Clown Story Contest: Clown Spotlight (Rick "Shifty" Gaines)

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Clowns come in all shapes, sizes and skill sets. We also technically fall under 3 primary categories of clowns: White face, auguste, and tramp/character. Within those 3 styles of clown, are many differences all unique to the individual. This interview that I had is actually my very first interview with a prisoner clown! I thought that was pretty cool. I'm guessing that's why he's called "shifty".

Me: First off, can you give us a quick outline of where you got to today as a clown? Did you always know you wanted to be a clown? If not, how'd you find out that you were meant to be one?

Shifty: "Actually, I got into clowning in an unusual way. I never really considered clowning in my life. That was until July of 2013, when I was asked to dress in clown at a Shriners Imperial Session in Indianapolis. My costume was my prisoner outfit used by our Detroit Shriners Keystone Kops unit. I dressed in a black wig, and red nose and an attempt at a tramp face. It was there that I met a few Cop clowns, which we played off almost immediately in a parade. The crowd would direct the cops to the Prisoner who was dashing amongst the crowds.

Afterwards I was approached by some fellow Shrine Clowns in Flint Michigan, to participate in local parades, fairs and circuses. After a few months of fellowship, I began to believe this was for me."

Me: Care to share a favorite story of yours of a time you were in clown?

Shifty: "In July 2014, I was in Minneapolis Minnesota at another Shriners Imperial Session, where I witnessed the surprising power of Clowning. It was my intent to visit and tour the Shriners Twin Cities Hospital during my trip, which was arranged privately before my arrival. The person who arranged my tour had informed my Wife, that a news crew would be visiting at the time of my tour and had asked if I wouldn't mind visiting in clown. (The News media was a buzz due to having Shriners from around the world converging in the city.) My Wife and I agreed.

During my visit as Shifty, I would meet a young 6 year old girl named Lexi. She was undergoing some treatments for a condition that prohibited movement of the joints. She had motioned to her grandmother that she would like to meet me. After talking with her a bit, we had discovered we were both from Michigan and both liked Clowns.

Before I finished my visit. Lexi had asked for her walker to get to me to say goodbye. I knelt about 3 steps away when she stood up, assured the nurse she could go, and proceeded to walk to me. She made it to me smiling and said goodbye.

Meanwhile, her Grandmother was crying. My Wife had asked her if all was well when she claimed, "these were Lexi's very first steps in her life!" A Clown's wages are in smiles, but in this case, I had won the Lottery! It was after that moment, I realized why I was called to clowning and why I pursue to learn more."

Me: I love asking this question to fellow clowns; what is being a clown mean to you? What makes a clown "a clown"?

Shifty: "Clowning, to me, is an opportunity to leave my normal self and serve as a bit of humble entertainment to those around me. To briefly make a person of any age smile and forget, even for a moment, their daily toils. A Clown, to me, needs to know themselves well enough to be vulnerable, compassionate, tolerant, respectful and must be willing to give themselves freely to make humor.

Yes, make-up, costumes, and entertaining skills can easily distinguish a Clown, however those are learned and trained practices. To know oneself and to have the heart to care for others is the absolute core of a Clown. Of the most famous of Clowns, you'll find that the greatest gave all!"

Me: Where do you see the future of clowning in today's society and on? Do you have any advice to those who are interested in pursuing this art form?

Shifty: "The future of Clowning, lies in the hands of the larger Clown organizations, such as the World Clown Association, Clowns of America International and the International Shrine Clown Association. (I currently belong to COAI and ISCA associations.) To me, these associations are the last strongholds of preserving a network of Clowning heritage, history and an avenue of new clown growth.

If one is truly interested in becoming a Clown, they should consider looking up one of these organizations to start. These Associations should provide a local clown alley to learn and perfect their craft. It is very difficult to go at it alone, so one should go with a group to build their confidence. One should also consider attending competitions, conventions or schools to expand a network of friends to help. One would be very surprised on how well new clowns are accepted!"

I want to once again thank Shifty for taking time (out of jail) to talk to me and for giving us such a neat and touching story of a little girls' first steps. Just goes to show that clowns will always be the ones with the biggest hearts in the room.


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