In this webinar, owner of ClownAntics.com, Blake Cabot, was joined by Goonzy, a professional clown from Arizona, who came to talk to us about what it takes to be a pro in the industry! Thank you to all that tuned in to watch this live webinar, and stay tuned for even more webinars in the future! And without any further ado, here's Goonzy the Clown!
I think with anything, when you want to start clowning, it really comes from the inner child, a desire to entertain others, and to really let that inner child out. If you've got that desire, I think where there's a will there's a way. For me, that's where it started, as a little kid. I remember breaking into my mom's makeup when I was 4 or 5, trying to paint clown faces on myself. Like a lot of people, as I got older into my teens and 20s, the desire was still there, but I didn't really know how to go about it. I started the way a lot of other people do. I started acting in my teen years, I started taking theater classes and working with youth theater programs, improv classes, and anything like that that I could find to get out there and just really trying to start to craft the art of how to entertain people.
For me, I walked out in the sense that I didn't realize how closely related theater and even improv exercises and things of that nature, would carry over into clowning.
Because with theater, it's so much different than what you would try to do if you were acting for a camera or for a movie. Your movements are larger than life. The way you present yourself is almost a caricature of real movements. That stuff really helped prepare me. I did that stuff for over 10 years. I dabbled in different things such as comedy, drama, but what I really loved was just to get silly with it. There's a game that we love to play in theater called "The Prop Game", where you take any item and turn it into a hundred different things. You utilize it to act out scenes with props. If you get good with improvisation, I think that's one of the most important skills you can have as a clown performer. Like I said, the desire was always there to do more with clowning though, so I felt like I had done quite a bit of theater and did dozens and dozens of shows. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I went to school with a group of brothers, and we remained friends throughout adulthood, and I didn't realize that their mother had owned a children's entertainment company.
The company essentially did face painting and subcontracted clowns and things of that nature, for children's parties. That was something I took a huge interest in. I don't think that the brothers had much interest in the company, like a lot of family businesses. One of the brothers said he'd set me up with his mom and she could show me the ropes with the skills I already had. He said she could teach me about balloons and face painting and things of that nature. So I jumped at that opportunity - awesome lady who took me under her wing, by the name of Valerie and she owned a company here in town called PAFFY, which was an acronym for "Paint a Face For You". I started going to her house in the afternoons, where I learned how to face paint, how to twist balloons, and I had done a lot of that type of stuff before that, just practicing on my own and learning from online tutorials.
And that's the nice thing about the Internet, because it's a tool these days, especially if you're time constrained. I started watching ballooning tutorials, and face painting tutorials, and so I went in with a little bit of knowledge already. What I like to think, is that there was also a little bit of raw talent. But she really took me under her wing, and started teaching me some routines and stuff like that. There's so much you can do on your own as far as character development and things like that as well.
Figuring Out Your Clown Persona
I already had a pretty good idea of who Goonzy the Clown was when I started. And I think that's a lucky thing for me, because I know that character development can be something that a lot of new clowns especially struggle with. But I think it's important to figure out who you are, and what it is that you want to do. Obviously we all want to entertain, but what are your character traits? What do you bring to the table? Are you clumsy, are you empathetic, or what is your persona? For me, I realized it was just, like I said earlier, letting out my inner child. What I do, when I entertain, is I really let that kid out. The majority of my routines are improv, and I am not above whatsoever making a couple of swords and having a fight with a group of kids!
But as time went on, I realized that something I'd always had a huge interest in, was performing magic tricks. It's kind of a staple of a clown. Most of us clowns have a few things up our sleeves, so I put a big focus on that for a few years. A lot of the magic I do was self taught. That's not really something that I learned by myself, and one of the only elements that I did not have a mentor for. But there are so many books and tutorials that you can learn from. The best advice that I can give someone is that you'll get what you put in. A lot of that, for me, was just hours and hours or reading books and practicing. Like every magician, you practice in front of a mirror, and you keep doing that over and over and over.
Figuring Out Your Audience
For figuring out your audience, I like to have a wide variety of tricks and routines that I do because what pleases one crowd, might not necessarily please another. I think it's really important to start to engage your audience, and realize what types of tricks or what types of routines that you need to do. There's really no substitute for that. It's just practice, practice, practice. Like every performer, there's going to be trial and error in your routines. I certainly had my share - I won't say that I never made mistakes! I'm almost 10 years in to being a professional clown, and there are times that I still botch a trick or mess up a routine, or even trip because of my giant clown shoes, but that's the beauty of being a clown! When you mess up, you don't try to hide it, you play into it - it's that much better! What we really represent, I think, is just humanizing things. There are so many times when we watch performers, they're so skilled or so amazing, and that's not what people want to get out of a clown routine. They want to laugh and they want to have a good time and they want to see those human elements of the clown.
