The Misadventures of Whiskers the Clown
by Sam Threadgill
Copyrighted 2008 Sam D. Threadgill
The Real Rewards
For many years, Iíve had the pleasure of bringing smiles and laughter to countless audiences. Children view me, for the most part, as a silly character who simply likes to have fun. Adults probably view me as the guy who never grew up. Both appraisals are right. Despite the care-free persona that I project, unexpected situations arise that humble this clown with the reality of true life misadventures.
As I drove back to my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was grateful to have the performance behind me. As a clown entertainer, I had just finished a Christmas party in a nearby city, which included a demanding three-hour marathon of balloon sculpturing, a magic show and lots of "one on one" interaction with both kids and adults. Now, as I drove down the darkened Will Rogers Turnpike that night, all I wanted to do was get home, grab a bite to eat, and go to bed.
As I relaxed to the radio and critiqued my evening performance, I thought about how much I really enjoyed bringing laughter to those who interacted with my clown character. Lost in the comfort of these thoughts, my concentration was quickly jolted by a loud grinding noise coming from underneath my Ford Aerostar. A fear of uncertainty swept over me, as I attempted to quickly comprehend the cause of it. Unable to accelerate, my speed quickly dropped. I steered the car to the side of the highway and let it slowly come to a quiet rest. There I sat, frozen in the still darkness of the cold December night unable to move the car in any gear. The transmission was gone.
The sober reality of my loneliness and vulnerability attempted to swallow me, as I considered my situation. Without a phone or any means of protection, I knew I needed to quickly accept the only available alternative: Start walking.
What do people think when their car headlights flash upon a clown walking down the side of the highway at night? As I began to realize how potentially dangerous my situation was, I also began to understand that embarrassment was the least of my problems. I was more concerned for my own personal safety. As I quietly prayed for protection with each step, an old van with a collection of rust and dents, slowed down to check me out. Several yards ahead, it pulled over and parked, with engine running and headlights on. Obviously, it was waiting for me. Who and how many were in the van? I wasnít that curious to find out. I had heard enough stories of random abductions and killings to fill my imagination with fearful scenarios. I stopped in my tracks and contemplated my only alternative to this situation. Walking past the waiting driver wasn't an option. Looking in both directions, I fled to the other side of the highway to continue my hasty journey. A half hour later, physically drained from jogging in my 17 inch clown shoes and chilled from the night air, I finally reached a pay phone and called for road assistance. In an hour I was back home again. Dropping into the comfort of my sofa, my thoughts recalled a remark that I periodically hear, "You have such a fun job!" Considering the night's event, all I can do is shake my head.
For the most part, my job as Whiskers the Clown is enjoyable and rewarding. After many years in children's entertainment, Iíve experienced both the good and not-so-good in this novel trade. While most bookings are nothing more than trying to work within the needs of those who hire you, others situations can be downright challenging.
Consider my main staple, the birthday party show. Most parties are booked within nice homes, with neatly dressed children. But I can never be certain of this. The possibility of unexpected surprises are always there when I schedule a party performance. Visualize this situation: My directions call for traveling to a rural area in which I'm unfamiliar. The hand drawn map tells me to make a right onto the dirt road where the pavement ends, and then to keep going until I see a deserted trailer home. Following that, I'm to make the next left and continue "over the bridge". I'm then asked to look for a blue rusted pickup truck on blocks. The house I'm searching for is behind that. I'm in an area that resembles the set from the movie, Deliverance.
Checking out the stares of a nearby dog, I approach the house cautiously. Along the way, I quickly program my personality to that of a "happy clown". I'm still not confident that I have the right home. Yes, there are several cars parked around, but how many of them actually run? The door opens and I'm greeted by energized kids who have a way of making me feel welcomed. The party goes well, everyone is happy and I leave pleased with my performance. Now, how in the world do I find my way back home?
A fundamental rule in clowning is to always stay in character. Your audience is not to think of you as anyone other than what you appear to be, a clown. Sometimes unexpected circumstances can make this a real challenge. For example, after the conclusion of one particular birthday party, I said farewell to all the children and made the way to my car, only to find that I had a flat tire. I shouldnít have to say that it's a real challenge to stay in character while changing a tire in front of an audience of children.
On another occasion, I found myself rushing to a show in a nearby town. As I focused on the highway ahead, it dawned on me that I was driving beyond the speed limit. This was brought to my attention by the flashing lights of the Highway Patrol car behind me. Again, it's hard to stay "clowny" sitting in a patrol car watching an officer write out a speeding ticket. As he hands me the citation, his smug smile is accompanied by the remark, "If you wear that suit to court, maybe the judge will have mercy on you". For obvious reasons, I can only work up a weak smile, as I thank him for his advice.
Despite the unexpected challenges, the rewards of this profession often reveal themselves in a most humble way. Recently, while employed at a restaurant doing my clown "thing", I was approached by a lady who explained that her mother use to dine regularly at the place. Afterwards, she would come home and describe in detail the amusing interaction she had witnessed between the customers and me. It brought much joy to her mother's life, she said. The lady then explained that her mother had recently passed away from cancer. Still, she wanted to offer her appreciation for the good times I had contributed to her mom's last days. Without a doubt, incidents like this are the real rewards.