Clowns have entertained everyone from pharaohs to children in the past four and a half millenia. But what would make grown men and women want to paint their faces and lace up big shoes?
According to two local performers, the answer falls somewhere within a love of comedy, faith and keeping busy.
The first clown on record performed as a jester in Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi's court in 2500 B.C., according to the World Clown Association's historian. Locally, JJ Jingles and Rainbow The Clown don't entertain anyone quite so noteworthy. However, they still feel what they do is important.
“I was born nuts. I’ve just always liked to have fun.”
Kennedy resident Josie Maring, 60, became JJ Jingles in 1996. She may only have 16 years of clowning under her belt, but Maring always thought she would fit in with the world of comedy.
"I was born nuts," she said. "I've just always liked to have fun."
Randolph's Jerry Stimson, 67, started clowning 24 years ago at Levant Wesleyan Church, working with a youth group. As part of a clown ministry, Stimson and the youth group put on programs and went on mission trips.
Parishioners would ask Stimson if he did birthday parties. Before he knew it, Stimson became Rainbow The Clown.
"I jokingly tell people, 'The kids grew up, but I didn't,'" he said.
He still does some church clowning, teaching lessons and parables, but Stimson has done mostly secular work since his children grew up.
"Most of what I do is private parties and clubs," he said. "I've done all of them once, from the fire departments to the legions to the schools to the libraries."
He also performs at fundraisers, festivals, carnivals and senior centers. He has even traveled overseas for his clowning.
Maring has done some traveling of her own as a member of several organizations, including Erie Clowns, World Clowns Association, Clowns of America International and Mid-Atlantic Clown Association. She has attended conventions with up to 800 fellow clowns as far away as Richmond, Va. She too does Christian clowning, but works other jobs at parties, reunions, fundraisers, schools, legions and parades.
"If you go into churches, you can do plays and different illusions, teaching about Jesus Christ and your faith in God," she said. "With really little kids, it's lessons on what's nice and what isn't nice."
Maring has a home office equipped with makeup, costumes, wigs, prizes, puppets and more. She has several outfits and shoes, including a size 19 pair of Converse. The clown paraphernalia spills over into her bedroom.
"It's a lot of stuff," she said. "I need a bigger office. There's everything. You just go nuts."
Among the hundreds of items, Maring has some clown essentials, including a rubber chicken and squeakers. Pockets are also a must for each of Maring's costumes.
"No clown is a clown without a rubber chicken," she said. "You have got to have a rubber chicken."
LOOKING THE PART
Some clowns, such as JJ Jingles, choose a traditional, whiteface clown look, including a fully painted face. It takes Maring an hour to transform herself into JJ Jingles.
"I like to give them the full clown," she said. "I think that's what people want."
Stimson used to paint his entire face, but has opted for the European clown look in recent years.
"Instead of painting your face all white and having the wigs, I use minimal makeup," he said. "It's less restrictive. It gives you a more natural look. For young people and people who are afraid of clowns, it's less offensive."
Instead of putting on a traditional clown nose, Stimson uses paint.
The clowns have more to worry about than how to paint their faces. Their outfits come into play as well, depending on the weather, season and event.
Maring once had a job on the Summer Wind. It was 95 degrees. She opted to not wear a wig, and instead put on a hat that matched her outfit in hopes of feeling a little more comfortable.
Clowns can make their own clothing or purchase their outfits, puppets and props through vendors. Finding the right materials isn't always as easy as making a trip to Lakewood, particularly when it comes to paints.
"I don't go to Wal-Mart and go to the art department," Maring said, noting children's allergies can sometimes be a problem. "Our paints, every product I buy, I wear it. If I buy new paints, I'll actually put them on my arm and put them on my face for the day in the house and walk around. This job, anywhere I go I shop. Every day I shop. I'm always looking for something."
Clowns tend to be busiest in the spring, summer and fall months with a slight dip in business at the beginning of each year, Maring said.
According to Stimson, finding jobs isn't all that hard. Rainbow The Clown has grown by word of mouth.
"There's just been so many great contacts," he said. "One job always leads to another job. I've had nothing but wonderful experiences from it."
Maring isn't afraid to commute. She's worked in Buffalo and Pennsylvania and would consider a trip to Cleveland.
"If they pay me well, I'll drive," she said.
Both Stimson and Maring clown part time. Making clowning a full-time job would be a difficult task in Western New York, according to Maring.
"We're in such a depression," she said. "The clowns in other areas get so much more an hour, but you can't ask these people. We're in an area with 130-some thousand people. In New York City, there's millions."
Once a clown learns of a job and begins considering it, there's plenty of work left before the day of the event. Besides picking out props and preparing games, clowns must consider their audiences.
"I ask a lot of questions when I book a party," Maring said. "Will there be anyone there with disabilities? You don't want to get there and have somebody's child be deaf or blind and be unable to offer them something."
Over the years, Stimson has kept in mind which jobs would be smart to take.
"When I first started, I lived in Gerry," he said. "They wanted to know if I would be out there with the bulls. I said, 'I may be a clown, but I'm not a fool.'"
Most clowns choose to carry insurance in case something goes wrong.
"Some people say, 'I don't want to part with the money,'" Maring said. "I say, 'Do you want to part with your house?' Everybody has to have performers' insurance."
Clowns also have a code of ethics to follow. They can't drink or smoke on the job and must perform their comedy in good taste, among a handful of other requirements.
"The humor is always at the clown's expense," Stimson said. "When you're clowning, you're the fool."
"You don't want humor to be mean," Maring said. "The biggest thing when you're a clown is, you make people laugh, but you don't make people laugh at people. A good clown will do that. People are sensitive. You've got to feel out your audience. Particularly kids, you don't want the joke to be on them."
ENJOYING THE JOB
Stimson has found five good reasons to keep up clowning.
"You don't have to get up in the morning; you don't have to stay out late; everybody's glad to see you coming; you don't have to grow up; and you're paid to be a fool," he said.
Maring, a former employee of Gustavus Adolphus and The Resource Center, enjoys the flexible hours. She used to schedule clowning jobs around her full-time work.
"It's not like it's a 9 to 5 job," Maring said. "I've had people want me at 11, 12 o'clock at night. That's fine."
The job has kept Stimson, a retired Cummins Engine machinist, feeling young. He said most people think he's about 15 years younger than his actual age.
"You have an access to the fun side of people," Stimson said. "You're meeting them in their world. It's great for your self-worth to share the joy with others."
Maring particularly enjoys jobs for people with disabilities because they're happy to see her and appreciate her work, she said. Four-year-olds are also among her favorite groups.
"They're old enough to know what's going on, but not old enough to heckle you," she said. "They're not babies anymore. They know what they want."
Both Stimson and Maring enjoy seeing their clients smile. Spending so many hours as clowns has caused changes in the ways they interact with others in their daily lives.
"Everybody knows you're a clown," Maring said. "It kind of spills over."
"It sets your tone to people," Stimson said. "It tends to set your whole nature. Whether you're in clown outfit or not, you're more conscious of how you treat people. You're on the lighter side of people. Sometimes I forget I don't have my clown makeup on."
Stimson plans to continue painting his face and wearing clown outfits for as long as he can.
"It's a great part-time job with great hours," he said. "It keeps me in good health. Clowning keeps you in good spirits. It's been a fun, fun job for me."
Maring hopes to not only continue clowning; she'd like to do it for even bigger audiences.
"My dream is to go to Ralph Wilson Stadium and work with the family section," she said. "If that didn't work, I'd work the Steelers', but I'd rather work the Bills'."