What I tell people all the time when they ask me about getting started in this business, is don't be afraid to get out there and try bits - don't be afraid to fail! The thing is with a crowd, no one actually wants you to fail - people want to be entertained, they want you to succeed. So if you don't get too far inside your head, you'll have a great time with it. The most important part I think, to being a professional clown, is just having a good time. If you're not having fun, you're not clowning right. That is absolutely the best part of it. I haven't gone to work or put on my red rubber nose and felt that I've "gone to work" in 10 years. That's the American dream right there.
The reason I do what I do is my love for children. I have a daughter myself, and she's 9, so luckily for me, she's still at an age where she thinks it's awesome to have a magic clown for a father. But becoming a father is really what made this shine for me. Like I said, the interest was always there, but what really made me realize that I could do it, was having my own daughter. I'm so in touch with the way kids think, and the way they perceive things, and that's innocence. It's one of the most magical things out there, so if we can do things as a performer to challenge a kid's imagination, or to see their faces light up, then we've done our job. If you're performing for a 4 or 5 year old, most of them have never seen some of these clown tricks, like the never ending handkerchief trick. To a child, it's brand new, and I think that's the real drive for me, is to try to challenge their imagination and just make their day. What's better than that?!
How do you find a job or a gig? How do you connect with your market, so you can make this a full time job? Which a lot of clowns, do this as a part time job.
I think there are a lot of different ways to go about that. You can make yourself as big as you want to be if you're willing to spend the money. Advertising of course, is an avenue to go. There are Google Ads, and Yelp ads, and signing up for different directories and websites. I, myself, have tried a number of different advertising avenues. I'm finally at a place to where a lot of my business these days comes from word of mouth. If you can get yourself out there, you may have to spend some money initially for advertising. It's like any business - you're going to need a start-up capital. And to do that, you're going to need a business licence, you're going to need insurance. I myself am also a member of the World Clown Association, so there are different avenues that you can go to acquire the different licensing and things that you need.
If you go to a child's birthday party, there's an average of 10 kids there, so you try your heart out, you give the performance of your life. Now the nice thing is, that if you did a good job, a lot of kids will run to their parents and say "Wow, Goonzy was amazing! Now I want to have him at my birthday party too!", and so be sure to have business cards. Next thing you know, you're handing out business cards to all the other parents that are at the party as well. So for me, these days, a lot of my business comes through either word of mouth, or through social media. Social media is such a powerful tool these days, with Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, there are so many ways to get yourself out there!
When you first started, you obviously had a day job. But did you slowly work into that or how was your process transitioning?
It definitely took time, you know. I would say that one of the things that really helped me was that I was a sub-contractor for a few different entertainment companies, and I also had a really nice business card I had made up. I also did balloon twisting, played professional guitar, which I incorporated into my act as well. I started reaching out to restaurants and buffets as well.
What was your pitch to the restaurant?
Essentially, I would just go in, would dress nice, but a little flashy, because they know I'm a clown. I wouldn't go in my full face or anything, because a lot of times that can be a little off putting at first until you've established a serious connection. I would go in and I would just introduce myself and explain to them what I do, and I would offer to work for tips. I would say I'm not looking for a salary or to take anything from the restaurant, but if I can work for tips, we can work something out.
And a lot of times, I think managers are receptive to that. A lot of people don't want to take a gamble if it's going to come out of their pocket. It was a lot of leg work in the beginning. I definitely spent quite a few days just driving around to different restaurants, and some people gave me the boot right away, and some people gave me a chance. For me, if I could get a foot through the door, I could usually secure the gig and make it a regular thing.
There's a certain etiquette when you're doing restaurants. You have to approach people, even approaching a table, you have to feel out the parents. I think it's important to really learn to read people, especially as a clown and I think that's something that a lot of us get good at right away. Because there are so many people that have a fear of clowns these days, that the last thing you want to do is be offensive or add to that fear. You don't want to fuel that by any means.
My goal, when I walk into every situation, is to eliminate that fear and to change someone's mind. And that's kind of an ongoing joke that I have with my family and friends, I tell them "Giving clowns a good name one party at a time". If you can get a foot through the door, you really just feel it out. And I would linger in an area until I could establish eye contact with the parents, and they'll typically give you the okay to come on over. I would also give the child a choice between a magic trick, balloons, or whatever they wanted. By that point, I already had a pretty good list of balloons that I could make.
When I started with the basic stuff, I was making giraffes, puppy dogs, monkeys, and bears, flowers and swords, the standard one balloon type of line work. I found right away with restaurants, that it paid better than expected. There were times doing restaurant work where I could go in and work for 3 or 4 hours and walk out with anywhere from $200-$400. It all depends on how busy the restaurant is and how fast you can work. Sometimes you spend more time with certain tables, and less with others.
