary actor Charlie Chaplin comes to the Harris Theater on April 16th at 7:30 p.m. The event will include a beautifully restored screening of Chaplin’s The Kid followed by an illustrated talk and audience discussion led by renowned mime artist and comedy choreographer Dan Kamin. Kamin, the author of The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion and choreographer for Robert Downey, Jr. in his Oscar-nominated performance in Chaplin will reveal what keeps the film fresh, funny and incredibly moving to this day.

Check out this special Q&A with the renowned mimic himself and purchase tickets for this one of a kind event at trustarts.org/film.

What got you interested in the type of stuff you do?
I am overly susceptible to movies. As a kid I saw a movie about Houdini and promptly became a boy magician. In college, I saw a Charlie Chaplin film and became a silent comedian. Yet despite a lifetime of watching superhero films I have failed to develop superhuman powers.

Why did you want to be a performer?
I would have much preferred to be a bagboy or stock clerk at the local supermarket, because those guys all seemed to have cars and, more importantly, girlfriends. When the supermarket wouldn’t hire me the only way I could think of to make money was doing magic shows at kids' birthday parties. 

How did you learn magic?
Every Saturday the local magicians would gather for lunch at a downtown restaurant. It was like an ongoing magic seminar, and I never missed it. Occasionally, visiting cardsharps and con men would drop by to compare notes with the magicians. One of them started mentoring me, and then offered me work as a dealer on the gambling boats. But I didn’t have the stomach to cheat people, so instead of a life of crime I opted for a life of mime.

Yes, you went from magic to mime. After you saw that Chaplin film in college how did you go about learning to do mime and physical comedy?
An amazing mime artist named Jewel Walker was teaching in the campus drama department. He showed me the tricks of the trade, thus destroying what slim chance I had of leading a normal life.

So, are you a mime?
That’s how I started, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. This was fortunate, since now everyone hates mimes. And really, who can blame them?

Is it just you in your performances?
Usually there's also an audience. 

You often perform with symphonies. Do you play an instrument?
I play the buffoon, cheapening the classical experience and making it great fun for everyone except for conductors, who understandably hate and fear me.

What was it like working with Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp?
I taught Depp how to roll the coin around his fingers the way he does at the end of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. But does he call? Never.

How often do you come up with new performances?
Whenever I'm artistically inspired, or someone offers me money. Which may be the same thing, come to think of it.

What other types of places do you perform?
I’ve performed in just about every imaginable setting—factories, theatres, and crowded city streets.

What makes these different than performing for a huge audience in a theatre?
I love performing for hospital patients or old people because they can't run very fast. Large audiences tend to turn into angry mobs of screaming, torch-bearing villagers out for my blood.

What do you do when you perform on the street?
See for yourself by walking to work wih me.

Have you ever been in any movies yourself?
I did cameos in Chaplin and Benny and Joon and played a wooden Indian that came to life in the film Creepshow 2.

Do you have a favorite performance?
The next one.

Do you have any suggestions for anyone interested in this type of performing?
Seek counseling at once.

You can read more about Dan in The Escape Artist, his highly entertaining account of how the legendary Harry Houdini got him started in magic. It was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 2020.

Tags:
  • harris theater
  • Film in Pittsburgh
  • Charlie Chaplin