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. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Morning Newspaper

Back in 2000, when I returned to the show after 20 years, I expected some changes.  Tim Holst had told me things had changed quite a bit, and to try not to be too surprised.  Walking into the arena for the first time, I noticed there were huge numbers made out of tape laid out on the floor.  What were these? We never had them in the past. I was soon to find out...


That first day of rehearsals was really full of surprises. After going through all the introductions, the director told us to line up at the Portal.  The what?  I looked around to see if I could figure out what was going on just by watching, but I had to ask what that was.   “The back curtain…” I was told.  The what?  In my day, it was called the back door.


Then, the director gave us each a number and told us he wanted a clown bust out. A what?  Another term I never heard before. So I just asked him what that was…


He began to explain to me that it was when all of the clowns would run out screaming and yelling and go to their number spot.  Ohhhh okay.  He told us we would do our skill in that spot. Our skill?  I really didn’t do too much in the way of “skills”, but I sure knew how to be a clown.


The director asked each clown what was their particular skill.  One clown said, “Balancing…”  the next guy said “Juggling…” and he just went down the line until  he got to me.  He asked me and I thought about it for a moment… then said, "I read a newpaper."


The director looked bewildered and said to me,"Thats no skill!"  I had no other reply than, "The way I read one takes a lot of skill."   I knew that the director had  no other choice but to give me the benefit of the doubt and let me show him. I figured with all of the chaos of the opening I would be subtle and read a newspaper. Now to me, THAT was clowning.


The first time we came out in rehearsal, I obliged this number system, and marched out to my number and started reading my paper.  Yes sir, I was reading my paper and ignoring all that was going on around me. We did it again. This time I brought a chair with me and sat down to read my paper.  We did it again, and this time I brought a chair and a table with a coffee cup. Yes, I sat down and drank the coffee and read my newspaper. This continued over and over, and every time I brought something more with me.  And I read my newspaper…


I finally ended up coming out with a chair, a table, a coffee cup, coffee pot, an extension cord…and… my newspaper.


I set up the chair and table with the coffee pot and cup. Then I would get all caught up in the extension cord, fight that for a bit, then finally get loose from it. I  would then look for a place to plug it in… all of this was going on during the Opening Parade.  After I would finally get the cord plugged in, I would pour a cup of coffee offer it to an audience member.  When they refused, I would sit down drink the coffee and… read my newspaper.  This would continue until the opening was over.


It was obvious that the Director wasn’t used to this type of clowning.  My how things had changed!  After a lot of coaxing, he gave in and let me do it.  Old fashioned Clowing prevailed…


Someone got a picture of my routine, and put it in the program. Ringling liked it so much they used it on their website for a number of years under Special Offers.


A few years later, that picture was used for some e-cards you could get for Valentine’s Day, and I was told that picture was the best selling one!


Again, old fashioned clowning prevailed.  I was so pleased....


  1. Mitch! That's wonderful. It's so obvious it's a terrific bit, it's such a shame you had to struggle to keep it in, and it's so great that you prevailed.

  2. Hi Mitch great story and great clowning

    Ned (Barbs friend)

  3. I remember this story you told it to me when we worked in China. Of course it's different to read it than hear you tell it. When you tell it of course adds a personal touch that you don't get when you read it. When you read it you come back to the $5 but even though I think that's great. Even greater is to have a paid job in a show to read a newspaper.
    Your Pal,
    Show-biz Bob Rummmmmmmmba