I think that's really one of the most important skills us clowns can have, is to read people and know. There's a certain window, a sweet spot for entertainment, where you don't want to stay too long, or cut anybody short either, so it's really just reading people. I had managers that were happy. What started with one day a week, turned into more days per week. If the restaurant had Family Night, they'd call me back. Then they'd ask me to come back on Saturday and then also on Sunday. If I remember right, Sunday nights were slow evenings, and there were times when it was a gamble. You can make as little as $30-$40 and as much as $300-$400, just depending on the night. That really helped me as far as speed for balloon twisting and things of that nature. When you're working for tips, speed's going to be an ally to you, especially if you've got a full restaurant, and you have 60-70 tables that are conceivably going to want a balloon animal on family night, you've got to get to that table before they finish their meal.
What kind of restaurants would you focus on?
Buffets are what I found to be the most beneficial, where I was the most well received. They typically have a Tuesday or a Wednesday family night type thing, where they bring down all the kids, the cousins, the uncles, all you can eat - you can't beat that! I really found that was where I shined the most, and where I was able to financially do the best. But again, there was some trial and error. I think I even tried some restaurants like Applebee's, Chilly's, and stuff like that. They have family nights as well, but it wasn't enough business for me, so it wasn't worth it for me.
So I went in one time for 3 or 4 hours and found that I was mostly standing around. By the end of the night, I walked out with $20-$30. Sometimes you can work out a deal where you can get an hourly wage as well, on top of tips. Me starting out, just getting my foot in the door, I was desperate at the time, so I would take anything. What a lot of people make a mistake in, is that they'll work for exposure. If you're trying to be a professional, that's one of the biggest mistakes you can make. It is fun and games yes, but underneath the silliness and the inner child, I'm an adult, and I have a family to provide for just like everyone else. I've put a lot of time and a lot of effort into training, and balloons, magic tricks, face painting, makeup, costumes, these all cost money.
So I think a lot of the times people see the silliness and they tend to forget that. I think it's important to establish yourself as a professional and if you're going to do that, you have to earn a wage. You can't work for exposure. The other thing that it does, I never did this myself, but this is good advice that I got from one of the ladies that mentored me years ago, when you finally branch out on your own and you start your own business, it's important to find out what the going rate is for what it is that you do. Because you never want to undercut other professionals.
There's such an etiquette, and I can't stress that enough, to being a clown. It's not a "make up your own rules", because there ARE rules. There is a common professional etiquette among clowns, that if you don't learn that stuff, you will not be very popular in this business. It's important to have allies because you guys can really help each other out and I will say making friends with as many clowns as possible is really to your benefit because I'm at a place now, where I find that I get recommendations from other clowns. Me being one person, and I'm the primary person who performs, if I'm already booked on a Saturday, when I've got calls coming in for more parties, I will absolutely recommend other professionals that I know are going to do just as good of a job or at least a similar job right in the same price range. So it's important to learn those things as well. I think it's important to do your research for what the going rate is for entertainers in your area.
Like I said, I've seen people come in and they either do what I do for exposure, or they agree to come in and do it for $50 less than everybody else in town and they get hired for a while, and I find a lot of times, they either don't make it in this business because they get that reputation. People, a lot of times, will call more than one professional as well. They'll call me, and two other local clowns, and all of a sudden they find a guy who's offering the same show for $50 cheaper and now they're sitting back going "Well why are these three guys charging this amount, but this one guy is $50 cheaper?", maybe there's something wrong with that. So a lot of times I feel like maybe this kind of tapers out the work that they do.
Tips for Beginner Clowns
If you were mentoring a brand new clown, what are the things you would say to them to start them out? What do they need to do first, in terms of business development?
Honestly, it would just be doing research on other entertainers. I don't like to use the word competition, because like I said, it really is a community, and a lot of us work very well together, and when you are trying to establish yourself, it's important to realize that there's never going to be a shortage of work, because children have birthday parties all the time. So competition is not the right word.
But I think it's important to see what other people do and set the standards for what you want to do. And also see what the going rates are for these particular skills. I think that the easiest route to go would be to get hired on first with someone else's company. Call some of the other children's entertainment companies in town such as face painters, balloon artists, clown characters, and even the people that do superhero parties and stuff like that. See if you can get on with them, because a lot of these places will provide some training for you - they're not just going to send you out to entertain a family with no idea what to do.
Once you have a foundation, it can be as much or as little as you want it to be. You can continue to grow as a performer, and the sky's the limit. Or, it can be a nice part time thing as well. I'm in a place now, to where this is the primary thing that I do and I wouldn't change anything about it.
