Despite their recent brush with infamy thanks to some renegade jesters scaring citizens in the dead of night, clowns have a pretty excellent track record bringing merriment to their audiences. Nowhere is this more apparent than when professionals visit a child’s birthday party to perform the requisite magic tricks, balloon manipulation, and face-painting.
If a “dark side” of clowning does exist, it’s reasonable to say that those donning the baggy pants and squeaky shoes are usually the innocent victims and not the perpetrators. Here, several career clowns across the country discuss their worst experiences on the party circuit. Remember these tales before you tip your kid’s party entertainment.
Pay the Clown
I once got a booking in a neighborhood just north of Las Vegas downtown. I normally like to work with payment on the day of the gig in cash. So, I don’t take deposits. I tried to call to confirm the booking on the day of the event as it was my only booking on that day and it’s quite an effort to put on all the make-up and drive to the venue. The number had been disconnected, but I went to the party anyway dressed up fully as a clown. When I arrived, I could see a kid peeking through the window curtain, but nobody answered the door and I heard them going, “Shush.” I waited and waited as I felt sorry for the kid and it sure looked like the mom didn’t want to confront me. Eventually, after about 20 minutes she opened the door and said that, unfortunately, the party was canceled. I went inside anyway and did a few basic tricks really quickly for the kid for free. This is why I don’t take checks.
– Charlie the Clown, Las Vegas
The Blood Might’ve Been a Little Too Much
I started doing a kind of scarier show for kids who were getting older, since I didn’t want to lose them as customers. I came up with a horror-type of show for kids who like scary movies, scary video games, and that kind of thing. Most times, parents knew if it would be appropriate for their kid or not. But for the first show, I didn’t really know how to scale it or at what age to draw the line. So, the big trick was to stick a needle through my skin so it looks like it starts bleeding. It’s a long needle, like a foot long. It’s pretty scary-looking, even for an adult. Kids were weeping uncontrollably. I don’t do that one anymore.
– Name Withheld by Clown Request
Parents and Pee
Sometimes parents will want to break in front of kids in line to get their faces painted. They’ll just push in front of other children and say, “My child needs to go ahead and go now because we need to leave.” You have to respect the line. Other times, kids will climb up on the chair I use and pee on it. That was when I had a metal chair. Now I have one with a cushion and have kids sit on their knees. It’s not as easy to pee sitting like that. I still bring sanitizer, though.
– Tater the Clown, Atlanta
A Little Extra
I had a friend who was in the clown business and after complaining to her I needed a job, she referred me to a company. I was an employee for about 2 years before going to college. At the time, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself obese, but I was chunky. A mother had requested for the little mermaid to come. Usually, we had a girl who always dressed up as these characters, but that weekend she was not able to. My boss decided that I was a good fit and put me in the skimpy mermaid costume and explained that I should “suck in” and go. So I did. After being at the party for about one minute, I kid you not, the birthday girl herself asked me why I “have rolls when you sit down” and proceeded to explain that Ariel didn’t look like me at all.
– Stacey, Former Clown, Chicago
Planet of a Clown-Ape
I performed a singing telegram when I was pretty new at the game. It was for a girl’s Sweet 16 party and I was performing wearing a pink gorilla mask. I was sent by her dad, who wasn’t there for the party and maybe wasn’t there a lot, period. It was at a hall turned into a club atmosphere and it was very dark. Through the gorilla’s eyes, things were impossible to make out. Then, a hysterical, highly neurotic-sounding young girl comes up to me and yells, “Who are you?” She is crying and yelling and livid and relentless. She wanted me to take off the mask, so I did, and told her that her father sent me.
Then mom comes and she has the same hereditary insane look. She is livid. She is about to verbally assault me. I take off and she’s screaming for someone to get my license plate. I barely make it back to my car, then I’m standing there and surrounded by 3 men with beer bottles. They ask for my papers, or some proof of identification. Eventually, tempers cool down and they leave, and I drive home. I never got a good explanation about it, but I’m guessing it involved a failed marriage and a disappointed daughter. Just another day at the office.
– Oakie Dokey, Jersey City, NJ
A Private Performance
My favorite story has to be a birthday party that I did for a little girl turning 5 years old. I got to the party with my magic equipment and balloons and started setting up. Many times, little ones are unsure about clowns but usually come around when the other kids start participating in the program. On this day, the little girl came in, saw me, and immediately hid under the table. Her parents and some of the other guests tried to get her to come out but she would not even think about it. Finally, an older sister went under the table with her and the 2 of them watched the whole show from there.
– Mr. No, Buffalo, NY