Laughing intensely for an hour can burn as many calories as lifting weight for 30 minutes, scientists have found.
And that’s not all. In Israel a recent study found that clowning helped with the birthing process: “A recent study has found a link between clowns and IVF success, or a successful in-vitro fertilization. The study found that women undergoing IVF treatment were more likely to become pregnant if visited by a “medical clown” because the clowns reduce stress.”
The World Clown Association says: “Clowns enjoy sharing this experiential art for varied reasons. Some clown because of their love of laughter. Some clown because of the new relationships they forge. Some enjoy entering this “different world” than their normal everyday life—it becomes stress-relief for themselves personally. Some have found clowning to be a great communication method that holds the attention of an audience as they share an important message.”
Would you enjoy becoming a clown, as a hobby or even as a new profession? (Or just to shed a few pounds or relieve some stress!)
There are numerous amateur clown clubs around the United States, and around the world, that would welcome you into their silly society. If you would like to find a local clown club in your area, check out the Clowns International website for contact information in your neighborhood.
And if you’re really serious about being funny, you can audition to become a professionally paid clown with The Greatest Show on Earth — Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus! Their 2016 audition schedule will be out in the next few weeks.
If you want to hone your clown skills, there are several national workshops that provide professional training in the noble art of clowning.
For instance, in Minnesota there is the internationally-famed Mooseburger Clown Camp, held every summer for two weeks.
In Utah Valley baggy pants wannabes are now able to attend workshops given by master clown Timothy Torkildson.
If you suffer from coulrophobia, the Clown Motel is probably not your first choice for overnight accommodations. Coulrophobia is the fancy-schmancy medical term for the fear of clowns.
The motel is on North Main, in Tonopah, Nevada.
Referring to the town’s tourist attractions, the Wall Street Journal reports: “Other oddities include the Clown Motel, where rooms decorated with clown pictures and an office festooned with 600 clown images draw the curious but creep some out. “A few people have anxiety in here with clowns, so I have to take them outside to fill out the registration,” said owner Bob Perchetti. The motel adjoins the Tonopah Cemetery, where men killed in a century-old mine fire are interred.”
So we’re talking about a motel festooned with jolly clown representations situated next to a graveyard filled with the charred remains of miners killed in a horrible accident.
We’re in Stephen King country, pardner.
The reviews of the caravansary on Yelp.com are a little strange as well.
Writes Celestia W. from Las Vegas: “The hostess was friendly, a little too much so, which raises my suspicions. Was she even a woman? Her makeup was garish and her perfume had a musty, decayed smell that overpowered the floral scent. I notice now my room has a panel that seems loose, with a hollow sound behind it. It is just large enough for someone–even someone wearing oversized floppy shoes–to easily slip inside the room while I sleep. And I feel drowsy even now, despite my worry. The tea that hostess gave me… What was in that tea? I am auto-programming my phone to post a 5-star review by morning unless I reverse the program. If you are reading this, and it contains five stars, it means I went missing and could not reset my phone upon waking. Authorities should be alerted.”
Corrina Q. of Santa Rosa, California, gave the place a full 5 stars, sharing this heart-warming anecdote: “Checking in I of course bought a souvenir cup and was totally excited to always have that memory. Unfortunately I forgot it but surprisingly they mailed it to me!! That right there shows that they care about their customers.”
Of course, in the motel business you can’t please everyone. Especially those on the lookout for the ‘spooky factor’. Deborah E. of Florence, Kentucky, vented her spleen this way: “We were traveling cross country and decided to try this hotel for the spooky factor. Basically, it is a dive motel. The person at the front desk was super nice. It is clean, but is very, very dated. The showers were very worn out and the toilet ran all night. The WiFi was very sporadic. On top of that, no clown ghosts haunted us! There are better places to stay in the area. I would choose those places over this one.”
If bunking with buffoons is not your cup of tea, you can always visit Tonopah for other attractions, such as the Tonopah Test Range, where the Air Force drops dummy nuclear weapons just for laughs.
In Tonopah, Nevada, sits a motel full of clowns.
It isn’t very modern, but the staff does not use frowns.
To sleep with Bozo watching you is quite a luxury,
and in the lobby you will find the cushions go whoopee.
When Steve Smith was offered the position of advance clown on the Blue Unit of Ringling Brothers in 1972 he immediately thought of me, his old colleague from Sigfrido Aguilar’s Estudio Busqueda de Pantamimo, in Patzcuaro, Mexico.
Like a true blue pal, he suggested that we work as a team doing the advance work, and old man Feld agreed.
