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Clowns converge on Orlando for funny business

World Clown Association, Orlando, Florida.
Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
World Clown Association, Orlando, Florida.

This week, dozens of clowns descended on Orlando, Florida for the 40th annual World Clown Association convention.

But these aren't your scary clowns, the ones you might know from scary movies like "It."

These are professional clowns who work in big circuses and county fairs and those who volunteer in local hospitals, senior centers and schools.

Members of the WCA hail from 35 different countries and their one purpose is simple, to "bring happiness, joy, fun and comic relief to children of all ages."

These fun clowns come in four types. There's are the white-faced and auguste clowns, as well as tramp and character clown, like a Santa.

World Clown Association, Orlando, Florida.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
/
Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
World Clown Association, Orlando, Florida.
Robin Bryan "Pinkie Bee" holds up her medal. On the right, name tags with clown names were on display.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
/
Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Robin Bryan "Pinkie Bee" holds up her medal. On the right, name tags with clown names were on display.

Robin Bryan, who goes by Pinkie Bee, is president of the WCA. She's a white-faced clown, who traditionally played the "straight man" in gags and routines.

Her entire face and neck is covered in white paint, with colorful sparkles and topped with a bright wig.

She mostly volunteers at local hospitals with her hubby.

"My husband and I have over 1,500 volunteer hours for Wolfson Children's Hospital," said Bryan. "So we go in every week and we do our best to give smiles and tears and laughter and that's what is important about being a clown, right?"

Patsy Garland who goes by Patty Cake is also a white-faced clown. She wears a full face of white makeup, with a bright wig and flower hat on top.

Patsy Garland, "Patty Cake," official greeter at the World Clown Convention in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2023.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
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Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Patsy Garland, "Patty Cake," official greeter at the World Clown Convention in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2023.

She uses her clowning to raise funds and awareness for people with special needs, like herself, back home in North Dakota.

"Patty Cake is just normal. And I'm just a normal person, inside and the outside with this on," said Garland. "I love being myself and bringing joy to everybody here."

Representing the auguste clowns is Kynisha Ducre who runs education initiatives at the WCA. Auguste clowns are a mix of the white-faced clown and the tramp or hobo clown, and provide the comic relief. They're the ones who get the pie in the face.

Kynisha Ducre dressed as Daisy the Clown.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
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Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Kynisha Ducre dressed as Daisy the Clown.
Clown clothes and puppets at the convention.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
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Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Clown clothes and puppets at the convention.

Ducre wears less makeup, so that her natural skin and hair shows through. Colorful rainbow sparkles cover her face and her hair.

She takes her clowning around the world, where she interacts with local kids and families. Her last trip took her to Morocco.

"I love humanitarian trips," said Ducre. "So I've been to six continents in more than 37 countries doing clowning."

The tramp or hobo clown also provides comic relief in the traditional circus and that's the type of clown Charles Lauder prefers. He wears the tattered clothes and exaggerated frown of the hobo clown.

Charles Lauder balancing a hat at the World Clown Association Convention in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2023.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
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Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Charles Lauder balancing a hat at the World Clown Association Convention in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2023.

Lauder is from Canada and has been clowning since he was in his teens. He uses his craft to not only express his own artistry and sense of silliness but to bring that out in his crowds.

"I was always kind of a theater kid. But then the clowning made sense. And then with the makeup, you have an instant character on stage and everything changes," said Lauder. "27 years later, it's much less a mask and more just kind of a permission for the audience to be silly and be goofy."

Throughout the conference, clowns attend workshops in face painting, wearable balloon art and magic and they compete for titles like best costume and best skit.

Noses on display at the convention.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
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Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Noses on display at the convention.

And they do business. There are vendors who sell classic red noses and clown shoes, along with puppets and other props to do magic.

Bryan and Ducre say with social media, it's never been easier to stay connected throughout the year with their members, and to bring on new ones. Most wannabe clowns can get started by watching a few videos on the WCA YouTube channel.

This easy access to the industry, along with the joy she personally gets from being a clown is why Bryan says clowning will continue despite the scary movies.

"I tell everybody, some people swim in a teaspoon of water and say they're wet. But I want to dive deeply and clowning has given me a life that dives deeply. And it's full of joy and laughter and, you know, everybody has down times," said Bryan. "Everybody has sad times, but when you could be a clown, you can take that away and leave it behind."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Audience at the World Clown Convention welcome orientation in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2023.
/ Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
/
Michelle Bruzzese for NPR
Audience at the World Clown Convention welcome orientation in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2023.

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