At any one time, Art Jennings had several full acts available for booking. His magic acts included "Hocus Pocus" and "Dr. J.," a mind-reading act in which his sharp, dark stare provided a formidable ingredient. "Loose Nut on Wheels" was a short unicycle act designed for a second show when clubs required it. "The Mirth Quake" was a trio of himself, Joe Fleckenstein and Buddy O'Neil.
But Jennings's forte was clown comedy, and his most memorable persona was Happy Dayze the clown, maintained from 1940 to 1959 through 10,000 performances and derived from his earlier Tramp Juggler and Bum Juggler characters.
In the kind of billing performers love to read and hate to live up to, his agents called him "The American Popov" and "America's Most Versatile Clown." It became for Art "The most important thing I ever did."
It was perhaps also the most serious thing in his life, this funny business. In the April 1947 "Juggler's Bulletin" he presented a systematic and detailed analysis of comedy. (In juggling retirement 40 years later, he is compiling a book on the subject of clowning.)
He analyzed his own act until he had over 450 magic and juggling tricks cross-indexed in a card catalog, each listing the time involved and the props needed. He kept accurate records of what he did and where, and maintained set mix-and-match formulas for openings, middles, and closings to suit each audience.
He commented, "The development of the format or set outline was carefully formulated to achieve the end result and was based on a lot of calculations and graphs and curves and was obviously the secret of the outstanding success of that long run - one agency, 39 plus weeks a year, for 17 years. I wanted to be the best and not the best known. I am still finding out Happy Dayze was the best."
He had over four hours of material to fit the 45-60 minute program. Following the warm up was a serious segment. He would, for instance, get the children and adults howling at his clown tears, only to finally answer their begging questions by saying he was crying for all the boys and girls who had been killed in bicycle accidents. After delivering the message, he'd jerk them back from reality into tears of laughter.
He then did chapeaugraphy (the folding of a single piece of felt into a multitude of different hats), along with historical comments on that kind of entertainment, leading into "Troublewit" paper folding. Depending on the audience, he would insert some "chalk talk" or "math wizardry," leading into magic: a balloon bit, "Glasses on the Book," a variation of "Hippity Hop Rabbit" (a mechanical illusion using clown figures), rope tricks such as cut and restore, "Professor's Dilemma," and some rope spinning, then the "Phantom Tube" and a dove pan from which he produced 5 balls for his juggling segment.
He did 3 balls with erratic, clowning moves, parasol and ball, parasol and hoop. He used specially constructed plates that sounded like delicate chinaware. He did four and five balls and clubs, then rode a mini bicycle and unicycle with erratic moves ending with tricks involving the "pusher," a unicycle with handlebars, and finally he juggled on the unicycle.
"The clown was an outgrowth of my desire to learn everything there was in a circus," he said. "The only thing I haven't tried with the circus is working with the big cats. I've worked with the elephants, I've worked with the horses, tight wire, slack wire and flying trapeze. I've done a little bit on the trampoline, a little trick riding and shooting. I wanted to know, I wanted to try these things. You master one and the others fall into line."
What follows is a portion of the warm up to Art Jenning's "Happy Dayze" show. It was the only constant in the act, given to all audiences and used to diagnose the audience to determine the material, speed of delivery, and voice to use throughout the rest of the show. The difficult-to-understand patter necessarily grabbed the audience's attention, and he paced the show according to the response.
This warm-up also included another signature trick, writing his name forwards and backwards on a blackboard. This kept his name prominent throughout the show - a clever selling device.
After disentangling himself from the curtains, he stares wide-eyed at the girls in the audience and begins:
"Look at all the girls! I love girls! My mother was a girl, you know. (laughter) What's the matter, wasn't your mother?...
"My name is Happy Dayze. It's really Happy M. Dayze. You understand. The 'M' stands for miserable days. You don't get them, you just give them to teachers and parents...
"I'm going to write my name for you on the blackboard. It's a blackboard. You knew that was a blackboard. Of course, it's a green board. But how can you have a green black board. This is not a black black board like some black boards, but it's a lot blacker than a green black board.
"Now, my writing is kind of rotten and you're going to see when it's written how rotten it's written, but I don't care how rotten it's written, as long as it's written rotten right there because I remember when I was in school, I wrote rotten in the wrong place and I got pretty sore in the right place.
"It wasn't my fault. It was because I had a dumb teacher. (pause) You thought you were the only one, didn't you?...
"I forgot to tell you - you're going to be my gang. It's all these lovely girls and all the necessary boys.
"Anyway, when I come running out, I'm going to say 'Hi, gang' and I want you to say, 'Hi, Happy.' And then the show starts. Does everyone understand?
(He writes "Happy Dayze" on the board backwards, walks away to the audience's protest.)
"What's the matter? What's wrong with that? Can't you read it? See, teacher, you thought your kids were backwards.
"So now I'm going to write it right and when I write it right I write right. Now some people write right but they start at the left to write right and I don't think that's right because if you're going to write right you should start at the right to write right. Right? Right!
(He writes it backwards from the right and it becomes readable. The rest of the show begins.)