When Smith called me from his hometown of Zanesville, Ohio, with the good news I was beyond broke — living with my parents and doing birthday parties at 12 dollars a pop.
We immediately made plans to meet up down in Venice, Florida, where Leon McBryde would give us some pointers on advance clowning.
Since we were to be a domestic couple, traveling and living in a decrepit motor home that the circus provided gratis, Smith and I divvied up the duties thusly: He would drive, and I would cook.
Smith had but one caveat when it came to food. No onions. He hated onions.
I, on the other hand, doted on them.
I never worried about breakfast, because all Smith ever had was a half dozen Oreo cookies and a can of Coke. We always ate lunch out somewhere, since we were usually on the go making appearances at schools and TV stations.
That left dinner.
I had brought along a slow cooker, and, when Smith wasn’t looking, I began to sneak in some diced onions for beef stews, goulash, spaghetti sauce, or meatloaf.
He never suspected. Praised, in fact, my cooking.
When we parted ways at the end of the season — he to wed and I to go to Thailand as a missionary — we hugged briefly, and the deep and powerful emotions were so strong that I almost told him about the onions.
Almost. But not quite.
This is the first time in forty years that I have revealed this embarrassing item. Smith had gone to bat for me with Irvin Feld and pulled me out of poverty and obscurity to work with him in the limelight. In return, I surreptitiously fed him the one item on earth he loathed — onions.
I imagine there is a special place in Hell for people like me.
Probably a sumptuous dining hall, where I am the guest of honor, and am feted day and night, throughout eternity, with nothing but lukewarm tap water and tuna noodle casserole — which I despise.
So light a squib for me sometime. I might get time off.
I retired permanently from clowning just about three years ago. I started at the age of 17 with Ringling Brothers, back in 1971.
In the summer of 2012, though, I became a protestor. One of those wild-eyed fellows people cross the street to avoid. How was that my swan song with clowning? Here’s how it happened . . .
I was staying with my daughter in Woodbridge, VA. And I had been out of work for a long time.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. An idea I had toyed with for several years, a mere whim, came back to me in force and I decided to act on it.
I rousted out my clown makeup and costume, found a piece of poster board and a marker, and took the commuter train up to Washington D.C.
At the United States Botanic Garden on Maryland Avenue Southeast I ducked into the men’s room, put on my makeup and costume, stowed my civilian clothes in a backpack, and marched over to the Capitol Building with my placard, which read: “UNEMPLOYED CIRCUS CLOWN. PLEASE HELP PUT ME IN CONGRESS WHERE I BELONG.”
The results were immediate. I was surrounded by a posse of Capitol Hill police and ordered to produce some identification. I gave them my passport, which they took inside and examined with a fine tooth comb. Discovering at last that I was not wanted for anything, not even jay-walking, a lieutenant proceeded to give me the third degree:
“What are you doing here?”
“Where are you from?” Originally from Minnesota.
“What does your sign mean?” Just what it says, sir.
“Are you panhandling for money?” I am making a political statement.
So they had to let me go, and I sat on a bench on Capitol Hill with my sign, in my clown makeup, and silently watched the political world go by. There were members of Congress. Government Bureaucrats. Joggers. Well-dressed lobbyists. I waved at all of them, giving out with my patented buffoonish grin.
And tourists – lots of tourists. Every high school tour group that came by stopped for a photograph with me while their teacher/chaperone explained the wonderful privilege American citizens had to do the kind of crazy thing I was doing right in front of Congress. The students covertly handed me part of their spending money when their chaperones weren’t looking.
Chinese tourists came by the busloads, and swarmed up the Capitol steps like an invading horde. Very few spoke English. But when someone would translate my sign for them they became highly interested in being photographed with me. When they were herded back onto their bus they always insisted I stand by the driver while they took up a collection to hand to the driver to hand to me. To this day I wonder just exactly what they thought of my little stunt. For all I know my photograph is now in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive in Beijing.
Of course I was not the only eccentric strolling around. There was a man whose sign was practically a novel – the gist of it was that the CIA had stolen his wife away from him in Ghana. Another man strode vigorously around the grounds, dressed in a Revolutionary War costume. He merely wanted to shake hands and play Yankee Doodle on his piccolo. I saw several people attempt to pass out handbills, but they were hustled away by the police tout suite.
Summers in Washington D.C. are punishingly hot and humid. My clown makeup only lasted about three hours before sweat began to dissolve it off my face. And I had to start taking a diuretic for my edema, which meant finding a men’s room pretty darn quick some days; and the guards wouldn’t let me use the ones in the Rayburn House Office Building. So in August I quit my loony vigil.
