Clown clone puts on her game face Tryout: With makeup, I faced my fear of clowns by walking in their shoes, so to speak.

March 19, 1998|By Tamara Ikenberg

To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kinda scary.

I've wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus and a clown killed my dad.

-- "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handey

I have no clown-related trauma in my past. Yet I still fear them. Or used to, at least.

I've only been to the circus once or twice in my life. My clown memories were mostly media-generated: From the creepy clown doll that strangled the little girl in "Poltergeist" to the sinister rotating clown that cackled derisively at Pee-wee Herman when his bike was stolen.

So, when I was ordered to experience firsthand what it's like to be a clown, I was terrified. I would have to meet with Ringling clowns who would dress me in their native garb.

I sat in a chair as the three clowns began to work on me. They shuffled through a cabinet draped with bright wigs and containing garish, striped trousers and various kinds of makeup. There are companies that specialize in clown makeup, and you can't buy it at Nordstrom.

The clowns asked if I would take out my nose ring to facilitate the placement of a rubber nose. I refused. They said they could work around it.

They decided to make me an Auguste clown, which meant my face would have a flesh-paint base with red and black detailing. Clowns use heavy grease makeup. It's not the kind that will melt and run under lights or come off easily.

They told me it would take two weeks to get it off. They were kidding. Those clowns.

I checked my face in a hand mirror. I couldn't see my eyebrows. They were disguised under thick white paint. I wondered if they could do the same for other parts of my face.

"Do you have any makeup that conceals double chins?" I asked.

"I don't see two chins," one clown replied.

"I know. You see four!" I replied. The clown told me I was getting funnier already.

I applied the lip paint myself. It's only supposed to cover the lower lip. They marveled at how well I had done it. I put on lipstick every day, I said. No big deal.

Then I instinctively rubbed my lower and upper lip together to spread the color. It ruined the effect. But they didn't try to kill me for messing up, and that made me feel good.

Time to pick out a costume.

The clown who had selected a dress for me was a little upset that I refused the garment he had spent so long choosing. But he got over it when he saw how stylin' I looked in loud striped suspenders, sequined vest and orange bow tie, topped off with a punky pink wig.

Suddenly, I found myself posing and mugging, swinging a stuffed trout and hamming it up with my creators.

They tried to teach me how to juggle scarves, but I never caught on. Afterward, a clown handed me some baby shampoo to wash the paint off my face.

It took about 15 minutes to get all the makeup off. After the last of it washed down the drain, I looked at my bare face in the mirror, flushed and raw from scrubbing.

Now, that was frightening.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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