A little clown in all of us

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There was a time when it was not politically correct to hate clowns. Unfortunately, modern day authors and movie makers have turned what was once an honorable, however not particularly respected, occupation, into something evil. I happen to have a little insight into the life of clowns. At one time in my life I wanted to be one.

When I was in college I entered an essay contest, “Why I Should Run Away With The Circus.”

The prize was a day at the Ringling Brothers Circus, hanging out with the employees and doing what only a few ever get to. Imagine my surprise when the radio station called me to tell me I’d won. I don’t remember why they liked my essay, it may have been the only one entered, but I don’t think so, people liked the circus back then, too.

I do know my entry had something to do with wanting to see how the clowns did their jobs, just in case the college gig didn’t pan out.

The morning of my “run away day” I was greeted by a circus representative. He left me in the presence of what I considered circus greatness, Lou Jacobs. He was the grandfather of clown-hood. If you ever saw a circus poster from the 60s through the 80s with a clown on it you probably saw his face. His act included a little dog. No one who ever met Lou could say that clowns were scary. He was quiet and humble. Of course, when I met him he was just a few years from leaving the big top. He was close to 80 at that time.

Lou was the epitome of funny clowns. He sometimes arrived for his bit in a tiny car which delighted young and old because he was over six feet tall.He wore the traditional huge clown shoes and head gear that made him appear close to seven feet tall.

Lou spent 60 years on the road. This was a part of the circus that disturbed me. Even though it seemed exciting to see new places I couldn’t wrap my brain around a train car being home. I talked to the young clowns, one said he had not seen his mother in three years. I didn’t pry, and it may have been a calculated decision on his part, but that made me sad.

For the most part, the clowns seemed to love their lives. They were the crew; the workers, the extras. They set up the high wire and three rings, they were not just responsible for the entertaining. The boss clown wore a exercise jacket and a whistle just like a coach, and he was indeed the boss.

I stood in the way no matter where I was. Everyone moved like a well-oiled machine.I finally found a place to sit and observe.

When the day of setting up the circus was over, I got to watch my new friends in a show. As expected, the clowns were my favorites. Some of them were my age, some had been part of the circus many years, like Lou.They wore all sorts of costumes and used props to tease the audience.

I later auditioned for the Ringling Brothers Clown College. I didn’t feel like I did very well. They said they would call. I took home the application. It was 12 pages long. I started filling it out, but couldn’t finish. I kept thinking about months at a time on a train in different cities every day. I finally decided the circus life was not for me.

Then one day I got a call.

“Why haven’t we received your application?” The representative from the clown college was serious. I told him I didn’t think I had what it took. They called me two more times.

Maybe I was clown material. I prayed about it.

God said, “No.”

The summer that would have ended my real college career and started the education of the circus led me down a different path. I was in clown makeup after a seminar on using clowning to reach troubled children. The boy who would end up being my husband saw me. He didn’t really know me, but he asked if I could make his face up like that. My heart skipped a beat. I suppose I should have known at that point that I was meant to be a different kind of clown.

My circus is a daily walk through this life with the attitude of a girl in baggy clothes and a big red nose, seeing humor in the simplest of things, poking fun at myself.

Laughter is the center of every clown, not fear.

I hear the circus is coming to a town near here. Come on, let’s go!

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