They came from around the globe, more than 200 of them — from Japan, Sweden, Hong Kong and France — arriving at a Bloomington hotel in two tiny cars.
OK, the part about the cars isn’t true. But the clowns are in town this week for the annual convention of the World Clown Association, which runs through Friday.
The Crowne Plaza Suites has become the Clown Plaza Suites, transformed by an explosion of color, laughter and foolery.
Wearing giant shoes, crazy-quilt overalls, red noses and hair of every color, the clowns on Wednesday pulled pranks, juggled rubber chickens, traded makeup tips and showed off their skills in parades and skits.
Dee Dee the Clown, aka Dee Dee Hartmier of Winnipeg, got into clowning more than 20 years ago when she couldn’t line up a performer for her daughter’s 5th birthday party. She decided to do it herself and has been clowning ever since, performing in India, Malaysia, Denmark and on Caribbean cruise ships. In 2015, she was the association’s Clown of the Year.
Why does she do it? It’s simple, she said: Clowns live to spread joy.
“Clowns are caring. Clowns are giving. Clowns want to make your day,” she said Wednesday.
Hartmier choked up as she told stories of visiting children in hospitals, then became indignant as she turned to a topic that popped up throughout the day: the appearance of scary clowns in popular culture.
“I get very passionate about it,” she said. “Those are people dressed up, pretending to be us. They don’t know what a clown really is.”
Fran Etzkorn lives in Colorado but grew up in Wayzata. She went to a clown camp 15 years ago after retiring as a health care manager.
“I’ve been addicted ever since,” said Etzkorn, 77, who performs as “Kolo.”
Wearing a blue bow tie, yellow clown shoes and a badge reading “Free Hugs,” Etzkorn got tears in her eyes as she described her clowning in hospitals and schools.
“It’s bringing a little joy to someone,” she said. “It’s just one of those things that God has given me to do.”
God and pocket magic
Speaking of God, clown ministries are a big deal these days. In the vendor area, books for sale included “Clowning for Christ.” Paul Walsh’s two daughters got interested in clowning after a performance at their church.
“They loved what he was doing,” said Walsh, who lives near Superior, Wis. “You can break communication down to small, simple messages. When you put on that nose, you’ve broken a barrier.”
And the nose may have come from Iman Lizarazu, a native of France who studied with the famed mime Marcel Marceau and now lives in California. Lizarazu, who has an engineering background, designs and manufactures silicone noses and juggling clubs. She also performs a particular form of “eccentric” clowning that traces its roots to the medieval entertainment commedia dell’arte.
Clowning, she said, “is the imagination of how you tell a story.”
Throughout the week, the convention is offering classes and seminars on the craft and business of clowning: face-painting and costume design, sound systems and social media marketing, contracts and landing gigs.
Between activities, the clowns gravitate to the vendor area, where Harry Allen puts on his own show. Allen, of Daytona Beach, Fla., sells comedy magic gags and teaches magicians and clowns how to use them. A visit to his booth is an endless stream of rope tricks, magic wands, gags and groaners.
Many clowns carry small tricks, called “pocket magic,” that they can perform without a stage. Allen demonstrated his tricks to a stream of clowns looking to spice up their acts.
“When I was a kid, I told my mother I wanted to be a magician when I grew up. She said, ‘You can’t do both,’ ” Allen recalled. “But at the end of your life, do you say, ‘Did I make the most money?’ or ‘Did I have the most fun?’ ”