All Your Questions About Clowns, Finally Answered
Slate’s Working talks to a clown with more than 40 years of experience.
Carol Collins as Bingo the Clown.
In this episode, Collins talks about what it’s like to make people smile as Bingo the Clown. What steps did she have to take to get into the world of clowning, and how did she develop her signature look—one that almost always features a ladybug?
Collins also reveals a bit about the practical side of clowning that no one talks about, such as paychecks and makeup removal. Is it always fun and games? And finally, what does she think about the recent scary clown appearances happening across America?
And in this episode’s Slate Plus bonus segment, Jacob talks to Collins about attending clown conferences and writing for clown publications.
Mickey Capper: Hey, this is Mickey, I produce Working and I just wanted to let you know before we start the episode that there’s some adult topics that are discussed, kind of joked about. No explicit language. Think, like, PG but before there was PG-13, so, like, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark level of risqueness I guess in this interview with a clown. That’s about it. Happy Halloween and enjoy the episode.
Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working, the podcast where we talk to people about what they do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan.
Lately creepy clowns have been in the news and those reports, right, wrong, or ridiculous have left us wondering what it’s like to actually clown for a living. To answer that question we sat down with Carol Collins who’s coming up on her 40th clowniversary this Halloween. With decades in the business under her belt, Collins now runs an agency for party performers, but she also still performs as Bingo the Clown, sometimes with a hedgehog in tow.
Collins covered our studio table with photos and other documents leading us through the day-to-day efforts that go into making the world a little sillier and a little sweeter. And in a Slate Plus extra, Collins shares some of her other favorite memories from the clown industry including clown conferences around the world, her own articles for clown publications, and Tom Selleck the Clown.
Brogan: What is your name and what do you do?
Collins: I’m Carol Collins and I’m a professional entertainer starting out as a clown and other things afterwards.
Brogan: So, do you have a clown name?
Collins: Bingo. The name you learn in church.
Brogan: So, where-where do you apply your trade? What kind of entertaining clowning do you do? Are you birthday parties, corporate events, comedy shows?
Collins: Name it, wherever they need me.
Brogan: Wherever they need you.
Collins: And but I say it’s family entertainment, we only take off our nose, not our clothes. No, because seriously some people are really a little bit odd and they call me in the middle of the night and they act like, oh Bingo. You know, they’re looking for a stripper clown and I’m saying, I’m sorry that’s not what we do. And that’s where I came up with that thing.
Brogan: And is that typical? Does that happen a lot?
Collins: No, no, not typical at all, it’s just that in the old days when we had yellow pages where you had a section for adult entertainment and children’s entertainment, they put my ad in the wrong section once, you know, for bachelor parties. So, that’s where that came from, but no more now that’s gone. Thank goodness.
Brogan: Yeah, old fashioned SEO. So, is that range of things that you do typical for people in your line of work?
Collins: The one’s that want to do it for a living do. You know, when there’s a lot of hobbyists who will just do maybe hospital work or church things or free things. But, if you’re making a living you obviously want to do as many venues to keep it busy different times of the year.
You know, if it’s Christmas maybe you’ll be an elf clown or something like that, you know. But most professions will try to do as many venues as they can.
Brogan: So, let’s take a step back. How did you get started? How did you get involved in clowning?
Collins: Well, I was a sixth grade teacher and I adopted a child from Vietnam, was very sick in 19 –
Brogan: How long ago was this?
Collins: 19… 41 years ago. But, when she was five years old I adopted her and she was only 23 pounds which is a one-year-old’s weight.
By the time she could walk I took her trick or treating and they said, uh, you can’t take her. I said, well why not. Because you’re not dressed up. What do I wear? Well, my daughter won’t wear this clown costume I make, would you wear it? OK. Within a week—Brogan: So, you got in a clown costume?
Collins: Within a week I gave up teaching. I said, I want to do this. And I knew, as you saw from my pictures here, I didn’t look too cool, I smeared on Avon makeup and I had a little skull cap like Lou Jacobs who was a famous clown.
But I just went out there and I said, you know, I want to do this, I want to make people smile. And the library saw me do it and they said, would you come to our fundraiser and dress up with your daughter and sell tickets. I sold 1,600 tickets at the local super market.
Collins: Because we were just acting silly and that’s what we were doing.
Brogan: So-so tell us a little bit more about this picture, how are you dressed here?
Collins: OK, well I didn’t know any professional clowns see, so I didn’t have the advantage like today where you can get it online and everything. So, I had a ballet tutu wig, I cut out the hole and put it on my head like a wig.
Brogan: So, it creates a kind of frizzy look. Yeah.
Collins: See this. And they called me Phyllis Diller. And then my clown I met in the neighborhood had big eyelashes, so I copied her. See, I didn’t know you don’t copy other clowns… but I did, I put big eyelashes on and smeared on the big mouth like Ronald McDonald, which is not a good face because it’s too big of a mouth, but I didn’t know that. So, anyway, that’s how I started. But then I made her up and she actually looked cuter than me because I just put a simpler face, which is what I should have done on me.
And I put a big, big pillow in her oversized breeches with suspenders and when she walked it wiggled. So, she was funny right there. So, that’s what we did, we were Bingo and Bongo.
Brogan: Bingo and Bongo. How did you decide on that name in the first place?
Collins: Well, I went to her daycare because I wanted to try out, you know, with kids. I didn’t know anything. So, the teacher said, look what’s your name. I said, I don’t know, what’s my name, do they know the Bingo song? Yeah. I’m Bingo.
Because that’s how I started my first laugh I got was singing that song with them. They started singing, there was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was…. I said, did you call me a dog, and they all started laughing. So, that’s when I changed the words then and I use it in all of my little kid shows that there was some kids who had a clown and Bingo as her name-oh.
Brogan: This is 1976 is this picture is from. How did you go from there to doing this professionally and I assume full time?
Collins: Yeah. Well, it took a while of course. Just like any business you put everything back into the business, you know.
I didn’t charge, I did a lot free things at schools, daycare, wherever I could just to learn about children.
Brogan: Were you still teaching at the time?
Collins: No, no, no, because she was so sick I was staying home with her as much. So, we did these little things where she could come with me on the job see. And then I heard about conventions. So, there are clown conventions and now they’re all over the world. I’m going to one in Thailand in March. So, I said, OK I have to learn, you know, I’ve got to talk to people. So, I met some professionals, went to conventions, learned about the real makeup, how of course we never wear masks ever…
Brogan: Why is that?
