Clowns are peo­ple, too

Why do the funny folks of­ten get torn down when all they want to do is lift you up?

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Charles Kraus Charles Kraus, also known as Charles The Clown, lives in Seat­tle and has been per­form­ing since the 1960s. His e-mail is charles@charles­the­clown.com.

Clowns are get­ting a bad rap, with peo­ple claim­ing sus­pi­cious sight­ings since Au­gust in states in­clud­ing South Carolina, Ge­or­gia and Mary­land. Most claims have been proven a hoax, but that didn’t stop some mem­bers of a Cum­ber­land clown­ing group from feel­ing too un­com­fort­able to par­tic­i­pate in a Hager­stown parade later this month.

So, I thought it might be a good idea to de­mys­tify the clown world, es­pe­cially be­fore Hal­loween.

I’ve been a clown for al­most 50 years — not a creepy one, not even a circus one, nor a guy stand­ing on the cor­ner invit­ing cus­tomers to en­ter a store. I per­form at chil­dren’s par­ties, school shows, li­brary pro­grams, cor­po­rate events, fes­ti­vals and fairs. As far as I know, the only per­son who thinks I’m creepy is my brother-in-law (he owes me money).

As a small boy, I was taken to the circus each year and got to watch Em­mett Kelly, one of the world’s great clowns. Not only wasn’t he fright­en­ing. He wasn’t even funny. He was sad, for­lorn, and though ul­ti­mately amus­ing, mostly he touched heart­strings.

There are peo­ple who don clown cos­tumes and sud­denly go power mad. The out­fit seems to give them li­cense to cut loose. Most of these folks are am­a­teurs who be­lieve their ex­ag­ger­ated be­hav­ior is hys­ter­i­cally funny. They should be ar­rested for at­tempted im­per­son­ation of a clown.

It isn’t re­ally nec­es­sary to wear floppy shoes, col­or­ful make-up and a rain­bow wig to be a clown. Mr. Chap­lin posed as a lit­tle tramp. Red Skel­ton sim­ply put his hat on up­side-down. As my stage show be­gins, I’m dis­guised as a rel­a­tively or­di­nary man. Ex­cept for the bright red pants.

About half­way through the pro­gram, I try to turn my­self into a clown. Ev­ery­thing seems to go wrong. As I’m pow­der­ing my face, the puff ends up on top of my head where I can’t find it. Of course, the kids see it and be­gan shout­ing their ob­ser­va­tion, try­ing to be help­ful. I’m tan­gled in the sus­penders and find my­self wear­ing the jacket as if it was a dress. This may not sound par­tic­u­larly amus­ing, but it’s been mak­ing kids laugh for five decades.

I de­vel­oped the be­come-a-clown rou­tine be­cause I no­ticed that a few chil­dren were un­com­fort­able when I walked into the party in the com­plete out­fit. It made sense to me. Imag­ine a small child be­ing con­fronted, pos­si­bly over­whelmed, by a tall per­son with strange hair, size 97 ½ shoes, wear­ing an out­ra­geous out­fit, and dis­play­ing a face that may look silly on tele­vi­sion, but can be a lit­tle ter­ri­fy­ing from two feet away in some­one’s liv­ing room.

I’m as­sum­ing that grown-ups who are fear­ful of clowns de­vel­oped their coul­ro­pho­bia (yes, there is a sci­en­tific name for it) when scared by one as a child. The fear can be pretty pro­nounced. You would not be­lieve the amount of hate mail my web­site (charles­the­clown.com) at­tracts. Ac­cord­ing to the au­thors of some of these love letters, I’m in ca­hoots with the devil. Many years ago, the Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School Dis­trict re­fused to use clowns for their af­ter-school pro­grams. There is a stigma. When I make the rounds at the chil­dren’s hospi­tal, teenagers won’t have any­thing to do with me.

Yet clowns make kids gig­gle. They visit se­nior cen­ters where el­derly gen­tle­men stand on long lines wait­ing for en­ter­tain­ers like me to twist bal­loon an­i­mals they can take back to lady friends seated at ta­bles.

Not all clowns have the skills of Em­mett Kelly. Or the sen­si­bil­i­ties of Mar­cel Marceau. But, as far as I’m con­cerned, most are well mean­ing and fun to watch. One or two may be creepy. But, then again, there are creeps of all kinds rov­ing the world. Some are dressed in busi­ness suits, some in uni­form, or in the tra­di­tional polka-dots and silly hair. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of silly hair on tele­vi­sion.

PAUL M. WALSH/AP

Amer­i­can Clown Academy at­ten­dees clown around last month in Ne­wark, Ohio. The academy of­fers a week-long learn­ing ses­sion to ad­vance and pre­serve the art of clown­ing, with about 60 stu­dents from all over the USA, China, Canada, In­dia and Mex­ico.

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