Facing tough times with a smile

The group of friends clowning around at the Sia Boey Urban Archaeological Park in George Town, Penang. — Photos: ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

IT has been over five months since the comic gang were last together.

Separated by the movement control order (MCO) and later, a lack of crowd-pulling events, the clown community in Penang finds unemployment no laughing matter.

“The last time I dressed up as a clown was March, during the Penang St Patrick’s Festival, in Straits Quay.

“You know, I got very fat at the start of the MCO! I’m surprised I can still fit into my costume, ” said Harley, a 30-year-old clown with rainbow shoes and fluorescent yellowish-green hair who hails from Bukit Mertajam.

Rounded up by Jennifer the Clown, the managing director of Dummy Dumb Dumb Entertainment, about 10 clowns were on the ground entertaining the crowd on March 7 for the annual Irish festival.

None of them suspected it would be their last jolly get-together for a long while.

“Basically, my company has had no shows or orders at all since mid-March.

“We cover both corporate and private events like birthday parties and both sectors have been affected equally bad, ” Jennifer said in an interview.

The 37-year-old has been hit the hardest by the pandemic as he is a popular full-time clown and magician while those under him are part-time freelancers with other day jobs.

“My clowns do this as a hobby or have a passion for the job.

“There are other clown companies with full-time clowns and they have been suffering very, very badly.

“Clowns aren’t covered by any government assistance and at this point, we’re not sure what to hope for in the future, ” Jennifer added.

Money aside, the protracted hiatus from entertaining has left some clowns sad and despondent – the exact opposite of their alternative personas.

“I do production planning in a multinational shipping corporation.

“It’s stressful. I miss being around kids and seeing a line of them waiting for a balloon, ” said Vico Milo, who dons a classic, red-headed rag doll wig and a patchwork apron.

Cream Puff who, like Vico Milo, is in her 30s, said transforming into a clown had been a welcome relief.

“Cream Puff is my alter ego. I’m a secondary school teacher and with my students, I have to be a certain way.

“As a clown, I can let go and do whatever I want!” she exclaimed.

Speaking about her day job, Cream Puff said online teaching fell short in effectively reaching all her students but it did come with one advantage.

“The best part was I could mute noisy students with one click!” she joked.

The free hours during the MCO and now under relaxed restrictions have, however, have been put to good use by the clowns.

Some have gone into exercise – dancing, jogging, yoga and tabata being the favourites – while clowns like Jam have picked up new skills.

The 27-year-old technical assistant has crocheted two endearing teddy bears that she plans to tuck into the big pockets of her shiny, white clown pants.

“It takes about two weeks for me to make one bear and I hope the kids will like them!” she said.

Head clown Jennifer has also made the most of his downtime, tending to his 40 pots of ladies fingers and other plants, perfecting his newly learnt skill of sweeping the floor and putting his clown stilts to good use by painting his house.

“I’m doing OK. I have friends who have just appeared on their own to help out.

“The break has also given me time to plan my next step, which is starting magic classes.

“I started doing balloon animals when I was 16 and I’ve been a clown since I was in Form 6.

“I’ve trained a lot of clowns informally but this is the first time I’ll be organising classes, ” Jennifer said.

As one of the very few magicians in the country who specialise in pick-pocketing, Jennifer is eager to pass down basic magic skills to adults and kids alike.

“It’s a new step and I’m excited to see how it’ll go, ” he smiled.

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