Collins: Because we want to be an individual clown, we’re not copying somebody else.
Brogan: So, it’s about the look of your face, whatever makeup is on.
Collins: Right. And you follow your own wrinkles, you see, because even if I copied that person’s makeup it won’t look the same on my face. We even put our faces on eggs, we record them. In England they have a big museum of all clown eggs with everybody’s face on it who’s registered, and we have one too in-in I think out in Wisconsin.
So, I have my egg…oh I should have brought to show you.
But it’s a big duck egg and I had made it. Oddly enough before I knew they did that I had made it myself at a Halloween thing. I put the tutu on the egg and the eyelashes, and then I found that that’s what clowns do and they actually registered their face. So, I had done it without knowing.
Brogan: There are clown colleges I think, aren’t there, in France and elsewhere?
Collins: No more.
Brogan: No more?
Collins: Yeah. There used to be one in Ringling and that was mainly to be an interview for circus.
Brogan: Oh, is that down in Florida?
Collins: Used to be, right.
Brogan: So, you didn’t-you didn’t go to clown college?
Collins: No, I didn’t. And knew I didn’t want to do circus. I actually worked with the circus at one time just because they needed a filler here in DC.
Brogan: Looks like there’s, like, a velocipede in this picture?
Collins: This is a big Penny-farthing bike.
Brogan: That’s what they’re called.
Collins: Yeah, and that was my bike. So, I rode it with my big clown shoes, no breaks—and I was riding in front of the elephants and it was kind of scary because…
Brogan: I would bet.
Collins: You know, I couldn’t stop.
Brogan: And you can’t stop the elephant’s either.
Collins: Yes, right. And then I had to go around the poop, you know.
It was funny. But this was a great experience too was ten days all my people loved it because the children always ask us did you ever go in the circus, and then we could say yes even though it was two weeks. So, we had a good time and realized we don’t want to be in the circus because you can’t be close to the children. Unless you’re top clown the pay is very low.
So, what I made there in two weeks I make in one show.
Brogan: Yeah. Did you ever get to ride in a clown car?
Collins: No, didn’t get to do that. My own had a little car once, but—Brogan: So, you did some circus work. Sounds like most of your training though was kind of at ad hoc, is that right? Because it was about just talking with people.
Collins: Well, convention.
Brogan: Oh, the conventions too, of course.
Collins: No, that’s the biggest thing is convention. Right. And meeting other clowns who I respected and just would observe them too. When I first met this clown in Connecticut where I had started who told me about the big eyelashes and all that, she wanted me to watch her show. And I was so into the fact that I have to be an individual I didn’t go watch her show. I said, I don’t want to copy you.
Which I’m regretting now because probably would have learned some things anyway and then changed them, but I was so worried about not copying somebody else, you know.
But it worked out, I developed my own ways.
Brogan: Yeah. How long did that take? So, you start doing it informally in the early mid-70s, how long before you felt like you really were your own clown, before you were really comfortable with your own aesthetic and-and your style?
Collins: Well, couple years probably because I kept changing my look too. I didn’t like this, I tried this.
You see all different things, you know, different faces, different wigs, different colors. My first show was $10—it was so cute—at a school.
Brogan: That’s how much they paid you?
Collins: Yeah, and now I get $375, but I do a lot more too. I’ve used animals and everything. But still, I don't know, I can’t pinpoint it when that moment started when I felt comfortable. I just—at the moment you always think it looks good, right?
Collins: And then you go back and say, oh did I look like that?
You know, it’s now this. I don’t like my look with Nancy Reagan here but I was a fun picture so I use it. See.
Brogan: Yeah, she’s got the clown nose on herself.
Collins: She’s got the clown nose that I gave her.
Brogan: And big hair too.
Collins: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s—Brogan: Not as big. Well, let’s talk about your look. You’ve got dozens of pictures here from over the decades. So many looks. Do you have a particular look that you’ve settled on or that you’ve settled into over the years?
Collins: I don’t use the big nose anymore. See, that’s the story.
When I started I painted a ladybug on my nose instead of nose – you know, big nose—
and I went up to a child and rubbed noses with them without having powdered it so that the child would get the impression of the bug.
Right? But when I realized that’s not good. The kids loved it but then if they had a cold or sniffling, it was not good health-wise so I didn’t do that.
Collins: So then, I got a nose, a sponge nose, and then put the little ladybug on top of the sponge nose. And then I got a plastic nose and put it on, then I got a professional made nose and put the bug on it. So, all my 40 years of doing this I’ve always had a bug on my nose and my joke is it’s been bugging me and I tell it to bug off but it doesn’t. It’s a lazy bug, OK, not a ladybug. Lazy bug. So, to this day, even when I’m doing my other characters like an elf or my safari character I just have the bug on my nose.
But see every picture here has a bug. That’s my latest picture that I use.
I use my own hair now. They call it, like, a European style. A lot of the men never wore wigs, they had just the derby hats and things.
I do wear eye makeup, I do a little on my lip, and my bug on my nose, little cheeks. So, I try not to put as much makeup on now which with really young children, two years old, anything made up is a little nervous for them because it’s like, you don’t look like Mom, you know. And so Santa, all these characters don’t scare a two-year-old. I work with a lot of twos and up in daycares, preschools, so I have simplified my makeup.
Collins: It’s easier for me too.
Brogan: Yeah. Doing the noses, is there just a standard source for those or-or do you have to have one made to fit your… How do you even keep it on I guess is what I’m asking?
Collins: Oh, well it’s a special adhesive that’s—and I tell kids, don’t use rubber cement, you know. Don’t do that.
Brogan: But is it, like, spirit gum or whatever?
Collins: Yes, spirit gum is one of them and now the lot of the clown—proKNOWS is a very big company who I know. They make the noses, so all different shapes, you can pick pointy ones, right, and they also make the adhesive that if you—you can put it on and take it off and put it on again after it was taken off.
It’s like a special glue that does that. So, that’s nice if a kid knocks your nose off, you got a runny nose down the street. So, I like that kind.
Brogan: What about the other supplies? What about the makeup? I mean, when you first started in this very early pictures that you showed us you were wearing a lot of Avon makeup, you said.
Collins: Yeah, oh yeah. But now – I never use lipstick, never use anything that’s commercial for makeup, it’s definitely clown makeup.
Which at these conventions we have a lot of people displaying their wears, you know. And safe. That’s the thing, you want it to be safe, not hyper allergenic and all of that so that you don’t have problems with your skin….
