Valdosta Daily Times

October 27, 2012

Circus returns Monday, Tuesday

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A heart attack led Tom King to transform his career in corporate security to becoming a clown.

Following the cardiac episode, a doctor told King to find something less stressful, to find something he loves.

A joy for clowning became an independent career for the past quarter century. This year, King’s Tom E. Boy became the advance clown representative for the Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars playing under the big-top tent for two days next week.

The circus is scheduled to feature trapeze artists, tigers, elephants, acrobats, dog acts, a human cannonball, and, of course, more clowns.

King’s Tom E. Boy has kind of become a king of clowns, says Dan Baltulonis, the circus senior marketing representative. King is a past president of Clowns of America International. He has written a book on clowning, an instructional book that covers everything from being a professional clown to a hometown clown.

King began clowning as a hometown clown, a fellow who knows comedic bits and tricks but also knows the essentials to making a living or supplementing an income through clowning. These essentials include face-painting, etc. King’s book also deals with the modern-day boom in people who fear clowns.

During his visit to The Times, King attributes this increased fear to Stephen King’s “It,” a novel about a demonic killer clown.

“There are phobias for everything,” King says. “People are afraid of heights, afraid of the dark ... so some people fear clowns just as some people fear other things. ... There has been a stigmatism associated with clowning in the past few years that wasn’t there several years ago.”

Tom King also says many inexperienced clowns create unnecessary hysteria. They are too excited to be wearing the clown make-up and costumes. They approach people too loudly with too many sudden moves.

In making his public appearances in malls, King says he does not boldly approach people, especially children. He prefers letting people approach him. He shares the story of being in a mall where one girl would not come near him for fear. King handed circus tickets to the children and families who approached him. Seeing this the girl overcame her fear and approached him for her free ticket.

Kings says he also faces less uncertainty since he changed his Tom E. Boy character from being a white-faced clown to a red-faced clown using far less make-up.

He shares the three circus clown archetypes.

The white-face clown is typically the boss clown. King’s red-faced character is usually the “goose” clown, the one that does pratfalls, gets hit by pies, etc. The white-face clown typically throws the pie that hits the goose clown in the face. Both of these clown archetypes have their origins from European circuses. The third type is the American-created hobo or tramp clown, such as the sad-faced J. Emmett Kelly Jr.

In the early years of film, the clown tradition continued with less make-up; think Charlie Chaplin or the Marx Brothers.

“People become clowns to bring joy,” King says.

He recalls being hired for a small girl’s birthday party several years. The girl’s family had been experiencing a series of problems, causing even some relatives to avoid the birthday gathering. She was staying with her mother and grandparents. Otherwise, “no one came to this little girl’s party,” King says.

He arrived and came upon a plan. Rather than do his normal routine. He asked the little girl if she would like to put on a show for her mother and grandparents. King taught the girl some clown tricks, showed her how to apply clown make-up, and they performed for her family.

“Even though no one came to her party, she came up to me as I was leaving and said, ‘This is the best day of my life,’” King says. “... That’s why I became a clown to make someone’s day.”

That’s what the circus hopes to do this weekend.