I met a professional clown last night.
And if you’re afraid of clowns, keep reading.
He’s not an “I’m-having-an-emotional-life-crisis-because-I-just-moved-to-Brooklyn-and-am-trying-to-make-an-excuse-for-why-I’m-poor” clown.
He actually makes a living for himself, his wife, and his child. From clowning.
I first thought about asking why in the hell one would ever want to be a clown, but decided to go with the more polite, “How did you make clowning into a profession?”
Of course, he started as a starving artist. Not a Brooklyn one, but close enough. He was an actor (of course) who didn’t have trouble being big, loud, and in charge.
He was sick of playing the 3rd policeman or the zookeeper number 5.
When his acting teachers told the class, “Don’t be afraid of overacting!”, they told him to cover his ears. Other students’ overacting was the equivalent of his everyday acting.
He never had any of the fear that other actors had. He wasn’t afraid of being big. He could make the most outlandish expressions of love and hate, of joy and regret.
But he was looking to find truth, to tell his story through acting, and to learn how to support those actions with real feeling.
Instead of sticking with acting school, he decided to apply for the Ringling Brothers Clown College.
They were dealing with 2,000 people who applied for 54 spaces. He was the last person to be accepted.
So, he quit his job as a waiter and moved to Florida. He would become the full-of-life clown who could be loud and rambunctious all the time. His dream!
He quickly became fascinated with the hierarchy of being a clown.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
He gave the examples of The Three Stooges.
Mo is the boss clown. In clown school, he would be called “the white face”. He’s the one who is always telling everyone to do this or do that.
Larry is the idiot – The Auguste – who was always doing everything wrong.
And Curly is the fool. He does everything wrong but always ends up right.
The reason The Three Stooges are funny (and the reason they were so successful) is because of the fact that their different personalities always remained the same in relation to each other – this is the hierarchy.
Then, he told me about when the creator of Road Runner, Chuck Jones, came to his class to speak. He said, “You have two choices as a clown. You can walk though a door funny, or you can walk through a funny door.”
He realized that Ringling was more about making the door funny than anything else, because they had a lot of fancy props and clowns were commodities. He found that he was the smallest and least important cog in the machine. After all, trained lions are harder to come by than trained clowns.
As he walked out the door, quitting the college indefinitely, he decided he wanted to make it his job to make any door funny.
I immediately thought about my generation, Gen Y, who has to try harder than ever to walk through the door funny, not just walk through a funny door. We have to differentiate ourselves in more unique ways every day, come up with new dances, new ways of solving problems, new processes and strategies. In order to find a job, we often have to create one for ourselves. And it really isn’t fair. Some people want to be the smallest cog. They want to be safe and secure and find funny doors to walk through once in a while instead of being the one who makes the door funny.
Of course, that’s not us here at Pooping Rainbows, so I won’t dwell. But how wonderful to find someone whose daily life is fundamentally different than mine, but who upholds the exact same ideals as I and many of my peers do?
My final question for this clown, because I know way too many people who are terrified of clowns, was, “What’s your advice for people who are afraid of clowns?”
And without missing a beat, he replied that, “The reason why people are afraid of clowns is because their parents aren’t good parents.”
“So, you’re a little kid, and you see this big guy with white paint all over his face, it’s peeling off because he’s been sweating all day trying to make other kids laugh. He’s talking in this high squeaky voice, he’s got big shoes, and all you can think is ‘There is definitely something is wrong with that guy!’”
And the clown is watching the mom, who is encouraging the kid to interact with the clown, and all the kid can think is ‘GET THIS FREAK AWAY FROM ME’ but no one is paying attention to how the kid feels because they’re so concerned with what’s happening with the clown.
And so the kid has this one terrible experience with something he doesn’t want to be a part of and he’s traumatized for life.
And so his main advice for people who are afraid of clowns was, obviously, to not be afraid, but more importantly, to recognize that clowns are just people, and you’re more afraid of your imagination of what you THINK that clown WOULD do to you, not anything that a clown has actually done.
Fears are based on false knowledge of false situations.
Just like my fear of failing all my clients and breaking my business and traveling all over the world and losing all my friends forever and ever. Just like every other fear any of us have ever had about anything or anyone. It’s not real.
Don’t be afraid of clowns. Don’t be afraid of anything. And if you are afraid, just remember that anything you could ever be afraid of is never going to be as terrifying as a mutant zombie (you know, one that can actually run) chasing after you in the woods with a chainsaw covered in blood. amiright?