Clowning around

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Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Professional organizations want college-age members.

By Adriana Ruiz

Wearing a painted face, big red nose and floppy shoes and bringing laughter to crowds or cheering up a lone child in the hospital is the life of a clown.

Clowning is not just a profession. It’s really got to come from the heart, it’s got to come from inside of you, said Bob Neil, vice president of the World Clown Association.

Neil, also known by his clown name, Kiwi, has been clowning around for 42 years since the age of 26. Neil got his first taste of the art form in 1972 while working as a police officer touring schools and lecturing to students.

Neil said he would dress up as a clown to gain the students’ attention.

“I found out young students have a short attention span. I was looking for a way to keep their attention while still getting the message across,” Neil said.

Neil said he has been a big fan of the circus, and after his experience with schoolchildren, his interest in becoming a clown increased.

When starting out, Neil said there were no programs or schools to learn how to become a clown, so practicing and reading books was the only way to learn.

“It was a tough time to get started because we (clowns) didn’t know what we were doing,” Neil said.

Now, there’s an abundance of resources to learn how to become a clown.

Neil said anyone interested in becoming a clown should join a group or organization.

The World Clown Association and Clowns of America International are two of the more notable organizations.

In Texas, the Texas Clown Association has chapters across the state.

Diana McCurtan-Talbert, also known as “Buttons,” is president of the Texas Clown Association and Jolly Joeys Clown Alley, local clown chapter. She said joining a clown organization helps aspiring clowns build professionalism.

McCurtan-Talbert said the Jolly Joeys Clown Alley offers clown school at least once a year, and graduates receive a certificate of completion in a ceremony.

She said the clown school is a six-week program, teaching balloon animals, face painting, character development, clown history and clown etiquette.

“We try to hold a standard. The last thing we want to do is scare kids. We want to keep it professional,” McCurtan-Talbert said.

McCurtan-Talbert said the group has a variety of members, but the average age is 55.

She said she would like to have more people join who are at the college age because they would add life and energy along with a whole new level of skills.

McCurtan-Talbert said there are perks for college students who wish to become clowns.

“It’s a really good way to make money. You can do one birthday party and make $125 an hour, so it’s a good way to offset expenses,” McCurtan-Talbert said.

The Jolly Joeys Clown Alley meets at 7 p.m. every second Thursday of the month in Room 302 of University United Methodist Church, 5084 De Zavala Road. Call 210-229-9299 for more information.

Aspiring clowns and clown enthusiasts can attend conferences on a national level like the California Clown Camp in Ontario, Calif., and Mooseburger Camp in Buffalo, Minn.

Neil said he teaches at the two conventions, and they are good places for aspiring performers to gain experience, network and receive a certificate of completion as well.

Neil said the journey to becoming a clown is unique for each aspirant. He said according to personality, clown hopefuls fall under one of three categories — the white face clown, the Auguste clown who described as unlucky with exaggerated face features and flesh-colored makeup tones, or the hobo/tramp clown.

“You kind of see where your personality will fit in and then develop your character from that. You don’t try to duplicate what someone else is doing,” Neil said.

According to a Feb. 17 article by the Daily News, clown organization membership numbers are declining. The U.S. membership shows numbers have declined from about 3,500 to 2,500 since 2004.

Neil said although membership numbers are down, there are still plenty of clowns performing.

“There is no clown shortage. I don’t know where that came from. Our numbers in our organizations have decreased, but that does not mean there aren’t people out there still performing. The reason that our numbers are declining in World Clown Association and Clowns of America International is because young people do not join things,” Neil said.

He said the World Clown Association has about 2,500 members currently in the organization.

Neil also said another reason numbers might be down is because the clown business is a tough way to make a living, and a majority of clowns do it as a part-time job.

“Many clowns I know don’t do it for the money. They donate their time to hospitals, nursing homes and charitable organizations,” Neil said.

Neil said clowning is tough, but there are moments that make the job worthwhile.

He said one of the moments that has made a difference in his life was visiting a terminally ill 7-year-old girl who was in pediatric intensive care and non-communicative for almost two weeks.

Neil and his partner visited the girl and gave her a teddy bear.

He said as they were walking out of the room, the little girl turned her head toward them and said, “Thank you, clowns.”

“If I can make that kind of impact in that little child’s life for just two minutes, everything I do, any money I spend is worth everything to me,” he said. “They will have to haul me away to a funeral home before I ever give this up.”

For more information, call 210-386-9395.


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