How long did it take you to make this a full time job?
That's a good question because for the first 3 years, I did it off and on. I'm in Arizona, so that can be a little tricky as well. Work here can be very seasonal because it's so hot in the summer. We get upwards of 100 to 120 degree summers, and summer birthday parties are going to be nothing but pool parties. So a lot of times, there's not a ton of work in the summer, and so I would try to supplement income by going back to the restaurants and things like that, plus it's just so much more comfortable to work indoors in Arizona, so if you can secure restaurant gigs, I think that's a great place to start.
As you were getting your business built up and getting more traction, how did you go from restaurants to the next step?
I had a really nice business card printed and I always kept those in my shirt pocket. With restaurants like buffets, you'll get repeat customers and sometimes you'll make connections with certain families or certain children that now they're coming back just to see you, because they know you're there every Thursday.
So then I started having parents say "hey, do you do birthday parties as well?", and my response was "Yes! Absolutely!". Even before I had a real sold routine, I had a pretty good idea and had done a lot of practicing. I was able to establish myself already with families and regulars through my restaurant work, to where they were already excited to see me. Like I said, you do a party, and there's 10 kids at a party, and now you're giving out business cards to their parents, and so on.
It started a little slow in the beginning. I had my regular restaurants and for a while, I was doing 1 or 2 parties a month. I found it easy to balance the two, because the majority of my restaurant work was during the week, and 99% of the birthday parties were on the weekends. So it slowly just snowballed to the point where I had a gig almost every day.
Now I'm in a place where I really don't do restaurant work anymore. I'm not opposed to it, it's just not really something that I need to do anymore. It's a great place to get your feet wet and it's fun, but I personally enjoy spending more one-on-one time with a group of individuals. If I can entertain the same group for an hour or two, that's more fun for me than spending five minutes with hundreds of people.
So that was always my preference, but I know plenty of people who feel the opposite. They love the line work and financially, it can be more beneficial as well to work restaurants and things of that nature. I do a fair amount of balloon twisting, and I'm okay at it, I don't consider myself a professional balloon twister, but I do well and I'm fairly quick. It's fun when you get to a place when you can start challenging children or families to name something and I'll make it. To me, that's when it got the most fun, when my skills developed to a point where someone could just name an object or an animal and I would try to create that.
Finding a Routine
How do you develop your routines? How do you come up with a performance?
I really started with my influences. For me, it's always been the classics, the Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and the list goes on and on. There's other things too, like Harry Houdini, has been an excellent influence for me, and people sometimes raise an eyebrow when I say that, because I'm a clown. But he had such a mystique, such an element of mystery, and I try to bring a little bit of all of that into my character.
So when I'm doing a magic show, I try to bring a fair amount of comedy and a fair amount of mystery as well. I do a lot of the escape stuff that Harry Houdini did with ropes and stuff, but again, you have to know your audience. You also always have to be aware of the element of danger. Will a child try to copy this, or something of that nature. So I really do carefully pick what crowd I do certain things for. Some of the classic rope and chain escapes, that Harry Houdini did, but with a more comedic element. The slapstick stuff, I started by mimicking other people's routines, like Charlie Chaplin. I'm also pretty athletic, so some of the stuff came to me naturally as well, like climbing around or falling off stuff.
I would impromptu a little street performance when I was getting my feet wet. If I was lucky enough to wander into a crowded street area, I would occasionally do some street performance. Not necessarily for tips, just to see if I could really grab people's attention and for that, it's just practice, practice, practice. I got away from doing other people's routines, but like most performers, there are still things you hold onto that do well for you. Even to this day, my routines are not done. It's consistently a work in progress. I don't know that it'll ever be done.
I have so many different routines that I can run through and I rarely do them the exact same way. For me, that keeps it fresh. I don't like outright performing the same routine twice. Because one, there'll always be people who have seen you before, but I think once you stop trying to grow as a performer, that's when it gets stale and the job, it becomes a job. and you're not having fun. I, to this day, every time I step in front of an audience or a crowd, I'm not 100% sure what's going to happen or what I'm going to do.
As anyone who has done any type of performing will tell you, you can practice, practice, practice, but the real thing is always going to bring an element that practice couldn't prepare you for. There's nothing wrong with practice, but you gotta do it. But never stop practicing either! If your routine has become a thing that you can do in your sleep, it's time for a new routine. I've never had it happen, or I've never even known anyone that it's happened to, but to me, one of the worst things I could imagine, is doing the same show for someone twice. It's important to have good variety and just try to mix it up!
Thank you to Goonzy for this informative webinar, and thanks to all who tuned in to watch! Be sure to keep an eye out for our next webinar! Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news and catch the next webinar!
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