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The Kid at 100: Celebrating a Chaplin Masterwork

Charles Chaplin 5 Reels of Joy posterFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In 1921 Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid took the world by storm. The story of a penniless tramp who adopts an abandoned infant struck a powerful chord in the aftermath of a devasting war during which millions died and thousands of children were left orphaned.  In The Kid at 100 renowned mime artist and comedy choreographer Dan Kamin will reveal what keeps this film fresh, funny and incredibly moving to this day.  Author of The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin:  Artistry in Motion, Dan trained Robert Downey, Jr. for his Oscar-nominated performance in Chaplin, after which Downey said, “Dan’s insights are amazing.”  

“Demented, charming, and brilliant” is how Allentown’s Morning Call described Dan Kamin, who created the physical comedy sequences for Chaplin and Benny and Joon, and trained Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp for their acclaimed starring performances in those popular films.  

Another critic raved that Kamin’s stage performance was “a breathtaking display of theatricality that’s sharp, funny, and highly inventive.”  But Kamin’s favorite review came from eleven-year-old Kenneth:  “You made me laugh so hard I got a headache,” said the lad.  “Nobody’s ever done that before.”  

Asked about his movie work, Kamin says, “Classic movies inspired me, and I came full circle by adding classic visual comedy to modern films.  I taught Johnny Depp how to roll the coin around his fingers the way he does at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean.  But does he call?  Never.”

In addition to working with Depp and Downey, Kamin played the wooden Indian that came to life in the cult classic Creepshow 2 and created the Martian movement for Tim Burton’s horror spoof Mars Attacks!

Despite his impressive stage and screen credits, Kamin’s artistic beginnings were humble. At age twelve he began his performing career as a boy magician.  “I struggled in vain to entertain hordes of hyperkinetic, sugar-crazed, children at birthday parties.”  He attended Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University to study industrial design, “but when I saw the eye-popping movement illusions practiced by master mime Jewel Walker my hopes for a normal life evaporated.”

The great silent comedy films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin added more fuel to his fire, and soon Kamin was touring the country with his first original show, “Silent Comedy…Live!”  Undeterred by the fact that vaudeville was long dead, he cobbled a new vaudeville circuit out of colleges, theatres, symphony orchestras and corporations, for whom Kamin often appears as a keynote speaker who falls apart.  “I applied my industrial design skills to building a collapsing lectern.”  He also becomes “Mr. Slomo,” an eerie character who strolls through public places in slow motion “terrifying the very children who tormented me as a youth.” 

Kamin returned to his comedy roots to write Charlie Chaplin’s One-Man Show, revealing the secrets of Chaplin’s comic art.  Hailed as a breakthrough work, the book boasted a preface by another Chaplin fan, the legendary mime Marcel Marceau.  Kamin’s recent book, The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion, updates his earlier book and features an account of how he trained Downey for his Oscar-nominated performance.

During recent seasons Kamin has toured his solo show throughout America and Europe, and “humiliated many symphonies”—including Cleveland, Atlanta, Montreal, Shanghai, Singapore and Malaysia—with his comic antics.  

The Kid at 100 will be presented on Thursday, September 16 at 7:00 P.M.  The program runs two-and-a-half hours.  Click to register.  

Note:  The film will be shown as part of the program, but participants who have problems viewing video over Zoom should watch the film in advance here.  

Dan Kamin Q&A (Cleared for publication)

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.  Unfortunately, the kids were often obnoxious, I never earned enough to buy a car, and I soon discovered that doing magic was like spraying girl repellent all over my body.  

How did you learn magic?

I learned some of my best moves from criminals.  I grew up in Miami, a notoriously crime-ridden city then as now.  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.  I refuse to go on if I outnumber the 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 can the audience expect at one of your performances?  

A lifetime of regret.

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, crowded city streets, mental hospitals.  For the patients, I hasten to add, not as a patient.  

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.  You can watch me cavorting with the stars here.  I also played a small, uncredited role in D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation.

Wait, wasn’t The Birth of a Nation made in 1915?

Don’t quibble.

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.

Contact Person:  Lauren Churilla, Curator, McCarl Gallery of St. Vincent’s College,, (724) 991-3414