For being the Land of Plenty, America has been having a lot of shortages lately.
Medicine shortages have been costing hospitals about $200 million a year. Gun enthusiasts have been fretting off-and-on ammunition shortages for the past few years. Harsh winter weather has drained supplies at blood banks.
WE DON’T HAVE enough doctors or nurses. Or meat inspectors. Or pilots for regional airlines.
Clown shortage. Seriously.
I know what you’re thinking. A clown shortage? With Congress in session?
But the New York Daily News reported it recently. The newspaper quoted Glen Kohlberger, president of Clowns of America International:
“What’s happening is attrition. The older clowns are passing away. What happens is they go on to high school and college and clowning isn’t cool anymore. Clowning is then put on the back burner until their late 40s and early 50s.”
It took me a while to read that with a straight face. When I got to the end of a sentence, I imagined Mr. Kohlberger squeezing the bulb on a bicycle horn.
Other media outlets took the story and ran with it. Turns out, though, that the story might not even be true. Mr. Kohlberger told the New York blog Gothamist that the story had been twisted out of proportion worse than a balloon you can make into a giraffe. His member-supported clowning group may have taken a slight hit like other careers in this sour economy, but Clowns of America International, Mr. Kohlberger assures, still has thousands of members.
BUT WHAT DOES this all mean to the average clown on the street? Like Broad Street?
I wouldn’t say the Augusta job market is saturated with clowns, but there were more than I thought when I thumbed through the Yellow Pages. There was Jingles. Bingo. Lollipop. You find them and a few more when you check online, too.
Pam Chinnery – Pammy the Clown – lives in Grovetown. As of this month she has been putting on the red nose for 31 years. Like everybody with a passion, she’s serious about hers.
Spiritually, clowning is very fulfilling. Economically? You won’t get rich.
“Financially speaking, performing at one birthday party every weekend for a year won’t even get you close to the national poverty level,” Pammy said.
That’s not why she does it, though.
“Words can not express the joy we feel from creating happiness for others – young or not-so-young,” she said. “For me personally, that joy is felt deep down. Money cannot replace it.”
Money helps, though. There’s serious capital outlay involved in being a clown. Pammy thinks that’s one of the reasons why fewer people are taking it up. Younger folks prefer spending their parents’ money on the latest technology. Older folks are on tight budgets.
“People do not care to spend $350 on a pair of leather clown shoes,” she said.
THE OTHER BIG factor in clowning’s decrease, Pammy said, is age. As the clowning population gets older, fewer clowns are stepping up in replacement.
The professional Generation Y crowd, she said, is more likely to hire a clown for their kid’s birthday party than to pursue clowning themselves. And Generation Z just doesn’t seem interested in exerting the effort. To them, clowning just isn’t cool.
“Society, as a whole, depends on others to create ‘happy’ – watching TV or playing video games to contribute to happy times,” Pammy said. “I feel fewer folks have a desire to be part of the giving of happy.”
Clowning is work. It takes serious training to act that goofy. But as an independent contractor you also get to be your own boss and set your own hours.
And make people laugh.
“Everybody deserves to be happy,” Pammy said, “and I will be clowning until I leave this life.”
I DON’T THINK there’s a clown shortage, really. That would imply that America is falling short of some predetermined “clown quota.” Then you start crunching numbers and getting economists involved, and before you know it everything gets deadly dull.
Or maybe saying there’s a clown shortage is another way of saying that there just aren’t enough people around trying to make the world a cheerier place.
These days that’s an important job, with big shoes to fill.
Big, flappy shoes.