Big shoes to fill: Clowns gather in MN for convention amid changes in the profession

Pickles the Clown at National Night Out.
Pickles the Clown makes balloon art for children at the National Night Out gathering at 38th Avenue North and Emerson Avenue in Minneapolis on Aug. 2, 2011.
Nikki Tundel | MPR News 2011

Bloomington will be full of oversized shoes, makeup and people working on their juggling skills, as clowns from across the country and world are heading to the 2018 World Clown Association convention.

"It's a whole lot of fun, but primarily a lot of educational opportunities and competitions," said Pam Moody, the president of the WCA and a practicing clown from Des Moines, Iowa.

The convention, hosted at the Crown Plaza Suites, starts Monday and runs through Friday. It includes more than 50 different daily classes like "presenting perfect pies," "evolution of the gag" and "social media marketing."

The clown association serves its members in a variety of ways, from providing liability insurance for performers to scholarship opportunities for clown education.

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Moody noted that this year's gathering includes a panel discussion devoted to clowns who served in the now defunct Ringling Bros. Circus, which discontinued last year amid declining interest and concerns over the well-being of the animals.

"I do think that that is going to have an impact on introducing people to the art form of clowning" Moody said.

She said interest in clowns has faded a bit over the last several decades in the United States. That's led to a changing image of clowns hired for performances.

"A lot of our people perform more as comedy-magic plain-clothed artists," Moody said.

While the industry has struggled a bit in the U.S., performers in other parts of the world have seen a surge in popularity, Moody said.

"By far, they outrank USA-based clowns in skill, makeup," she said. "When I clowned in India and Thailand, they literally have to get bodyguards for you because of the tens of thousands of people that will show up."

The public can see some of the clowns perform in a parade competition from to 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mall of America.