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Face Your Fears: Chicago Clowns Speak Out, Part II

By Karl Klockars in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 27, 2009 5:40PM

As the city prepares for Halloween on Saturday, there's one thing that almost everyone agrees is scary - clowns. But what do clowns around town feel about their lot in life? We spoke with a few to find out - All this week, learn more about our city's collection of mirth-spreaders and balloon-twisters. Previously: Twinkles

trickytheclown1009.jpg Don "Tricky the Clown" Bothwell

Length of Clown Career: Since 1971

Clown Skills: Clown magic, Balloon twisting, face painting, Corporate Events

Self-Taught or Clown College: Self-taught

What made you become a clown?
My mother. I was a junior in high school and she was doing a Christmas party for some children who had down syndrome and other mental handicaps, and she roped me into it. The kids were so receptive to the ugliest clown on earth - which shocked the heck out of me - and next year, they hired a professional. Some fireman came in and he whipped into this clown costume in about 2 minutes - looked like an Emmett Kelly, a little hobo clown. He played the concertina, and I said, "My gosh, there's actually some flash to this business!"

I kinda dabbled in it in high school, and when I moved to Illinois I got a job at Gary-Wheaton Bank as the president of their Junior Bankers Club, which was a clown. Breezy the Clown. So I did that for 18 years, and on the side I kept doing clowning stuff. It just evolved from that.

How do you deal with people that are afraid of clowns?
I just back off. Get out of their space. Young girls are usually the most...loud about it. They'll just bear with them. And if there's a child that's afraid of a clown, you just back off.

Santa Claus is the same thing. The Easter Bunny. Chuck-E-Cheese. All those costume characters. It's something that their brain just doesn't register, and they get terrified.

How do you feel about clowns going from something that's supposed to be fun to an image of terror?
trickyleadsthekids1009.jpg I don't know if that's new. I think maybe a long time ago kids were always afraid of clowns. I think Stephen King, with his movies, and other horror stories that have happened with clowns...we don't have to name names but I think the whole city of Chicago knows the guy that part time was a clown, and part time was a construction worker and roped kids into his spiderweb and killed them. So of course that's a stigma that has been blown out of proportion for clowns - because he didn't even use clowning skills to acquire his victims he used his construction company to do that. But I think those things all add up. The movie "IT" came out, and we pay the consequences. [laughs]

But just remember - Emmett Kelly, Red Skelton, Charlie Chaplin, all those guys, they were classics. That's what I had hoped to do and accomplish and I did.

I remember doing the new bank in Danada, and a kid came in, and he looks at me and he goes, "Do you have sharp teeth?" And I couldn't figure it out. But it was just after that movie "IT" came out. I always ask, "You're not supposed to be watching movies that are rated R, are you?" And I usually say that around their parents, because they're the ones that allow them to do that.