My plan of being offered a job by some well-heeled entrepreneur impressed with my Frank Capra-esque display had not panned out, anyway.
After deducting expenses for train fare and meals I wasn’t doing all that well, either.
Eventually I found other work and moved away from the East Coast. I gave my clown props and makeup to some of my grandkids, with firm instructions to come to me before trying to use any of it.
Now I call myself semi-retired, writing content for websites.
And by the way, the United States Botanic Garden is really outstanding. And free. I highly recommend it when you’re touring the Capitol. You’ll find the rest rooms especially clean and quiet.
It is time to write of Kevin Bickford, a.k.a. Rufus T. Goofus.
I will pass over his many kindnesses to old friends and complete strangers during his tenure at Bozo Row in Los Angeles. He took in more strays than the SPCA.
I want to recall him as I first met him and worked with him on the Ringling Brothers Blue Unit in 1971.
He and I were both as blind as bats without our glasses, and so were constantly tripping over guy wires and smashing into other big top paraphernalia during walk arounds and ring gags.
During that first season we played Madison Square Garden for over two months, and had several evenings off when we were preempted by hockey games. Those were glorious rambles through the bowels of New York; one night we went to Radio City Music Hall for the movie. It was the first time either one of us had ever been inside that Taj Mahal of the cinema. When Kevin saw the sweeping staircase leading up to the balcony, the carpet a plush red, his slapstick instincts took over.
“Tork” he called, as he clambered up the stairway. “Watch this!”
At the top he threw himself down, to roll boisterously all the way to the bottom. Then got up and laughed like an idiot child. Nearby patrons were extremely startled at his antics; an usher, dressed like a South American chief-of-staff, anxiously asked him if he needed a doctor. He was about to repeat his performance, until Tim Holst and I grabbed him and forcibly steered him into the darkened theater before he could concoct anymore mayhem.
For my birthday that season he went out and bought me a cake. We lived right across from each other on the clown train car (nicknamed “The Iron Lung), and so he simply knocked on my door that night after the last show so we could share the treat. Even though both of us were mighty trenchermen, there was still cake left over, which he gave to me. But I didn’t want it cluttering up my tiny roomette, so, while he went down the hall to the donniker, I simply shoved it under the upholstered seat of his roomette. And didn’t think to ever mention it to him.
He didn’t discover this until a few months later, when the cockroaches became even more unendurable than usual. As he was cleaning out his room preparatory to spraying it he came across the remnant of my birthday cake, slowly decomposing into a feast for bugs.
He chased me through the King Charles Troupe car, through the Bulgarian acrobats car, and then cornered me in the pie car, where I lamely offered to buy him the pie car special – a ham sandwich and a bowl of chili. That pacified him.
A few seasons later he celebrated my natal day in a much different manner . . .
During the evening performance, while I was doing a gag with Terry Parsons, he snuck up behind me and gave me a shaving cream pie in the kisser. While I was wiping it out of my eyes he and Terry hustled me into a smelly gunnysack and dragged me off into a corner, where I spent the rest of the show trying to extricate myself from the bag.
I stopped reminding people about my birthday after that.
In Chicago we played the old arena that was next to the stockyards. Over one hundred years of bloody and poopy cattle had imbued the ground with a unique and unsettling aroma. It took us several days to become used to it and stop gagging sporadically. Around the arena were hundreds of bentwood chairs for the front row audience.
Kevin immediately became enchanted with their comic possibilities, and spent come-in wandering among them, getting first an arm and then a leg encumbered in them . . . until he looked like a human porcupine with chair legs sticking out from him at all angles. It was such a funny gag that I tried to steal it from him; but I couldn’t carry it off with the same panache.
My favorite Roofus T. Goofus walk-around had him dressed as a candy butcher, with the pink cotton candy plastered all over his face, arms, midriff and legs. His look of bemused concern as he staggered around the track engulfed in his own product made even a hardened old veteran like Swede Johnson chuckle.
On Halloween that first season he and I decided to exchange makeups and costumes for the evening show. We knew that if the performance director, the redoubtable Charlie Baumann, caught us we’d get a taste of his tiger whip – so we stayed out of his sight. I did Kevin’s gags and he did mine.