Brogan: Have you ever had problems with your –
Collins: No, luckily I haven’t and I used to use baby oil to remove my makeup, but now I use olive oil.
Brogan: Oh really?
Collins: Because that’s healthier. But they have these professional makeup removers, but I do it so little that I use the olive oil and it works fine.
Or baby shampoo, baby shampoo works in the shower.
Brogan: On your face?
Collins: Yeah. Just takes off everything and doesn’t hurt your eyes.
Brogan: Are there certain supplies that you have to keep in stock? Are there things you’re always buying more of?
Collins: Oh yeah, because they have a shelf life so I constantly am buying them. I do a restaurant once a week, Chick-fil-A, and we make balloons for the children. At Liberia Road, Manassas. And I’ve been doing there almost 11 years every Thursday night.
Brogan: Wow, yeah.
Collins: And so the kids know.
Brogan: What about the other stuff? I mean, you do still wear the big clown shoes.
Collins: Yes, of course.
Brogan: Where do those come from?
Collins: I got these from Spears Shoes. He’s very well known, he’s up in Massachusetts, and they’re leather. They’re expensive but they last. Ten years I’ve had shoes. And they’re made comfortably.
You can get some in Mexico. You can get cheaper ones but they’re rigid.
Brogan: They look heavy because they’ve got the huge bulbous vamp on the—Collins: Yeah, they’re fairly heavy because I even put an orthotic in there too because they’re leather. But that’s OK, I like the bulbous front. I tell the kids I don’t cut my toenails, you know, so I have to get shoes.
Brogan: What about the rest of your outfit?
Collins: Costumes, yes, you’re always refreshing. They get faded like everything else. And I have an agency now so I don’t book people if their costumes are faded and old. You got to keep up with looking sharp. So, I have this for the summer, this is more of a winter one. This is my winter one.
Brogan: Tell us about your winter look.
Collins: Winter one has long sleeves, a vest, and a jacket I have as well in-to go out in. I don’t wear a regular coat, I would wear a clown coat as well, and pants and that.
The summer one is just short sleeve and more festive. A little different, it looks like a bathing suit.
Brogan: Instead of long, like, white tight socks.
Collins: You want to cover most of your skin. That’s the clown. Now, again, I don’t follow that rule in the summer, but I’m not competing. When you compete at a convention every part of your body has to be covered.
Brogan: So, they’re very strict.
Collins: Very strict with competition, but I’m not a comp-competition clown, I’m an entertainer. I don’t care. But I do like their rules. We have a code, we do not drink, or smoke, or do drugs while we’re in clown costume even if we’re off, you know. But if we’re in that costume we do not do that.
Brogan: Nothing like that.
Collins: If we do they get fired. I don’t want that on my reputation. But again, many costumes.
Brogan: So, are you in all the stuff before you head out to the job? Are you driving in your car in a-in a clown outfit?
Collins: Yes. And my clown buddy in England is not allowed to do that. In England you cannot be in face and exposed driving. So, he drives a moped to work, he has a box on the back with all his makeup and costume. Every job he puts it on there, takes it off, goes to the next job, puts it on, takes it off.
Thank goodness I’m not in England because I can drive with it and-and people like that in a way. CLWN is my license plate, the O was already taken. So I used to have a red nose on the front of my car and I have signs on my car. So, a lot of times people drive past me and they see that and of course they want to look and see what the clown is. But I’m not always in face.
So, I have a nose on a rose—a long stem red nose—in my car and it’s handy. So, if I see them looking I quick put that on and I honk my horn, eh eh, hit my nose at the same time, and they laugh. I like to make people smile. So, you know, that’s what I do. And I also have a cute little ladybug puppet—hand puppet—that I drive with.
So, if I’m at a light and there’s kids in the next car, this puppet goes over to the window and talks to them, you know.
It’s just how I help with road rage too. You can see their face and I have these funny Groucho glasses with a big nose, I put it on and look at them. And I try to help people who have road rage…
Brogan: Do you think it seems to calm people down?
Collins: Well, they laugh. I’ve never had anybody not laugh, so…
Brogan: Yeah, I imagine, you know, it kind of upends their sense of reality.
Brogan: Yeah. Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
Collins: Well, a typical day, I get up and I clean the hedgehog cages because I have animals.
Brogan: You keep hedgehogs?
Collins: I have four animals in my show. I do a live animal comedy show. Two hedgehogs that poop all over all night and walk in it, so I have to clean that cage every morning and give them a bath. And then I have a dog and I have two hamsters.
Brogan: And do they go with you in the car when you’re on your way to show?
Collins: They do. They all have to have separate cages because you can’t put two hamsters together or two hedgehogs, so I have four cages to clean. But anyway, that’s my morning just doing that. Making my health drink, and then I go to my computer right away and see if I got any emails.
I’m an agent for about 50 different variety acts including clowns and other people, so that’s what I do during the week to see what jobs I have to call back and blah, blah, blah. And then of course if I have a show like I have today I’ll go home and I’ll make balloons ahead of time. I like to make some ahead of time at my show so that they just not waiting in line for a balloon. Just get everything ready, get the animals ready, so I’m calm when I have to leave, not rushed.
And then in the evening I’m still getting calls. Unfortunately, I should have office hours but it’s like this is my life, so people call me all hours and I answer the phone. I’m just used to doing that. I probably should cut it off, but …
Brogan: What time do you hit the hay?
Collins: Oh, get the-go to bed?
Brogan: And when-when do you finally shut it down for the day?
Collins: When I go to bed. That’s what I’m saying…no, people don’t call me at 11:00, but still, most people say, get some business hours, get a life. But see, this is my life. And people don’t understand I really am Bingo. People don’t know me as Carol, they know me as Bingo. But maybe that’s annoying for some people, I don't know, but I have to be who I am and I like making people smile.
Brogan: You’ve been listening to Carol Collins also known as Bingo the Clown. That’s her making a balloon for our producer in the Slate building lobby. Sorry about the squeaks. Coming up, she shares her perspective on the recent clown scares and tells us how she works with kids who get spooked at her shows.
And in case you’re wondering what she’s making, it’s a balloon guitar.
Collins: The tighter the string the higher the notes, the low. Can make about 12—Capper: That’s amazing.
Collins: What string is this? You musical?
Capper: No, I don’t have perfect pitch.
Collins: It’s a G-string. Da, da, da. I call it a mandaloon, not mandolin.
Capper: Oh, yeah.
Brogan: What are the parts of a show that you’re doing?
