A Penny for Your Clown Thoughts? (INTERVIEW): Delving into the Heart of Clowning

“Ladies and Gentlemen. “Kids of all ages!” Those were the holy words that the ringmaster said to start every Ringling Bros. show. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Those were the words that sent chills down my spine every time I went to the circus. Also, those were the words used to welcome the last audience to the last show of The Greatest Show on Earth. Christopher Sullivan is a friend of mine who used to be a clown in the Greatest Show on Earth. I recently got together with him to ask him some questions that I’ve had on my mind since Ringling said goodbye:

Before you left Ringling, what are some of the most important things you learned on tour that you will always remember? Good question! I’ve learned a lot of useful things while I was on the circus. I learned a great deal more about clowning and circus history for one. I made many friends and connections that Ill have for a lifetime. I also honed some new skills and defined some old ones. To get better at juggling, I taught myself how to do a shaker cup routine that I still use in shows today. I also learned that I’m good at public speaking and show messaging, which made me a huge asset when it came to promoting the shows on TV, radio, and in print. I still use these skills when I help promote the vaudeville-style variety show I work for (Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre in Gatlinburg, TN). The most valuable thing I learned was something that I was already good at- connecting with people. At a previous job I found out I had been hired because of that. I had been working as a pharmacy technician while moonlighting as an actor. I certainly wasnt hired because I knew anything about the job. but I was hired because of my personality. Question 2: Where do you think the circus is going in general these days? Contrary to what most people think, the circus is not dead. Many great causes are keeping circus alive and well, and I think everyone should go and support them. Aside from circus there are many variety style shows out there- I lucked into finding one. I find that it is the perfect blend of using my theatre and circus skills together. Would you like to share a favorite memory from your time on tour? If so, please describe it. My favorite memory is of sitting with a family in the Circus Celebrity section. They were able to come down to the arena floor for a special part of the show while we watched from our seats. I noticed the family was using sign language. their little girl was deaf. They were signing what the ringmaster was saying. What happened next was a lot like the scene in the new Miracle on 34th Street where Santa talks to the girl in sign language. The little girl’s face lit up with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. I’m not very good at sign language, but I knew enough to say “You are beautiful!” The parents were told that I didn’t know a lot of sign language but that I did know a few words and phrases. e. : Circus Clown, popcorn, elephant, tiger, applause, thank you, etc. That moment will forever be engraved in my memory. The simplest of connections make for a lifetime of happy memories. Question 4: What does it mean to you to be a “clown”? It’s not just wearing a red nose and a clown outfit. Being a clown is about being able to make that connection. A clown is a humorous reflection of the world around him. We help bridge the gap between make believe and reality. I honestly believe that when people see a clown, they forget about their own problems and worries for a short time. For that short of time, they see us (and maybe even a bit of themselves) and it’s okay to laugh. I’ve seen this happen in living rooms, churches, on the street, in shopping malls, at birthday parties, at festivals, and even in the circus ring. Making people laugh is the best way to give the world a little more joy and happiness when it needs it the most.

Thanks, Chris, for giving us clowns such great information that I hope someone reading this can use for their own entertainment. Be sure to check back in for possible interviews with other clowns from Ringling and other known circuses.

Also, ClownAntics has a great book that tells you “how to” entertain kids of all ages if you want to learn some of the skills and tricks that Chris talked about. Check the book out here. Share Link.

Ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a clown? What drives them to don the bright colors and oversized shoes, to embrace the silliness and laughter? In this interview with Beth Grimes a seasoned clown and fellow Ringling Bros. alumna we delve into the heart of clowning, exploring her journey, insights, and the future of this timeless art form.

So, Beth, when did the clowning bug first bite you?

“It all started with a childhood fascination with clowns, sparked by watching the legendary duo, Carson and Barnes, with my dad. My mom’s best friend, a professional clown herself, would sometimes visit in full makeup after gigs, adding to the mystique. Then, during my silent film phase, I became enamored with the slapstick greats But, like many teenagers, I went through a ‘cool kid’ phase and sadly, my clown collection ended up in the dumpster.

Fast forward to adulthood my love for clowning rekindled thanks to the movie ‘Benny and Joon’. I reconnected with a clown on social media who later invited me to see Ringling Bros. in 2006. Stepping onto the pre-show floor, it was like a tidal wave of all those discarded memories came rushing back. Watching the clowns perform, I knew I wanted to be one of them.

With newfound determination, I researched how to break into the clowning world. The Ringling clowns themselves turned out to be useful tools, and I even got my friends involved. We put together a street performance group that grew to 11 people! When Ringling came back to Indianapolis the next year, I wore a Buster Keaton t-shirt to show the clowns I was taking things seriously. It worked! The rest, as they say, is history. “.

Throughout your clowning journey what are some key lessons you’ve learned and hold close to your heart?

