A new school in Bern is giving people the chance to make a complete fool of themselves by teaching them how to be a clown.
The Riccon clown school in the leafy suburb of Muri is dedicated to training the slapstick stars of the future and has a tailor-made training plan for any budding clown.
The school opened its doors in April and to date it has trained 13 clowns, with another seven on the books. All the classes are lead by Riccon the Clown, a well-established performer, who offers personal tuition for each student.
"He's an amazing teacher," says Catherine Cottier, the woman in charge of the school. "The students come along, they put on clown pants and funny shoes, and then off they go.
"They start by learning how to walk like a clown. Then they work on body language and then mime, before they incorporate materials like funny noises and balloons into their acts."
People have come from as far away as Appenzell and Zug to serve their comic apprenticeship, with all the students sharing a common love of clowning around.
"A lot of people say they've felt this humour inside themselves for ages," explains Catherine. "A lot of them say whenever there's a party 'I'm the clown, I'm the funny one and they would just like to be able to do it in a more professional way."
But there's more to being a clown than red noses and baggy trousers. For Riccon, it's a way of letting the imagination run wild - an escape from daily life.
"I think there isn't enough humour in the world," he muses. "People have forgotten how to laugh. I also think that here in Switzerland people are too serious."
He jokes that he would like to give everyone a red nose, especially the Swiss government. That way, he says, people would have more in common and it would break down barriers.
Zurich clown school
Before coming to Bern, Riccon ran a clown school in Zurich; so when he moved to Bern it seemed perfectly natural to bring the school with him. However, there is one major difference between the two: in Bern the majority of students are adults, whereas in Zurich they were children.
Catherine and Riccon are at a loss as to why this is so, but they are happy to bring some comic relief to their students' "grown-up" lives. They are also flexible when it comes to lesson times, often working on Saturdays, Sundays and in the evenings.
There are a number of options available to the fledgling jesters, ranging from two-month to six-month courses. A two-month course costs SFr600 ($380), but this does include a clown starter-kit: a little suitcase filled with balloons, a small pump and the quintessential red nose.
So far the Muri-based school has produced one professional clown, who is now out entertaining children at parties. At home, she is 40- year-old Regula, a housewife and former teacher, but at work she is Regaaa the Clown.
"We helped Regula achieve her dream," Riccon boasts proudly.
There are plans afoot to expand the school if student numbers continue to increase, but for the moment they are staying put in Muri, where they hope to keep the capital smiling.
by Sally Mules