Send in the clowns, at least if there are any left. The national clown population is dwindling to a woeful low, according to the New York Daily News which broke this devastating turn of events while reporting on the latest local staging of The Greatest Show on Earth.
Surely this tabloid jests — without clowns there can be no circus and without the circus there can be no silly performer antics and trained animals in captivity. And without trained animals in captivity there can be one less thing for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to protest. Just imagine. And the rodeo — what the heck will the rodeo do?
But this is no joke. Cue Smokey Robinson and grab a tissue. According to the newspaper article, membership in clown organizations is dropping due to declining interest by those who don’t find professional clowning cool enough, death of the industry’s elderly statesmen without fresh blood to fill their oversized shoes and more-stringent employers not willing to hire just any Bozo for their traveling show or children’s birthday party. A move toward “Cirque du Soleil” style acrobats and pervasive streak of coulrophobia exacerbated by John Wayne Gacy and that scene in “Poltergeist” probably doesn’t help much, either.
The World Clown Association alone reported that membership has dropped about 1,000 people to 2,500 since 2004.
The Ringing Brothers Clown College in Florida is also not goofing around and takes its future clowns very seriously. This Harvard of clowndom only picked 14 new students out of 531 applicants. This job isn’t something any trained monkey could do.
But perhaps it’s time to look at ways to bolster the clown ranks before the country becomes overrun with mimes, harlequins, balloon artists and those silvery painted people busting out robot moves for spare change. Think clown affirmative action. Think federal grants to establish more clown vocational training programs. Think breeding programs — ClownMatch.com, anyone? — to spur new generations born with the desire to tumble and juggle in their blood. Nothing screams romance like a bouquet of water-squirting flowers on the first date and a pie in the face for dessert.
Think H-1 B visas for non-American performers coming overseas to fill the national void. Some international clown-wannabes not willing to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops might just even sneak over the border willing to accept this type of labor at which the majority of Americans are obviously turning up a bulbous red nose.
If, however, these attempts to bolster the clown ranks don’t work, those brave remaining few must take steps to make sure they become indispensable. They can moonlight as fashion consultants for the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team. Maybe they get themselves on some type of federal endangered species list. This works on two levels — circus folk are suddenly on the other side of PETA’s crosshairs and the anti-development contingents hoping to stall projects can hire the clowns to be “found” living indigenously on the controversial land parcels.
Or, they can repurpose their fleets of now-pitifully roomy clown cars into Google corporate commuter shuttles. San Francisco residents annoyed by large private company vehicles clogging public bus stops can’t wig out as much when the equivalent of a Mini Cooper or Smart Car packs 22 workers inside and takes off down the Peninsula. Honking horn optional.
As a last ditch effort, these rare entertainers can always hang up their ruffled collars and make a move into politics although, frankly, that three-ring circus is already crowded with clowns.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.