I doubt I will ever play this fool again, Tizzy, my alter ego. Even before the recent insane outbreak of scary clowns that have terrorized children across the country, coulrophobia has been on the rise, mainly because of the use of clowns in a deranged way in movies, like Stephen Kings, “It.” Even McDonald’s has officially put their icon, Ronald McDonald, in hiding. What’s Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus supposed to do?
This is a sad day for me. I have entertained thousands of children over the last 30 years as Tizzy the Clown.
I was trained in makeup and costume by Daisy Rademaker in Louisville, Kentucky. At graduation, our class marched in the Pegasus Parade which is held before the Kentucky Derby. Daisy was famous for walking behind the horses and taking a daisy from her hat and planting it in a freshly deposited pile of horse manure. As for Tizzy, he debuted by riding his unicycle in the parade.
Tizzy once had his picture on the front page of the Northeast Georgian riding his unicycle in the Mountain Laurel Festival. That didn’t seem novel enough. By the next year’s parade, he was on a six-foot unicycle.
That day Tizzy was riding high, waving to the crowd, soaking in the applause, but he drew the most laughter when he lost his balance and fell. Instead of just dropping to his feet, he fell sideways and the bracing of his fall dislocated his shoulder. He pushed the unicycle the rest of the parade with a dislocated shoulder as people shouted, “Hey, clown, why don’t you ride that wheel instead of pushing it?”
Tizzy walked from the parade route right into a doctor’s office and asked to see the doctor on duty. Ten minutes later the doctor had his shoulder back in place. The doctor then sent him to the hospital for an x-ray. Of course, the people at the hospital thought the request was a joke.
When I was a child I was once picked out of all the students in my school to come up on stage to assist a magician in his act. That made me a celebrity for a day with my friends. Tizzy tried to recreate that magical feeling for children. He wanted them to be captured by wonder, to be caught by surprise, to forget any stress or problems they might have brought to school with them, and to experience the wonderful joy of laughter.
Tizzy always emphasized reading at his shows. His favorite book was “How to Pop a Balloon.” He began to read by sitting on a collapsing chair. (Laughter). When he got up, he held it down with his foot; then he let it go. It would spring up all the way to his head. He acted as if it knocked him off his feet. As he fell to the floor there was thunderous laughter!
Tizzy would then look at the chair and decide whether or not to try it again. Of course all the children would say “Yes! Yes!” Tizzy could position his feet on the sides of the chair so it couldn’t fall. This time it would support his weight. This left the children perplexed. Of course, he could allow it to collapse again later in the act.
The story of “How to Pop a Balloon” was is a variation of the old “needle through the balloon” trick, which children also could not figure out. How can a big needle go into a balloon without it popping? But in the end, Tizzy pulled the needle out of the balloon, allowed it to float through the air and then it went “Pow!” as he stuck it with the needle.
Tizzy always brought children up on stage in the school shows. He created an imaginary moat around him with pretend alligators in the moat and told the children that no one could cross the moat unless he or she walked across the drawbridge. (This also helped keep children out of the props following the show).
Tizzy was the drawbridge. Children thought it was hilarious that they got to walk on the back of the clown. As a child walked back to her seat she would often forget about the moat but all the children in the audience would scream, “Alligators!!” Tizzy would let down the drawbridge and she would walk on him again to more laughter.
The joke was always on Tizzy, never on the child. The child was always the star. Laughter in the shows was designed up build up, not to tear down.
That’s what’s so sad about the outbreak of scary clown incidents. People that are looking for a cheap thrill have torn down trust and opportunities for laughter for children and adults, alike. In addition, they have destroyed some aspects of a genre of entertainment that go back to days that jesters entertained kings.
We have always needed clowns and we still do. That’s the reason we loved Charlie Chaplain, the Three Stooges, Emmett Kelly, Carol Burnett, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball, and Robin Williams. Most of these people needed no makeup to make us laugh. They were naturals at what they did.
Tizzy freed parts of me that I might not have discovered otherwise. You see, I have coulrophobia, too. I’ve always been afraid of freeing the clown that is within me. That’s why I’ve always been drawn to those who make me laugh and I’ve celebrated the times I’ve been able to bring laughter to others.
Tizzy, we had some good laughs together. I’ll miss you.