The purpose of this blog is to share stories from the road of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown Alley. With this resource we can relive those days and have a better understanding of the transitions within Clown Alley over the years. I feel historically it's important to share these stories for future generations. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We were 48

That first day we were introduced to our staff. What a lineup! We had Bobby Kaye and Keith Crary for makeup and costumes. Hovy Burgess, juggling. James Donnellan, mime and exercise. Victor Gaona, acrobatics. Roberta Ballantine, nutrition. Graham Coco and his partner taught stilt walking. And David Nicksay was our clown and character teacher along with Bobby and Keith. 

 He was a third year clown on the show, and very good, especially with character development.  As we were there he and his girlfriend and our bus driver were working on a comedy gorrilla act on the high bar for the next years show. David later became a Hollywood producer. If you google him he has done quit well.

 We also had two lady dance instructors perhaps someone can remember their names. I just remember them bending us around until we were in the shape of a pretzel!

 In those days we didnt meet Lou Jacobs until much later and only for one week. 

 This picture was the first day, sitting in the seats watching Keith Crary demonstrate makeup. I apologize for clarity it is quite old! If you look closely you can pickout a young Barry Lubin, Dale Longmire, Bill Irwin, and the rest of the soon to be greats.

 We were introduced to Keith and Bobby in full makeup as they did a magic display. If you never saw it, Bobby had one of the most beautiful linking rings routine I've ever seen. Then they took the makeup off and I was surprised to see the ages of the two of them. With costume and makeup there was no age.

 As Bill Ballantine introduced our staff he informed us we were the biggest group of aspiring clowns since the origin of Clown College only five years earlier. He said we were 48. What a great group! 


  1. I can almost smell Venice Arena... oh wait... I think I stepped in something... nevermind.

  2. Weren't there 3 dance instructors?
    They choreographed a bit to the theme song of "Sanford and Son" tv show. To this day I cannot listen to that theme song.
    Lou Jacobs made his first appearance to our class when we were trucked to Circus World for elephant riding lessons.
    I think Lou was only in make-up one time.
    When we returned to Venice, Bill Ballantine proclaimed, "You are going to learn classic American clowining, but these are gags you will not see on the Greatest Show on Earth". The Dentist. Lou watched us do a terrible job, then invited us to sit down and he walked through the gag three times, playing each part separately. He didn't need the make-up nor the wardrobe because he became each character.
    What a great class it was, wasn't it Mitch?

  3. What a trip indeed!

    It's odd - we were drilled in the classic routines as well, Dentist, The Boxing Gag, Dead & Alive, etc but the gags themselves were not utilized by the Alley when I joined the Blue Unit back in 1996.

    Though I did a variation of Dead & Alive with Sean Hartman and later did the boxing gag with you back on the 133rd, it seems sad that none of the clowns after the demise of Clown College had a sound working knowledge of these little chesnuts. They claimed they knew them (they had read about them) but when push came to shove, they didn't know how to execute the gags.

    When Clown College closed, we lost a common language and a shared experience.

    The inherent value of being drilled through these gags was the ability to suddenly grab a partner and stretch out the said routines to fill up any gap in the show whenever the band struck up the 12th St. Rag. Being able to cover wasn't rocket science nd it certainly was a bit more entertaining to have an act on hand, rather than stretching a juggling routine.

    I'm very thankful that you've got this blog going. The spirit of 'jackpotting' is a very important resource for all of us. I loved it when Jackie LeClaire or Joe Sherman would visit the Alley and regale us with stories of their experience.

    It's kind of scary to jackpot with the current clowns and tell them of the days when Ringling had floats, or for that matter - rings.

    It's a different age.

    Alan Ware
    CC '96 Blue & Red 96 - 07