Collins: My show? Well, I start off with a warm-up of letting the kids play a parachute game while I’m setting up my show so-so that they’re busy while I’m doing my setup. And I show them how to do it. They put their head in the center of the parachute and they hold it, and inflatable ball has to touch their head, bop them in the head – they love to bop each other in the head – and then each child has to go in turn in clockwise so they know how to handle it, and then I go over and set up my show.
Then I have them sit down on the parachute, it’s the stage part, and then I do my magic. And it’s magic with music. I have a microphone. As I said my first trick is a hedgehog. They’re a little surprise, it comes out of a change bag, surprise.
Brogan: Is that like pulling a rabbit out of a hat? But it’s kind of spikey.
Collins: Yes, it is. And I talk about how to handle and animal, how to pet an animal. You don’t pet it in the face, you know. So, they’re learning something.
Since I’m a former teacher I always want to teach them something while they’re laughing. So, the hedgehog comes out and I have a whole suitcase of his traveling and his clothes.
Brogan: The hedgehog’s clothes?
Collins: Yes. So, it’s funny. I have a diaper. Oh, I have a two-pound baby diaper like this and it fits on him. The March of Dimes gave it to me because they help save babies, you know, and I say, he’s a party pooper so he needs a diaper, and they all laugh.
And he is, I have to be careful because he is a party pooper and so parents don’t like that.
So, I quick give him a bath before I leave because hot water makes him defecate, you know, and that’s why it cleans him out before the show and then I have him. So, I have all these little clothes and – this is funny – I dressed him up like a giraffe for Halloween once. He put his head in a toilet paper roll and walked with it, so I covered it with giraffe paper and he’d walk around like a giraffe.
So, now the new one doesn’t do that so I have a cowboy hat and I say, why do you want to be a cowboy. I want to talk like a rooster. Well, what does a rooster say kids? Tell him what a rooster says. And they go, cock-a-doodle-doo, right?
So, I have a contraption where – they don’t know it, but I can make him sound like he’s saying cock-a-doodle-doo, and their parents go, what? So, then I have the doggie doing tricks. She dances ballet and she has clothes. And then the last thing in my show is a hamster race. They’re inside cars with wheels so you don’t really train them, they know how to do a wheel but then you have two of them racing. And the two kids have pompoms and they go under their legs and it’s a race.
Brogan: Is one better than the other?
Collins: That’s the problem, I have to make up stories when one slows down.
I said, he’s a senior citizen, we got to give him a handicap. Or that I have one hamster now that he keeps going backwards, you know. Say, where did you get your license, in Florida? No, just kidding.
Brogan: Did you train the dog and the hamster?
Collins: Yes, I trained the dog.
Brogan: But not the hamsters, OK.
Collins: Hamsters know what to do. But no, the dog with food.
Yeah, she rolls over, gives kisses in different languages… which I have a lot of multicultural kids and so that’s fun when they can. I try to learn a little bit of a lot of languages so that kids feel comfortable with me.
Brogan: So, it’s mostly events with kids that it sounds like.
Collins: Oh yeah. It’s now with adults I do what we call a comedy gram. You’ve heard of singing telegrams, but I call it a comedy gram. It’s 15 to 30 minutes and I go either in my Doctor Bingo character or I go as a clown or a safari. Anyway, what it is I roast somebody. So, I did a 90 year old the other day, I did a 95 year old, and you just do a lot of comedy shtick, and if you know something about them of course you can relate to it.
Collins: Like, for the ladies I have a bottle of birthday control bills, it’s jelly beans, you know, things like that. And it’s just side gags. And I love doing that. I like working with adults, but it’s not blue material, it’s fun.
Brogan: Yeah. Are there times of the year that are busier than others for you? I mean, if you’re doing two most days, three…
Collins: Summer. Now, for most clowns August is very slow, but because now I do a lot of preschools and camps I am so busy. I did ten shows in August one week. Ten.
So, that was fun. And I give them a little discount too because they are schools. Christmas time is busy because I also am a Mrs. Claus, and elf, and I book Santas. November’s usually a little slower, January’s a little slow. Those are the two months that are a little slow. But other than that there’s birthdays all the time.
Brogan: You’ve been doing it for—Collins: 40 years, yeah.
Brogan:—more than 40 years. Have there ever been times when some kid that you entertained, you know, grows up and has kids of their own and you’ve done things for their kids?
Collins: Absolutely. I have so many of those stories, it’s great now. I was doing a restaurant on Mother’s Day and I was in a clown costume. And a lady comes up to me she says, “now are you the only Bingo?” I said, “probably not.” She was 26 years old and she said, I think you did my fourth birthday and I still remember you. I’m pretty sure it was you. I said, well did I use a bunny or a hedgehog? Yes. That was me because I knew it was.
And sure enough she had a button—a photo button—I used to take those old fashion photo buttons—with the child, me, and the bunny. And she said, I still have the button.
Collins: And she’s 26, 22 years. I said—would you send me a copy of that? So, we posed again, now, her without a bunny.
So anyway, she sent me that picture, so I’m going to write a little thing for one of my clown magazines that I write for, to show that. Because it was so great, she still had the picture. And then, I have a record at home. I have a six-foot tall cabinet, four drawers, with every show I’ve done since 1976.
Collins: A paper copy. Now it’s in the computer, but I always keep paper copies. So, I said, what was your last name then? So, I go back and I look and I found her paper that I did her party 22 years ago.
Collins: And I asked her, do you remember anything? And she remembered one of the tricks and the-and the animals. Yes. I cried. It makes me cry sometimes because I’m so happy that I made an impression with somebody. That was my goal, to make people happy.
And the fact that they remembered it, they must have been happy.
So, that’s happening a lot because kids and teenagers come up to me, Bingo, you did my first birthday. Or, I’m in Best Buy or something and the guy saw me doing a balloon for a kid who was crying on line while I was waiting. I always have balloons in my pocket. And he says, you know what, I think you taught me balloons when I was in middle school. I said, yep, that was me, I used to teach kids how to make balloons.
Brogan: How has the business changed over all those years?
Collins: Well, we’re learning more and more improved skills -- like balloons for instance. When I started out we’d make a little dog. You saw it in the picture there, right? Now, they are making actual cartoon characters, the whole characters, that look like people. They make motorcycles full size out of balloons.
Collins: They make ballroom gowns. Ballooning is phenomenal now. So, now I don’t go out myself other than the restaurant, I do a little. Like, I make a guitar balloon that actually plays 12 notes, so that’s unique.
