Clowning Around Makes Seriously Fun Business
Local clowns are friends to children  
by Cynthia Robertson  

A very good friend of mine was still a mystery to me whenever she talked about being "in clown.” Santee resident Peg Marcus, 55, has been in the serious business of clowning around for two decades.

“Haven’t you ever heard her laugh?” another friend of mine asked me of Marcus, whose clown name is PJ Pineapple.

Frankly, I hadn’t been overly eager to meet PJ Pineapple, mostly because clowns had always given me the heebie-jeebies, ever since I was a kid. Were there really people underneath there? I’d ask myself, watching the antics of Barnum and Bailey Circus clowns.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a person behind that face paint and under the wild hair. Those people have a big heart for children, I found out.

PJ Pineapple, with bright yellow curls topped by a blue bow and wearing primary colors, invited me to Wells Park in El Cajon. Penelope and Li’l Smiley, two other clowns, joined PJ Pineapple.

Children swarmed to Li’l Smiley as soon as they spotted her emerging from her car. Li’l Smiley wore a perky hat with a blue plaid bow, and her cheeks were painted rosy red, her makeup light.

“I help kids not get scared of me. I do that by looking like a real person,” she said.

She did, very much so, as she made kids laugh with a magic wand that broke in their hands.

Joining her was Penelope, whose hair was a bright pink with feathers and ribbons. When I hugged her, she smelled a little like cotton candy.

“Clowns must smell nice,” she told me.

Together, PJ Pineapple, Li’l Smiley and Penelope strolled into the children’s play lot. They jumped onto the inner tube swing, drawing the attention of mothers with baby strollers and Spanish-speaking toddlers.

PJ Pineapple brought out soap bubbles and wands and jumped rope.

“I’m 4 ½ years old, but I’m big for my size,” PJ told the children who watched her with wide eyes.

Li’l Smiley gave out Smiley-Face stickers, bending down low to talk to the children.

“Que quieres?” asked Penelope of a four-year-old child with huge brown eyes. “Perrito? Okay, a little dog it will be,” she said, smiling impishly.

Using her helium pump, PJ Pineapple twisted all sorts of animals into shape. When she got through creating a monkey, it popped.

“Oh, well, that was a ‘poppa’ monkey, now I make a ‘momma’ monkey,” she said in her high-pitched voice, making everyone laugh. As everyone watched, she morphed green, brown and yellow balloons into a magical palm tree with bananas and a monkey clinging to it.

It was soon dinnertime, so PJ Pineapple and friends wrapped up for the evening. The three clowns then clasped each other in good-bye hugs.

What it Takes to be a Clown

“Anybody can be a clown, if you love people,” said Marcus. “I love to make them smile. It’s been proven that laughter heals a whole lot of things.”

Deas, whose is clown is Penelope, agreed. People have an idea in their heads, largely due to movies, of someone bad hiding behind masks.

“There’s a tendency to think that clowns have a personality disorder,” said Deas. “We are portrayed as being vicious, causing damage to children. But that is not a professional portrayal of us. I get to break the notion that clowns are scary.”

Carmen Campbell, whose clown is named Free Spirit, gets into the spirit of fun with children.

“My clown is from the best parts of my personality,” explained Campbell. “She is patient with kids and adults, takes things easily in stride, and sincerely cares about others. She likes others to be happy too and to leave happy.”

What most people don’t know is that clowns are not naturally bouncy and silly all the time. They have to put on a show, just like any good entertainers. Deas explained that clowns need a lot of self-control.

“You never know how you are going to feel the day you have a show,” she said. “During my very first professional job for an agency, I had two broken ribs. I couldn’t cancel the show, so I went and did the job I have to turn my personal life off for two hours.”

What Clowns Do

Birthday parties, reunions, grand openings, and even baptisms are clowns’ workplaces. Typically, the work is on weekends, comprising three jobs per day with two hours for each job.

When Penelope the Clown goes to work, 60 percent of the time it is for Spanish-speaking people.

“I want to become truly bilingual,” she said.

Every clown has a specialty. For PJ Pineapple, it’s making original balloon animals. In many ways, PJ Pineapple is considered the ‘mother’ of San Diego County’s clown community. She has taught clowning classes at Grossmont Community College.

“We’re all very close, trading shows back and forth with each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of talent in San Diego.”

PJ Pineapple is also well known in San Diego for sewing clown costumes.

“I knew I wanted to be a type of princess clown,” said Penelope. “PJ helped me with the style and colors of my costume.”

Face painting became Penelope the Clown’s specialty.

“I fell into face painting when I during Mardi Gras when I lived in New Orleans,” said Deas, whose husband was stationed in the military there.

Lori Greene, whose clown is Li’l Smiley, specializes in looking out for those little kids hiding behind the tree. Greene used to work in the school district, and someone said she was too nice to the kids. When Greene met someone who had been trained as a clown, she knew she had found herself a new career.

“My clown is a little kid who never get to play,” said Greene. “I bend down to the kids’ level. I do a magic show with the kids, and they ask how I do the tricks “

How Clowns Prepare for Work

On an ordinary Saturday, Campbell makes sure she eats breakfast.

“A clown needs energy so I don't leave the house without eating breakfast,” said Campbell, who specializes in face painting.

Campbell then prepares her lunch to take with her, puts on her make-up, cleans her face-paint box and irons her costume. After dressing, she makes sure she has all the balloons she’ll need, and she selects gift for the birthday child and prepares her magic tricks.

“All of this usually takes up to two hours to do before I have even leave the house,” she said.

Since clowns often have a second event to work, there can be a lot of driving and loading and unloading of the car. Each event is also very different with different personalities,
cultures, languages, and locations inside or outside.

“Clowning really is a moment-to-moment experience,” said Campbell.
Janey Findley, whose clown is called Fun-B, gets all her things organized on Friday for the weekend.

Where Clowns Go to Find Themselves

Since makeup and costume go a long way in creating each clown’s persona, a store called Gypsy Treasure in La Mesa is considered by many clowns to be their headquarters. “This is where you can get makeup tips as well as costume ideas,” said PJ Pineapple.

Store owner Robin Melancon works closely with an entire community of clowns through the Horizon Clowning Ministry. She also refers clowns-in-training to other clowns who can give tips.

Kids interested in learning clowning can take a clown class or learn from books or videos, and then practice skills with friends and family.

Have fun with it and don’t take yourselves too seriously,” said Fun-B. “Clowning is more about fun and less about perfection and rules.”

Cynthia Robertson is a freelance writer and mentor of children. She and her husband live in the San Carlos neighborhood. Cynthia is a good friend of PJ Pineapple.

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