My life as a clown

I’m the clown on the right, silly!

The first and only time I had seen the real circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, I was but a wee little lad. My grandparents from Lynn brought me to Boston Garden, and I was amazed by an even littler lad named Michu, who in the mid-1970s toured with Ringling as "The World’s Smallest Man." (the Hungarian-born Mihaly Meszaros (1940-?) later put on the ALF suit(?!) and showed up in Big Top Pee Wee) Anyhow. I looked up to Michu (literally/figuratively/whatnot) because he turned his short stature into star status. That was the closest I got to Ringling until 1997, when a newspaper I worked for outside of Seattle sent me to Clown College auditions for a first-person assignment. Since I performed with a Seattle improv troupe at the time (Fresh Art Entertainment, now defunct, with several members now appearing in TheatreSports!), it seemed like a fun and natural fit. Didn’t get the Ringling job. If I had, I probably would’ve gone, just for the adventure (and perhaps the stories I could tell and write afterward). But a Seattle clown company offered me a job after the audition, trained me in the art of clowning and sent me on birthday parties and company picnics that summer (including Microsoft’s big shebang, in which I did not see Mr. Bill Gates but did see that he had plenty of money to spend on his employees). Imagine my surreal delight when the folks promoting Ringling asked me last month if I might like to become a clown for part of opening night of the circus at the TD Banknorth Garden. The story appears below…

But first, some things that didn’t make the paper.

The three-ring show itself is still pretty amazing. Not sure if I’d say it’s still the greatest show on Earth, because Cirque du Soleil’s various operations have convinced a number of amazing acrobats and daredevils to jump ranks, if you will. But Crazy Wilson, who somersaulted over a spinning AND rotating ring high above the crowd, definitely stole the show. And everything is very kid-friendly.

Even funnier than taking part in the circus was my decision to leave the clown makeup on for the remainder of the evening. Kids and adults outside the new Garden wondered why one of the Ringling clowns was standing on the sidewalk with them. People on the T were impressed or bewildered. By the time I got out to Cambridge to see my new favorite band, Cyanide Valentine, at T.T. The Bear’s, bystanders were really confused. Truth be told, Wendy asked me to come in full clown makeup, and I didn’t want to let her down. But I also relished having some bold fun again. Reminded me of my youthful foolishness. And when comedian Dave Walsh walked in the doors and began laughing at the sight of me, I knew it was going to be a fun night. Nothing like having a literal mask on your face to embolden you to hit on pretty girls in a way you’d never even think of attempting under regular nightclub circumstances. Dave and I had a lot of fun. Makes me want to get back into comedy.

But first, as promised, this short story about clowning around with the circus…

Some Herald reporters really are clowns.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey made me an honorary member of Clown Alley for Friday’s opening-night festivities in Boston for the 134th edition of the "Greatest Show On Earth.”
Gabor Hrisafis, a not-so Ga-big Hungarian clown and six-year Ringling veteran, mentors me.
First, a face. Not too big. "Those scare the children,” Gabor says.
Then an outfit. Amazingly, every item fits on the first try. Am I built for this gig or what?
It’s 6:30 p.m. – an hour before the big show, but time for the Three Ring Adventure and my role in it to begin. Anyone with a ticket can go down among the three rings for an up-close look at the clowns, animals and other acts.
Some Garden employees who had seen me only minutes earlier as a civilian notice perceptible changes in my demeanor.
Some Ringling clowns, however, look quizzically at me, sizing me up as if I were after their jobs.
Circus "diva” and former American Idol semifinalist Jennifer Fuentes smiles and waves at me, then asks another performer, "Who’s the new guy?”
Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages, meanwhile, quickly adopt me as one of the Ringling tribe. They want me to sign their circus programs. They want their pictures taken with me. They want me to play tricks on them.
They see me juggle balls and clubs. It’s so much easier at my desk at work than here under the spotlight – hard to imagine how these pros do it.
They see me balance precariously on the low wire, which Javier and Ernando use to warm up for their amazing antics later from high above the crowd.
They see my impromptu dance number with one of the lovely ladies from Tango de Argentina.
And they see me help Gabor and Ryan Combs, a Ringling clown from Boston, engage in some slapstick shtick.
People are laughing at me, and for all of the right reasons.
For an hour, at least, I’m big time under the Big Top.

READ IT: The story in the Boston Herald.
GET TICKETS: Ringling’s schedule and show info in Boston, through Oct. 16.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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