Collins: I like to entertain with the balloon, not necessarily make it an artwork see. But some people are so good at that I put them on the job if that’s what they want. But I have some comedy things I do. Making maracas where they can play music or play the guitar. Or there’s a game, you put a ball inside and it’s like a ball game, it goes up and down.
Brogan: Oh, wow.
Collins: Things like that out of balloons.
But also what else has changed, improved costuming, improved magic props. Of course a lot of the magic is just remade from years ago.
Nothing’s new anymore. But makeup is better now, right, safer. We have insurance now that we can get, liability insurance. More and more people are keeping up with the Jones’. If they had a clown at their party, I want to have another p—you know what I mean?
Brogan: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit more about managing the online presence of your clowning business?
Collins: Well, I just made a new website. Can I tell you what it is?
Brogan: Yeah, of course.
Collins: It’s www.partyco-op.com, and I have 15 categories of entertainers on there and each one… I have 60 pages in there of photos of every clown you could want. So, that’s been—trying to get on the Google search. You know, I’m trying to learn about that.
Brogan: Do you have someone who builds your website for you or do you have to do that all yourself?
Collins: Well, I did it through wix.com and they have great tech support, and then I hired somebody to help with things that I really didn’t know, you know. But, I really haven’t been doing much advertising now because I’m really busy enough, you know.
Brogan: Yeah. People know how to find you. Do you have a fee structure that’s pretty standard or do you negotiate costs from job to job?
Collins: Pretty much. Face painters, the artists that do balloons, face painters, they roughly get $150 and hour. If they do multiple hours sometimes there’s a reduction, depends on the circumstance. If it happens to be at a school during the week when they’re not busy they might go for less. Shows start at, like, $250 and go up, well, $600.
I have all different levels of magicians and, you know, whatever they want to spend.
Brogan: Depending on which of your people that you represent is coming….
Collins: Right, some are more professional than others. All my people though, I consider good, it’s just that some are better for maybe little kids, some are better for stage work, and of course some of them are just really professional, they’ve traveled all over the country and they get big bucks.
Brogan: Yeah. Are those kind of pricings standard across the business? Is that something that you figure out?
Collins: It’s very competitive now more than ever because a lot of these face painters for instance who are good have been doing little free workshops and they’re training all these people, and then what do those people do sometimes, they go out…
Brogan: They become face painters.
Collins: And cut the price in half and hurt the person that taught them. So, I’m very sad about that. But we have a lot of competition in that area. I get a lot of people asking—you know, the always want a bargain. Sometimes I will, I’ll add on a little time rather than change the price because I know what I’m worth and I just don’t like bargaining.
It’s not our custom really here, but a lot of people come from countries where that is a-it’s an accepted thing. If you don’t bargain they can’t do it, they have to bargain. So, I understand that so I try to add on a little time or something with them.
Brogan: Yeah. So, what’s the most difficult part about your job? Difficult part is sometimes booking a show where people like to really bargain and back and forth.
Or they cancel after you’ve done all the paperwork. Oh, they really want the show. Holding the time, giving up other shows for that time, and they, oh we’re not going to do it. They didn’t call me, I had to call them and say, well where’s the contract—oh we changed our mind. Oh, but you didn’t tell me? Thank you. You know, I have to be nice, but it’s not really nice. You know, I want people to understand that as agents we work hard, we’re not just getting money free.
And matter fact, when you work with an agent—I want to put that out—a lot of people think, oh I can’t go through an agent, they’re going to charge me a lot more. In my case most of my people, they give me the discount from their regular price because I’m doing the paperwork, I’m getting them the job, I’m guaranteeing their payment. So, they give me a discount.
Brogan: Because you’re saving them some work.
Collins: I can still charge what people would pay if they called them directly. And what’s the advantage? What if they get sick? You hire a clown, she gets sick the day before, where are you going to get another clown right away?
Brogan: You find them one.
Collins: I can. If that’s an agent I have enough contacts I can often help them. I’ve also tested these people. I know that they have insurance, I know that they’re not going to harm kids, some of them have background checks, I know they wear good makeup—you know, I know. Whereas you go online, people could tell you anything but you don’t know if it’s true.
Brogan: But you’re making some kind of guarantee.
Collins: Yes. So, that’s why I suggest agents help you.
Brogan: What are the other kind of crucial parts of what you and-and other clowns are doing?
Collins: We do a lot of charity and caring work. I belong to Caring Clowns International out of Seattle. They go all over. And we not only give supplies but the smiles. And so we give out red noses, and we make balloons, and we go to hospitals. So, I was in Peru at a hospital and we did some bubbles with the kids in the bed and it was just a wonderful experience. We do a lot of that here too, hospital work. There’s another one—the Big Apple Circus had started a clown care unit years ago which I was working with and they have phenomenal clowns, very well trained, and they’re paid, but they do phenomenal work in the hospitals all over the country.
Healthy Humor Inc. now has taken over that and they’re as good, you know. It’s just really a good organization.
Brogan: What does that involve? Are you going into cancer wards and things like that?
Collins: Yes. Oncology units. You get a short time in each room. The child has the option to ask you in, you don’t just barge in a room. And that’s what gives the child power.
You can come in or you cannot come in. And they give you a lot of training and what to do in a hospital. There’s a lot of safety issues you got to follow. You don’t sit on the bed, you don’t put one prop from one room to the other because it brings the germs. You know, there are a lot of things you learn. And these kids, even though some of them might not make it, the parents are so happy that these children laughed a lot before they passed, you know.
And, it’s sad for us. We also go to schools. I do something called behind the curtains and I teach them about the three types of clowns, the Whiteface which is the beautiful clown that started out years ago, and then the Auguste clown is just the flesh tone with white eyes and a nose and he does the pranks. He’s the comedy, silly clown, and that started in Europe. And then the Tramp clown is the American clown, started in the Depression probably, on the train rides with the black soot on the mouth. And, that’s usually a silent clown party.
Brogan: So, is this about educating kids in the history of clowning?
Collins: Right. Talk about the history, about the makeup, and then I makeup in front of them and show them the procedure and how we have to powder it down so it’s not greasy.
And then I might dress up a child as a clown with me and maybe put a little makeup on them. I show them one magic trick, one thing with an animal to show the different things that clowns will do. But really what clowns will do is make you laugh, and if you’re not funny you’re not a clown. And these creepy things that are going on around today, they’re wearing ugly masks, they’re hurting people, they are not clowns and we shouldn’t even call them clowns.
Brogan: Let’s talk about that because we’re recording this just before Halloween and there’s been this whole rash of clown scares. Matt Dessem, he wrote a long piece about it in Slate that there’s a real history of these kind of so called clown scares.
