by Judy Quest
(CNN) — It was a sad day in the clown world when a “clown” at the Missouri State Fair put on a mask in the likeness of President Barack Obama and wore a broomstick attached to his behind to perform in a rodeo in America’s Heartland.
Some would ask: How this is different from late-night pundits making mocking comments about every political person alive? It is different in that it goes against everything a clown stands for and makes fun of our president in a way that is truly offensive on so many levels.
As someone who has performed as a “real” clown for 32 years and has taught the craft to hundreds of clowns, I would like the world to know that we have a code of ethics that we adhere to so that our life of making the world smile goes on without hurting people. Among the ethics is a ban on “blue humor.”
This mean no sexual or racial humor. The joke always needs to be on us and never on an audience member. If someone is offended or made the “victim” of a joke, it is totally against what the clown community would consider funny.
So what is this clown community and where do I get these ethics?
One of the main international clown organizations based in the United States is Clowns of America, International. We are 3,000 members strong and are organized into clown “alleys,” groups that perform together.
As part of our training, and really the training of most clowns, we have a strict code of ethics covering such things as drinking while clowning, cleanliness and remaining in character. We take offense at the actions of the rodeo “clown” because we are strictly trained not to offend anyone while “in clown.”
The individual who took on the role of a clown in Missouri might have made some people laugh, but it was at the expense of so many others.
What of the children who were in the audience and being taught to respect our president and government? What of every person in the audience who hates racism? What of the officials of the state of Missouri who are now the focus of national attention in this negative light?
Forgive me for taking this forum to air another form of “clown” I find very offensive: the horror clown.
In my travels as “Dear Heart” the clown, I encounter many people of all ages who are afraid of clowns. Perhaps some are afraid of anyone who is behind makeup, but most have had the experience of a house of horror where a person dressed as a clown has frightened them and, in doing so, has robbed them of fun and playful experiences for life.
Being a “real clown” takes training, money and a lot of time. We each develop a character that is an extension of ourselves. Real clowns have clown hearts long before we put on makeup.
Our goal is to make the world a happier place. One part of our national organization, Red Nose Response, allows clowns go to places where there have been disasters and pitch in — helping to distribute needed supplies but also helping to keep the spirits of people up.
I am most proud when I come home having given a balloon flower to an elderly person who responds with a big smile or having taught a child who is in a hospital long-term the basics of juggling.
And so what is there that I have described about “real clowns” that applies to the Missouri rodeo performer? Absolutely nothing.
As for the people in Texas who have said he would be welcome to perform there: Please think about that and what you are really doing.
I believe that people today desperately need a reason to smile and a chance to forget their troubles for a moment and laugh. These laughs are most cherished if they are only for fun and do not offend or hurt another human being.
Editor’s note: Judy Quest is a board member and past president of Clowns of America International, an organization of clowns that promotes the craft. She has been a clown for 32 years and has trained hundreds of clowns. She writes regularly for clown journals.