It just so happened that payday was that day as well, so when the word went out that the Ghost was walking we didn’t stop to think but scrambled over to the deal table where Schwartzie was handing out the pay envelopes. Schwartzie was a former clown, as cross-eyed as Ben Turpin, who now handled the payroll. After a cursory glance he gave me Kevin’s pay envelope and gave Kevin my pay envelope.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I peeked inside Kevin’s envelope – and immediately regretted it. Kevin was making fifty dollars more than me! We silently exchanged envelopes a few minutes later. I doubt that Kevin looked inside my envelope – he wasn’t that kind of a guy.
I lost touch with Roofus when I moved to Thailand to teach English many years ago, and when I moved back to the States there were only occasional and vague echoes of him from other old circus friends.
But I want to think of him now, still swathed in cotton candy and still tottering down the track somewhere to the crows of delighted laughter from children and adults – still a clown for all seasons . . .
(Editor’s Note: Our good friend, Toto Johnson, a professional circus clown, has just posted the following on his Facebook page. We thought it interesting enough to repost here. It is a LEGITIMATE job offer!)
“Hey…remember that gig in Dubai that was brought up awhile back? Well…I got a lengthy email about it from Martin D’Souza today. He is the producer of the clown festivals in India that me, Greg Parks, Joe Vecciarelli, etc have gone to. He has 11 clowns booked out of the 20 spaces available. I cannot do it because they are not willing to split up the time frame…which runs December 28-February 1. I could do 2 weeks but not the whole month but the government in Dubai has only allowed 20 visas for the event so all the clowns involved must go for the full time.
If anyone wants to throw their hat in the ring you can contact Martin at…”
The more a clown intuits about crowd psychology the better his gags will be.
I once used the power of suggestion in a crowd to raise some big laughs, not to mention some ire!
The intermission at Ringling Brothers always went 15 minutes, and I always considered that as time wasted, since I wasn’t out there making the crowd titter. So I sat me down and thought up a gag that wouldn’t involve appearing in any of the rings, where the roustabouts were busy setting up the cage for the big cats and other equipment for the second half of the show.
I would go out into the audience and do some carpet clowning, as it was called.
All I needed was a squirt bottle, some cheap cologne, a dog collar attached to a leash, and a willing accomplice. I found my accomplice in Spike, who shared with me a relish for slightly diabolical mischief making. Once I explained how the gag worked he readily agreed to stooge for me.
You must understand that in many buildings the lower seats were bleachers that could be expanded and retracted, depending on the venue. For hockey games they were retracted to make more room for the players; for the circus they were expanded to make more room for the customers. If you walk underneath the bleachers you have a bird’s eye view of people’s ankles, those that are covered and those that are exposed.
Spike took the collar and leash up into the bleachers, where he would mournfully ask the curious customers if they had seen his pet skunk. That set the stage for me, down below beneath the bleachers with my spray bottle full of cheap cologne. After Spike had established the fact that there was a lost skunk wandering around, I would take careful aim and spritz the bare ankles of everyone in the vicinity.
The bedlam that followed was most gratifying. Ladies would leap up like ballerinas, scattering their popcorn in a wide circle and screaming like a calliope; the men were not one whit behind, usually shouting hoarsely as they waggled their legs in alarm.
I never bothered spraying the ankles of children, who are realists and were not fooled for a minute by wicked psychology but would instead look directly down at me under the bleachers and try to drown me with their soft drinks.
Spike and I performed this admirable clown gag in about a dozen arenas before the hazards became too great – for Spike, that is. About one out of every dozen men I sprayed would take offense at the joke, not seeing any appreciable humor in it, and threaten to punch his lights out. Spike grew tired of standing up to them and facing a possible “Hey Rube!” situation (that is where a circus person gets into a fight with a townie and calls out “Hey Rube!” to alert the other circus personnel to come a-runnin’ to help out).This
Spike was such an admirable stooge that after he quit I never revived the gag with anyone else.
As a sidebar let me just say that in the circus to stooge for someone was never considered demeaning or like taking a back seat. I was very proud of the times I got to stooge for the likes of Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs. It meant you were a trusted confederate in the halls of buffoonery.
Tim Torkildson spent 35 years of his life working as a professional clown for the Ringling Brothers Circus; however, such a career and addiction to laughter often comes at a price.
Either by random chance or cosmic design, Tim Torkildson had his first opportunity to be a clown in kindergarten, and after that he was never the same.
He swiped his brother Bill’s pajamas and smeared his mother’s lipstick on his face, looking more like the victim of a head-on crash than a merrymaker.
