British clowns say hiring Yank was act of a bozo

November 26, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

London -- Baby D flew into London yesterday and almost walked into a custard pie.

Lucky for her the bobbies were on hand at Heathrow to protect her from the dozen or so fellow clowns, all ill-disposed to her, waiting perhaps to welcome her with a belt with a rubber chicken.

There was no violence, though one policeman got tickled with a feather duster. Somebody displayed a soda siphon.

Gerry Cottle, the impresario who hired the American clown, received a squirt of water from one of the disgruntled buffoons, all there to take umbrage at the interloper.

But in the end no arrests were made. Mr. Cottle, who puts on a Christmas show every year at Wembley, went away a little annoyed, a little moist.

He was a clown himself once, and knows a little about give and take.

Baby D repaired to her hotel still a little surprised at the unwelcoming postures of her professional brethren, protesting: "I'm not taking anybody's job. I'm here as an addition. I hope to be funny and make people laugh. That's all I'm here for."

And the clowns? They went home, or to the pub, still disgusted, still disgruntled, still angry at Mr. Cottle for hiring a foreigner when so many British clowns are out of work.

"There's a lot of home-grown talent and we are just as funny as she is," one of the unemployed jokesters said glumly.

So who is Baby D, and why is she making so many normally and professionally merry people so unmerry?

In real life she is Danise Payne. She bills herself as one of only three black American clowns. She's only 5-feet tall, dresses up in a red nose and a large baby's bonnet and reputedly can get them rolling in the aisles.

For all those reasons, Mr. Cottle announced he was going to call on Ms. Payne to enliven his Yuletide show. Britain is sunk deep in recession gloom these days, has been for almost three years. In this atmosphere, there's not too much to laugh about.

The first reaction to his idea was from Silly Sam and Little Sam, two of his show's regulars, who walked out. Then Clowns International, which represents several hundred British clowns, mobilized.

"We have done everything in our power to make Cottle change his mind peacefully," said a spokesman, "but now the only option left is to demonstrate."

Thus the baggy pants brigade was deployed to the airport.

Mr. Cottle, himself an officer in the organization, is unintimidated. "It's true there are a lot of clowns out of work, but a lot of clowns are no good, and they are incredibly temperamental as well," he said.

So what does one say to an out-of-work clown?

Laugh, clown, laugh?

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