“The Making of a Clown”: The Ringling Bros. are looking for a few good clowns

By on July 19, 2015

In the early 1980s, if you had wanted to run away from home to join the circus because you thought you might like to be a clown, well… you’d likely end up either in a ditch somewhere or possibly you’d end up at the World Famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Clown College in Venice, Florida, where you might have even been required to watch this special, “The Making of a Clown,” made in 1982.

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These days, the application process is mostly handled via email and the RBB&B website (see below), but if you happen to be in Southern California later this month, auditions for clown applicants are being held on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. That’s my hometown and I’ve known a lot of clowns who hailed from there, so it seems like a pretty good place to hold auditions.

Okay, no funny business: If you think you’ve got what it takes to be a professional clown, you can drop by the Honda Center between 10:30am – 1:30pm and show them your skillset.

According to their audition page, no previous professional clown experience is required but they’re looking for potential applicants who have “an overactive funnybone and a heart the size of Texas! Also: improvisational ability, a sense of timing, and a sincere desire to be a clown with The Greatest Show On Earth®.”

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Also, you must be 18 years old or older and come prepared to show a 3-5 minute routine. This routine should display exaggerated facial expressions and body language, showcase any unique physical skills (juggling, unicycle riding, gymnastics, etc.) and demonstrate an understanding of your comedy, your sense of personality and “a true desire to become a member of the world famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Clown Alley.”

Auditionees should not wear any clown makeup and should not wear any costumes. Loose, comfortable clothing should be worn. It is preferred, but not required, that you bring a headshot and a résumé to your audition.

If you’re not able to make it to Anaheim on the 28th, or Dallas, Texas (another good place to find clowns) on August 5th, you can always send your portfolio/résumé, head and full body shots and a video clip featuring a thorough representation of your skills to TalentandProduction@feldinc.com.

Please include a full length head-to-toe shot of yourself during your video introduction, and in your email, please be sure to state your full name, height, where you are currently located and the date and length of the attached video.

Most importantly, the video should include sufficient information to allow for an understanding of your physical appearance, ability to display exaggerated facial expressions, display of your athleticism or any unique physical skills, an understanding of your comedy, as well.

Not sure if you have what it takes? Take their aptitude test, which has multiple-choice answers for the following ten questions (at the link — yes, this is real):

1. Your best friend asks you to join in one of the following activities. Which do you choose?: Bungee-jumping, parasailing, hiking, miniature golf

2. If you were in a band, which role would you be most likely to fill?: Lead singer, backup singer, lead guitarist, drummer

3. Your best friend asks you to take care of his cat while he’s on vacation, but you’re slightly allergic to cats. What do you do?: Put up with the temporary discomfort for the good of the animal, agree to take care of the cat, then get your brother or sister to do it, say you’ll do it as a last resort, but ask the friend to ask someone else, say you’ll be out of town that week, too

4. On your birthday, a family member surprises you by hitting you with a pie in the face. How do you react?: You storm off to your room in anger, you complain about the mess and change into clean clothes, you lick your lips and say, “mmmmm, my favorite flavor!”, give that family member a big, sloppy, pie-soaked kiss

5. You have 10 heavy cartons of books to carry from your basement to your attic. What do you do?: Carry them two cartons at a time to make the job go faster, carry them a carton at a time, carry them several books at a time, because each carton is too heavy, pay your little sister to carry them for you

6. You hear that your school drama club is putting on your favorite play. Your first reaction is…: “I wonder when auditions are?”, “I wonder if they need some extra help?”, “I wonder when tickets go on sale?”, “I wonder what’s for dinner?”

7. In the local bicycle store, which of the following captures your interest most?: Unicycle, bicycle, tricycle, kickstands

8. A loud thunderstorm is taking place; what do you do?: Hide your head under the pillow so you can’t hear it, clutch your favorite stuffed animal for safety, make sure all the windows in your home are closed, create a game with the lightning and thunder

9. Which of the following television characters would you most like to be?: Kramer in Seinfeld, Fonzie in Happy Days, Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners

10. If you had to do one of the following activities for 15 minutes without stopping, which would you choose?: Somersaults, jumping jacks, standing on one foot, sleeping

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Among the number of circuses that have called Sarasota County home, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is the largest and the one that has had the longest association with Venice. Its roots go back to a small show the five Ringling brothers established in 1884. Here’s how the Venice, Florida Ringling Bros. circus compound — which included the Clown College — looked back in the day:

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The winter quarters was in Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of the Ringlings. Bridgeport, Connecticut, winter quarters of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, became its second home.

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Ownership of the RBB&B circus changed in 1967 when the Ringlings sold it to Hoffeld Corp., which was owned by Roy Hofheinz and brothers Irvin and Israel Feld. In 1968, the Ringling Bros.’s Clown College was established as a way of recruiting and training clowns for the circus. Irvin Feld established Clown College to pass the skills of the clown masters on to the next generations. Feld died in 1984.

The faculty included legendary clown Lou Jacobs (credited with popularizing the clown car and red rubber nose), Tony Award-winning actor Bill Irwin, Frosty Little, Bobby Kaye, and World Trade Center tightrope walker Philippe Petit. Alumni have included Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, Steven “Steve-O” Glover of Jackass fame or infamy, depending on how you look at it, and Oscar-nominated actor David Strathairn.

Deteriorating railroad tracks threatened the circus’s stay in Venice. In 1992 the Seminole Gulf Railroad announced abandonment of the ten miles of track into Venice and the RBB&B circus closed its winter home in Venice. By the time of its closing in 1997, Clown College had trained around 1,400 aspiring clowns.

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Steve Smith, center, former Clown College dean, has more recently held the position as new Creative Director for Circus Sarasota, a competing circus in Sarasota, Florida (Photo by Jay Handelman)

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.