Mirth-making went wild at Clown College in Harundale Mall last week,with children smearing red greasepaint on their noses, drawing huge clown smiles and sad clown eyes and laughing like crazy.
Twenty-five county youngsters showed up to learn how to make up their faces like real circus clowns. They swirled cotton swabs into white face covering, pointed at each other, mugged for their parents and loved the chance to make one hellacious mess on purpose.
This was clowning around, circus style.
"If you can prove you have two belly buttons, you can kiss the elephant on the lips!" promised Elmo the Clown, who kept up a constant patter of corny jokes as he taught the class for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, which is scheduled to arrive at Harundale Tuesday.
The children wielded their packs of makeup like experts, though Mike Fabian, 12, when advised to pretend he was applying lipstick, protested: "I don't put on lipstick. I don't know what that's like!"
Spencer Horsman, 5, managed to make his eyebrows purple and smiled down at his name tag, jammed upside-down on his shirt.
David Bowyer, 11, smeared blue paint through his crew-cut as an extra touch, then explained, "I'm being a clown, don't you see?"
Elmo, resplendent in a red-and-white checked shirt, white overalls and a bulbous red nose, called out the list of registered names, not quite correctly.
"Delicious Alicia," he said. "Spacey Walker. Airhead Aaron. Michael Fabulous Fabian."
He made parents repeat an oath: "I swear my kid is really smart and will do a really good job if I leave him alone."
First the children -- who had put their names in a box to be chosen at random for the class -- learned to apply white paint all over their faces, like white mud packs. Red dots were added to the ghoulish look for noses.
Then bottom lips blossomed red, too, in a variety of shapes: Mickey Mouse, happy,sad, square.
"Circus clowns never put red on their top lip," Elmosaid.
The clown trainees learned options for applying blue paint to their eyes, for lashes or sad lines, and black painted eyebrows ina variety of contortions.
Children had red in their eyes; powder in their hair and smudges of greasepaint down their shirts. And they were wildly, gleefully, having a good time.
Elmo promised his class an even better time at the circus next week, plenty of good old-fashioned circus slapstick with nine clowns, along with tigers and bears, jugglers and trapezists and tumblers, all accompanied by a brass band.
The two-hour, three-ring circus will arrive at Harundale Mall on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and hold performances Tuesday and Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Adult tickets are $9; children ages 12 and under and senior citizens ages 62 and above pay $4.
Special attractions include 24-year-old Kathleen Umstead, whom the circus bills as the youngest wild-animal trainer in the world.
For the 25 young clowns-for-a-night, however, the most pressing question was how to get the greasy-greasepaint off.
"Steel wool," suggested Elmo. "Or you can wait three weeks till it falls off your face."
Giggles from the children; blank looks from the parents.
"OK. Cooking oil. That's what real clowns use," he said. "When you get home, put some cooking oil in your palm, smear it over your face, wipe it off with a paper towel.Then use soap and water."
The young clowns headed home, paint-smeared and smiling, makeup kits in one hand and Clown College diplomas in the other.
But Sarah Kursch, 8, was more impressed by getting powder dumped all over her face than by her diploma. "The best thing was the powder," she said. "That was funniest. Just like real clowns!"