Brogan: Unfortunately. What’s your take on that? What do you make of all of that?
Collins: Well, it always gets emphasized at Halloween unfortunately, but this year worse than ever I think.
So, I didn’t have it affect my business other than I had one incident where I was going to do a career day at a school that I had done for a couple of years, and I was doing it as my safari character, I wasn’t even in full clown, and they cancelled me the last day. And I said, why? Well, we’ve gotten so much, the parents are all worried about, etc. I said, you should be defending me.
She said, well look, you come in, we’re having a Halloween night thing, we’ll give you a whole room and you can set up and bring your hedgehog because that will get them to come in the room. And that’s what I did.
Brogan: I want to meet this hedgehog.
Collins: Yes, right? So then, I put up my big display to talk about that real clowns don’t wear masks, don’t scare you.
If they’re not funny, they’re not clowns—you know, the whole bit. And now I’m going to do a big PTO meeting with parents and show them all about that because we got to get the word out to not have kids worry about real clowns. You know, they don’t know what real clowns are sometimes.
Brogan: Why do you think that clowns activate this kind of fear in people? I mean you’re bring a lot of joy it sounds like.
Collins: Right. The ones that they’ve seen though and most of the teenager that I’ve met who are scared of clowns have seen the movie It. Stephen King did not do us a favor.
Brogan: Stephen King has a lot answer for.
Collins: Oh, that’s one of the worst. When that came out in my area they wanted me to help with the publicity of it. I said, are you kidding, I should be suing you. No, that’s horrible, it’s ruined people. They are grown adults and they’re still thinking of that movie. And Poltergeist was another one. Now another one’s coming out, I don’t even think I should mention it. So, I don’t know, what can I say? I try to defend what I do, you know. And so far I’ve had requests for clowns and they know it’s OK.
But, I will tell you one incident that happened in Maryland a couple of years ago. A clown did lure a child into a car, a bad clown. Happened to be wearing a red wig and had a red car…
Brogan: Which you were doing, yeah.
Collins: Which is what I had. So I said, oh no. So, I changed my wig just for those few months… and of course the people that know me didn’t worry about it, but a lot of people just didn’t hire clowns for their parties. They just didn’t want to take a chance. So, it did hurt the industry.
Brogan: Apart from these clown scares, are kids ever scared of clowns?
Collins: Yeah, OK. And that goes back years too. Just the fact that someone isn’t their real face. People think, what’s really under there. That, you know, it has that mystery. Two year olds, no matter what you do with makeup sometimes, they’re nervous just because that they’re learning what the human figure should look like and we mess it up. But real young kids we try to not put the heavy makeup on because they’re a little nervous.
But yes, there’s clown sites about people who hate clowns. And I don’t know why, it’s sad for me—but that it is what it is, you know.
People like horror movies, so I said to them, well, so if a nun’s costume came out in the store with a gruesome face on the nun would you ban all nuns? You know, let’s take it where it belongs, don’t ban the whole category because this guy says he’s a clown when he’s not.
Brogan: If someone does seem scared of clowns or if one—if you’re doing a party and one kid starts crying or something how do you respond to that?
Collins: Oh, OK. Well, that’s a big pet peeve of mine where a parent, if the child’s crying, she takes the child immediately out of the room thinking of course to not upset the other kids. But what she’s doing is taking the fear of that child with the child. So, I say to her, please—and I don’t go near the child of course—but I say, just stay in the back, tell me the child’s name.
I will not stare at the child but I will say, Hey Johnny, look at Suzie, and Suzie’s on my lap now. Or, you know, I’m talking with the other kids. Let the child see me interacting with the other children. And 99% of the time when that happens, that child who was scared is on my lap at the end of the show.
Brogan: So, you try to build that comfort.
Collins: Of course. I don’t want that child growing up that way. And I know my own sister-in-law is still afraid of clowns because someone jumped at her and scared her. And I’m trying to overcome that fear.
Brogan: Yeah. If you are heading to-to do a job and you are feeling cranky, or miserable, or irritated for whatever reason, how do you pull your own emotion through to make sure you’re bring joy to other people?
Collins: Chocolate. No, I’m just kidding. No, seriously, when I start putting on the makeup, as soon as I get the final touch, the nose, it perks me up. I just forget about whatever was bothering me and I’m in a different world at that moment.
Brogan: So, there’s no such thing as an unhappy clown for you?
Collins: Well, not while I’m performing.
Of course I have sad times, or I’m lonely. Sometimes, you know, but I don’t try to show that when I’m clowning. Even if at the restaurant sometimes, you know, I’ve been going there every Thursday for years and years, sometimes I just say, I don’t want to go tonight. But soon as I get there the kids perk me up.
Brogan: What’s the best part about clown work? Collins: Making other people smile and reducing stress. We have so much stress today, you know. A lot of clowns in politics don’t help with the stress.
Brogan: Do you think you’re making the world a better place?
Collins: I certainly feel like I want to. And I hope I do. People say, why aren’t you going to retire, you’re 72 years old. Why should I retire? I’m doing my hobby for my job. I said, how many people can say they are making a living doing their hobby? Not many.
Brogan: Not many.
Collins: Yeah. So, why should I stop? I could slow down and I am slowing down, but now as an agent I can still do it from my chair, you know.
And even I can make balloons in a wheelchair if I had to, you know. I could go to nursing homes and even if I’m physically disabled, if I can move my hands I can do something.
Brogan: So, you see yourself doing this as long as you can do it.
Collins: Absolutely. Because I wouldn’t know what to do if I’m not doing this. I ballroom dance, that’s about my other hobby, but other than that I-I love my job and that’s who I am.
Brogan: My producer tells me you have an interesting business card.
Collins: Yeah. I teach in clowning too – that when you make a card make it so people will keep it, right?
That’s the whole point of it. So, I punch a hole in my card and it says, can you push a penny through this whole? You cannot change the shape of either one, the website has a clue. So, it’s a marketing technique. Make them look at the website. They all want to know: how do you push a penny – and it’s a tiny little hole, you obviously can’t push a real penny through there. It’s a semantic thing, you have to look on the website to find it. And I told you the website, partyco-op, right?
Brogan: Going to look on the website. Yeah.
Collins: And so, that’s one you can add on your card. Picture is good. Some people put on a magic trick. But do something so people will keep it because today everybody’s giving you cards and you don’t even keep them.