Not having any scripted action besides the teacher’s admonition to “do something funny,” Torkildson pranced around the classroom, stuck out his tongue at the indulgent group of parents and then stood as still as Lot’s wife — struck with the utter beauty of laughter and the dim premonition that the cost of generating such merriment could be terribly high.
“I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not want to make people laugh,” Torkildson said.
He put cellophane tape over the projector lens when the teacher showed movies. He learned to make an immense number of embarrassing noises. He assiduously studied old Marx Brothers and Three Stooges movies on TV. He blew bubbles through his straw into his milk carton until it foamed over, and then slathered the foamy milk over his face so he could shave it off with a plastic butter knife.
The summer after high school graduation, Torkildson found an article about the Ringling Clown College within the pages of Life magazine. In a few months, he hitchhiked to Florida and enrolled in the program.
“I wanted to be (funny), but I wasn’t,” Torkildson said. “I needed the training and the exposure that came with working with professional clowns.”
Completing the Ringling Clown College program was no easy task for Torkildson. His family was embarrassed by his career choice, and he felt rejected by many of his fellow clowns. Despite this opposition, Torkildson became one of the top performers in his class, and graduated as one of only 12 students with an offer to perform with the Ringling Brothers Circus.
As his college days came to a close, Torkildson began to notice a classmate, Tim Holst, who stood out from the other students.
“This was the first time I’d ever been away from home,” Torkildson said. “I could do anything I wanted and I was considering my options. I noticed that Tim Holst … didn’t swear, didn’t drink (and) didn’t smoke.”
Torkildson realized perhaps there was greater purpose in his attending Ringling Clown College; perhaps he was more than just a juvenile jokester. He took the missionary discussions and was baptized soon after as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After a few years of working as a professional clown, Torkildson put his career on hold to serve an LDS mission in Bangkok, Thailand. Here he developed a love for spicy foods and even performed some of his clown routines for locals.
“I spent two-thirds of my mission performing as a clown,” he said. “The church did not have a very good image in Thailand, (so) the mission president did a number of things to generate good public relations. One of the things I did was free clown shows. We would go visit hospitals, schools and jails. I would be introduced as a missionary for the church, and that is as much publicity as we did.”
Torkildson was lucky enough to get his job back with the Ringling Brothers Circus after he returned home, but being the class clown came at a price. Though he spent years in the circus making families clap and cheer with excitement, his wife and eight children were not so enthusiastic about his career.
“I sensed that my wife was falling away from me,” he said. “This frightened me so … I gave up the circus (and) I worked for the Utah State Tax Commission as a tax collector. I went from making people laugh to making them cry … but I did it because I wanted to stay at home. It really didn’t help because by that time the marriage was dead. As soon as it was over, I quit that job and I went back to the circus. Obviously I was sad, I was heartbroken … I had lost my family.”
Torkildson finished out his career working as a clown, eventually becoming the ringmaster and then running publicity for the circus. However, arthritis kicked in and traveling with the circus became too difficult to continue.
After moving on from the circus and working several different jobs, Torkildson found himself struggling to make ends meet.
“Once my active clowning career ended, I felt a real sense of deflation, and it took me years to redefine myself as someone who has worth outside of his ability to make people laugh,” he said. “I wound up living in a homeless shelter. I ran out of options. That happened just a year ago.”
A good friend of Torkildson’s took notice to his situation and invited him to come stay with his family in Provo. Torkildson lives there today, works part-time and expects to be in his own apartment by the end of the summer.
Now that he lives in Provo, Torkildson is closer to his children and grandchildren, and longs to spend time developing those relationships that may have suffered during his circus days.
“Anytime I can be with my children or grandchildren, that is extremely fulfilling for me,” he said. “I haven’t experienced that with my children for many years, so it’s like a holiday.”
Torkildson’s clowning days may be over, but he’ll never stop trying to make others smile.
“Writing is the thing I enjoy the most … I have a lot of fun memories of Thailand and the circus, and I write about those things,” he said. “Physical comedy is impossible for me to do, so I’m grateful I have a new outlet to be able to write and through the Internet be able to share that with people.”
Through his trials, Torkildson is grateful for the influence of the LDS Church and how it has helped him stay hopeful toward the future.
“I feel that my best work is still ahead of me, and the reason I feel that way is because of my living testimony of the superb reality of the Savior and of his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said. “I feel that each day is a gift and that it is my responsibility, and privilege, to find the wonder and awe in it, and to respond to that wonder and glory with all the creative resources at my command. … And one way or another, it’s still going to be about laughter. I’m still going to be entertaining people. That’s my life.”