“There are many, but here are a few that stand out:

  • The audience is always watching. Even if it’s just one or two people, and you’re not the main focus, they’re observing.
  • Kids have clown ESP. They seem to sense a clown’s presence, even when not in full makeup or character.
  • Clowning ain’t glamorous. It’s sweaty, dirty, and emotionally draining. I’ve waded through elephant dung and tiger spray for laughs, and it’s totally worth it.
  • Originality is a tough nut to crack. Everything has been done before. The key is to make it your own. How would you, as a modern person, approach it? Also, remember that current audiences haven’t seen many routines we consider old. For instance, kids today have no clue about the ‘shave and a haircut’ gag.”

Where do you see the circus heading in today’s society?

“I envision a return to smaller-scale shows. Like the growth of food trucks and craft beer, I think “craft circus” will continue to grow. Circus and clowning will never die. In the 1880s, clowns had the same problem: they had to change their style. Before, they primarily told jokes and sang songs. But when the tents got bigger, people couldn’t hear them, so they switched to silent shows with big movements, like the pantos that were popular before the Civil War. We’re at a similar juncture now, with audiences open to rediscovering older routines. “.

Do you have a favorite memory from a clown gig?

“A huge storm hit right before my group and I were supposed to perform at a street festival in downtown We were close to the festival and thought it might not happen, so we parked and got our umbrellas. A lot of people were still there, even though most of the vendors had left and the stages weren’t being used. We set up picnic tables in the middle of the street and played make-believe air hockey with each other. The kids lined up to play, and we beat them for almost two hours, rain or shine!”

Finally, what does being a clown truly mean to you?

“It’s not just about making people laugh. It’s about connecting with them on a deeper level. It’s about magnifying the human condition in a playful, exaggerated way. Take your audience on a journey with you. They’ll root for you when you face challenges, and empathize when things don’t go your way. Great clowns can make you cry as much as they make you laugh.”

A huge thank you to Beth Grimes for sharing her insights and experiences. It’s been a real treat! I’ve personally learned some valuable nuggets of wisdom that I’ll carry with me, and I hope you have too. Until next time, keep those noses honking!

10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Professional Clown

Ever wondered what goes on behind the painted smile of a professional clown? What motivates them to bring laughter and joy to others? In this insightful interview, we delve into the world of professional clowning, exploring the motivations, challenges, and rewards of this unique profession.

1. What inspired you to become a clown?

2. What kind of training do you require to become a certified clown?

3. Is it hard to make people laugh?

4. Have you inadvertently been in a public space in your costume?

5. How long does it take to get ready?

6. What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a clown?

7. What are the most rewarding aspects of being a clown?

8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a clown?

9. What is the future of clowning?

10. What is your favorite thing about being a clown?

By reading this interview, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the world of professional clowning, including:

  • The motivations and inspirations of professional clowns
  • The training and skills required to become a clown
  • The challenges and rewards of clowning
  • The future of clowning as an art form
  • The personal experiences and insights of a professional clown

Whether you’re simply curious about clowning or considering pursuing it as a career, this interview provides valuable insights into this unique and rewarding profession.

OCD Clown interview-Steve (follow up)


What skills do you need to be a clown?

Professional clowns are highly trained and usually have several skills. Their performances may include balloon sculpture, magic, puppetry and ventriloquism, juggling, acrobatics, storytelling, balancing acts, music, stilt walking, or unicycling.

What are some facts about clowns?

They often wear colorful clothing, makeup, wigs, and exaggerated footwear. World clown comes from the Icelandic word “klunni” which means “a clumsy person”. The first known clowns date from the time of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt, around 2400 BC. Later civilizations also knew about clowns.

What are the duties of a clown?

Clowns dress in outlandish costumes, paint their faces, and use a variety of performance skills to entertain audiences. They work in circuses, amusement parks, schools, malls, rodeos, and hospitals, as well as on stage, in films, and even on the street. Clowns are actors and comedians whose job is to make people laugh.

What is a better word for clown?

a person who acts like a clown; comedian; joker; buffoon; jester.

How do you answer a job interview question?

Here is our simple formula—a four-step process—for answering this question regarding the job—and organization—at hand. Mention your past experiences + current job. Tie those learnings into what you want to do going forward. Mention your strengths and accomplishments. Include a tidbit or a fun fact about you.

Are clowns a fad?

Clowns are not horrifying at all; kids love us and are fully amused by the sight of us. The horror element has become a fad, and now they have started to make clowns monsters too! Clowns are portrayed as the saddest people on the planet, and purportedly use laughter to hide behind reality.

Why do interviewers ask tricky questions?

Most of the time, interviewers ask tricky interview questions because: They want to learn more about you. They want to see how you handle yourself under pressure and in stressful situations. They want to watch your thought processes and critical-thinking skills to evaluate how you handle different situations that may arise at work.

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