Brogan: Yeah. Well, Bingo, thank you so much for coming and talking to us today. This was so delightful and thanks so much.
Collins: Thank you, I enjoyed your smiles too.
Brogan: You made me smile.
Collins: Thank you. Oh, show you my iPod. I just won a new iPod.
Brogan: You won an iPod?
Collins: I just won an iPod 3.
Brogan: What did—oh, three eyes in a pod.
Collins: Three eyes in a pod. Da, da, da.
Brogan: That’s right. Collins closed out the podcast with a visual gag that’s three disembodied eyeballs in a pod of peas, and eye pod 3. Thanks for listening to this special Halloween episode of Working. Also, Collins wanted us to tell you that there are still some clown schools including the Center Ring Circus School in Columbia, Maryland.
Links to that, Carol’s website, and a number of other clowning resources will be available on the show page at slate.com/working. Thanks for listening to this episode of Working. I’m Jacob Brogan and I will be dressing up as Snake Plissken, one of the greatest Kurt Russell characters for Halloween. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the podcast. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can listen to past episodes at slate.com/working.
Working is produced and edited by Mickey Capper. Mickey does not know what his costume is yet but it is going to be awesome. Our executive producer is Steve Lickteig, and the Chief Content Officer of the Panoply Network is Andy Bowers.
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In this Slate Plus extra, Carol Collins shares some of her favorite memories from her 40 years in the clown industry.
Brogan: So, tell us, you’ve got a lot of pictures here, can you describe some of them for us?
Collins: I got a lot of publicity that I didn’t even ask for which I was thrilled about.
The Washington Post weekend section wanted to do an article on entertainment and they called. I had sold my entertainment company, by the way, before— to this agency and they called her. And they said they want a clown, they want a juggler, and a magician on the cover. So, she called me and they called me and I went in and spent two hours with my two hedgehogs trying to pose it where the hedgehog either wasn’t pooping… or the hat was falling off.
Brogan: Is that an albino hedgehog there?
Collins: This is an albino and that was the normal one, black and white.
Brogan: So, there’s one on your shoulder – the black and white one and you’re holding the albino one and there’s a cute little hat…
Collins: And they both have hats on.
Brogan: They both have hats on them.
Collins: So, to-it took him two hours to take this picture because to get the hats to stay on and not to poop and not to—you know, the whole thing. It was really funny. And so then they called me up and they said, Bingo, would you mind if we just put you on the cover? I said, not at all. So, that was every nice. That was July 6th, 2001. And it was really fun.
Brogan: And stuff like that must have been really good for your business.
Collins: I don’t know. I don't know if we really got much calls from it, but I love the picture. So it’s a funny thing, I live in an adult community and one of the men in the community is an artist and he unknown to me had painted this and had it in his house. And his girlfriend came to my house one day and she said, is that you, Bingo, Joe has it in his house. He copied this, he painted it. So, sure enough he gave me a copy of it. He says, I didn’t know that was you, I just love clowns. So, he gave it to me and I have it on my wall. So, that was kind of a small world.
Brogan: So, you also contribute to clown magazines you read.
Collins: Yes. I used to write for Laugh Makers, which now has disbanded, but I write in service things. It’s all about helping other clowns do different things.
Brogan: These are-these are industry publications.
Collins: Yes, that’s the word. Yeah, good word. And then that was taken over by Funny Paper who I still write for, but they-they don’t do as much anymore but I write for them. And then we have two national clown organization magazines, Calliope and Clowning Around, sometimes I would write for them.
And, they’re very informative about conventions and just things clowns are doing in the areas. And so, it’s good. You get that with our insurance.
Brogan: How does the insurance work?
Collins: Oh, well, you become a member and then you pay—I don’t know what we pay now, $130 a year or something—it’s $1 to $2 million coverage. It’s liability. My insurance that I have through World Clown is-covers my dog, it will cover doves, and it will cover birds/doves—
Brogan: But not the hedgehogs.
Collins: And rabbits, but not the hedgehogs or the hamsters. So, I’m just real careful with them, I don’t usually let people touch them. Sometimes I do but I’m very careful that they only touch the back of the animal, not the face, and I’ve never had a problem with that. But, I tell all my people they really need insurance today because a balloon could pop in a child’s mouth, they could pick it up. That’s another thing I teach in my show too about balloons.
Like when it breaks I tell the kids, OK why is that dangerous. Oh my gosh. And we talk about animals choking, children choking, and how they can help Bingo by picking them up and throwing them away. So, it’s so cute after a show, like, a three or four year old would come up with a little balloon and give it to me because they listened to what I said and I was thrilled.
Brogan: Yeah, that’s great. You also go to clowning conventions you said. How many clowning conventions do you go to a year?
Collins: Oh, now I don’t go as-as many. No, maybe one. You know, I don’t go a lot. But I like to go to the ones overseas. I’ve been to one… Twice in England, one in Scotland, and there’s one in Mexico, maybe someday I’ll go. I don't know. But now I’m going to Thailand, so I’m excited about that.
Brogan: Are clowning styles and techniques different in different places around the world?
Collins: Yeah. Well, in Europe they used to do a lot of the, like I said, without the wig. But today they have both, you know, they do both.
Circus clowning usually has a wig. Now, in Thailand I’ll be interested to see the local clowns there. I don't know, I’m going to find out.
Brogan: Just different tradition.
Collins: Japan, oh here, let me show you this. This is a Japanese couple who do clowning. Aren’t they cute?
Brogan: Yeah. They have huge ears on.
Collins: They have huge ears. That’s what makes them unique, you know. And again a red nose and makeup. They’re Auguste clowns. Ronnie and Gigi, and they come to all conventions over here a lot even though they’re from Japan. So, it’s always fun to go to their workshops and learn some new ways of looking at things.
Brogan: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve contributed to these clown journals that you’ve brought in?
Collins: OK, well here’s one. Computer generated promotional material. So, I gave clowns ideas how they could get business, you know, different things they could do on the computer, different songs, different ways to advertise themselves. Which that was a marketing one. Another one I talked about just setting up your car and how to pack products, how to decorate your car. I talk about the nose in the front and all that.
Brogan: The right kind of clown car.
Collins: The right kind of clown. Other ones would just be how to use live animals in your show. That’s important. How-what you have to be careful and…
Brogan: How long have you been using live animals?
Collins: About 20 years.
Brogan: So, you have some real experience with it. Yeah.
Collins: Yeah. And I started out with just a bunny. And interesting story, I had this bunny for years and years and he was getting kind of fidgety with kids and I don’t like to use them if they get mean, you know.
So anyway, he was out on the back deck running around and I had just gotten this new puppy which I wanted to use in my show and she kept getting sick in the car. And I said, oh my gosh, she can’t get sick in the car if I’m going to use her. So, anyway that night the bunny wouldn’t come in from the porch. It was raining and so, I covered up the area and I put his cage out there and I said, OK stay out there. 2:30 in the morning my dog goes crazy and I look outside and the bunny’s gone. We live near the woods and there was an owl’s nest way down about a block away. So, we think the owl came and fed the baby.
Brogan: Oh no.
Collins: Because there was no damage, there’s nothing anywhere in the morning, right? So, I was very sad but I also felt, well, at least nature took it and not a car or anything.
So, anyway then the next day at my show the dog didn’t get sick in the car. Never got sick since. Now, I’m not heavily religious but I have a feeling that God said, you know, the bunny’s sick, let him feed the baby owl and you put the dog in your show. OK, and I did.
And I really feel that. So many things in my life have happened where what I thought was bad at first, when I look back it was good, and that was one of them.
Brogan: Is that a message you try to convey in your clowning?
Collins: Yeah. Well, yeah, I try to, yeah, if I can, if it fits in. To always look at the positive side and-and the glass half full, you know. So, what else did I write about? Oh, just every possible thing.
Brogan: So, you’ve got The Big Book of Clowns here, what’s that?
Collins: Yeah. Steve Kissell who’s a great clown and motivational speaker for years put out these books where we could all put in our life history, OK. So, he put mine in and it goes through, you know, my beginning. And there’s my doggy, and all these different things, what we did. But one little child wrote me a note, and she was four years old, and I’m going to ask you to see if you can read it.
Collins: Just sound it out.
Brogan: Bingo, I like you very much.
Collins: Isn’t that sweet? And she spelled it – you know, just like a little child would phonetically upside down y. But she drew the picture of me.
Brogan: With the spotted costume.
Collins: With the spots.
Brogan: The cat.
Collins: And she wrote that herself and the mother sent it to me and I was thrilled—
So, that was fun. And then these were just all the pictures. My daughter stopped clowning with me when she was around 12, you know. Teenagers, she wasn’t wanting to do that anymore. And that was from Peru.
And bubbles, we make a special solution now. This has become big in clowning, something new now, where we do these huge super bubbles and it’s a special solution. Some use glycerin, some use J-Lube power, some use guar gum. It’s all different solutions but they make huge bubbles, and bubbles inside bubbles. So, you blow on the bubble and a bubble goes inside.
Brogan: And you do this as well?
Collins: Yes, yes.
Brogan: How did you learn to do that?
Collins: Well, just learned years ago. Actually went to a convention when Laugh Makers had their own convention once and we had a bubble thing back in the 80s. But now everybody’s doing it, but I did it a long time ago. And I’d bring a big tiger blanket on the floor inside so I could do it inside and make the bubble so the child’s head goes in the bubble and the mother takes-mother takes a picture of the child’s face through the bubble, you know.
Brogan: So you get a kind of distorted funny picture.
Collins: No, it’s not distorted, it actually shows you their face.
Brogan: Oh really? OK.
Collins: Yeah. But so anyway, that’s another thing I add on my show, doing bubbles because it’s fun and I get hired, now sometimes, $125, $150 an hour to go out and do bubbles at a picnic. I mean, hello—Brogan: Amazing. Yeah.
Collins: I’m having fun. But we have to have the right solution and then now they’re making these extended fishing poles with several strings so you can make a huge—I mean, like, maybe 50 feet, you know, huge bubbles. So, I want to do more of that in the summer. But, I do it inside in the winter.
Brogan: Yeah, amazing. So you’ve got some pictures here from a while back it looks like. When are these from?
Collins: Well, people ask me do you go over sees to perform. Well, we did the conventions over sees.
But once an agent hired us to go to Barbados to do a gig and it was my husband at the time, Malcolm the clown and I was Bingo, and another guy, Paul Belanja, a juggler, and we were hired to go to Barbados to do a children’s show on stage. And we were all excited, they were paying for everything. And we get there and our agent was furious because his agent over there never advertised the program.
Brogan: Oh no.
Collins: All the signs that we sent were in his trunk of his car. So, oh no. But they said we have to do it. So, sure enough we had maybe about 50 people but it was a 500-seat auditorium. So, we were sad but at least we got to do it, you know.
Collins: And that was fun. So, we did perform in Barbados and they liked it.
Brogan: That’s great. And that was in 1989 it looks like.
Collins: Yeah, 1989, long time ago. And then we did some movies. I didn’t tell you about those. Tom Selleck was a clown.
Collins: See him?
Brogan: Look at that.
Collins: And that wasn’t the greatest makeup. He had a beard at the time so they put the white just over his mouth and two dots on his cheek and a skull cap with a yarn with… you know, hair. Looks really…
Brogan: Yeah, he actually does, if I’m being honest, look like a scary clown there.
Collins: That. Yes, I agree. And I don’t think they even showed it much in the movie. Because, you know, in the movies … Nine days we worked all day long in face. We had to be in costume the whole time—and they used three minutes in the movie.
Brogan: What movie was it?
Collins: It’s called Her Alibi. And he was running away to the circus to meet his girlfriend there and that was the whole deal.
But he was really nice to work with. I had a third arm puppet. You ever hear of a third arm puppet?
Collins: It’s a fake arm coming out of one arm and your other arm holds that handle with a glove and your hand is up inside the puppet.
So, it’s like a dodo bird and I was walking around on set with that, you know. And I could see him watching me like, what is that. And without saying words I could see it in his face.
So, one day he comes out of his trailer and he comes up to me and he makes his arm—like he figured it out. Like, he showed that the arm was up in the puppet and, like, I figured it out, you know. So, that was a great moment I had with him. But normally as extras you don’t talk to the-the stars.
Brogan: The cast.
Collins: But he came up and he says, why aren’t you talking to me. I said, well, we couldn’t. He said, you can talk to me anytime. But he was a funny clown. It was good. Here-here’s a picture. We made him an honorary clown, by the way, with our club.
Brogan: I love it.
Collins: Tom Selleck. I told him he won the No Belly prize because I have a toilet plunger stethoscope on his stomach. I told him he won the No Belly prize.
Brogan: No Belly, yeah. He looks great there. You look great.
Collins: Yeah, that was on the cover of our Calliope magazine.
Jacob Brogan writes for Slate about technology and culture. Follow him on Twitter.