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Reporter becomes a real Bozo

Posted: May 27, 2009 8:40 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Circus Vargas host, Jon Weiss, applies the finishing touches on the clown transformation.

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What does it take to turn a 6-foot, 6-inch-tall reporter with size-14 shoes into a clown? Basketball sneakers, lots of clown makeup and clown clothes that barely fit.

I'm in a position to know about this because John Weiss, host of Circus Vargas, transformed me into a clown.

The hour-long process started in the Valencia Town Center parking lot Wednesday morning with Weiss worried about whether I would fit the basketball shoes, which served as my clown shoes.

"What size shoes do you wear?" Weiss asked nervously. My size-14 foot meant Weiss would have to pull out a pair of basketball shoes Weiss picked up during his days as a halftime entertainer for the National Basketball Association.

Weiss is a former clown turned host. He honed his clown skills at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College.

Weiss has more than 25 years of experience, which made him a perfect fit to train me to be a clown. However, the clown clothes he gave me to wear didn't fit at all.

"See if you can get those pants over your waist," he said laughing.

I stretched and struggled the overalls over my girth and barely got one overall strap over my shoulder, drawing laughs from Weiss.

I laced up the size-18 shoes and was ready for the most time-consuming part of my clown transformation - putting on makeup.

"When you put on clown makeup, you're trying to highlight a person's natural expressions," Weiss said. He made me act out different facial expressions before applying the makeup.

Weiss focused on my smile and the wrinkles in my forehead to create the exaggerated expressions of a clown. "Your smile is bigger than (that of) most people, so we are going to use the makeup to highlight it," he said.

As Weiss applied the white face paint, black eyeliner and red lip liner, Matti, another Circus Vargas clown, watched the transformation.

Matti is a fifth-generation circus performer, but this is his first full circus season as a clown.

He grew up in the circus with a family of acrobats and tumblers and was trained in acrobatics, but when his family left the ring, he decided to switch acts.

"I became a juggler at first," he said.

A clown calamity gave Matti his chance at clown fame. He was on the Valentine International Circus tour when the clown car, which took the clowns from city to city, broke down, leaving its occupants stranded.

Matti stepped in as a clown.

"It was great," he said. "When you're a clown, you can fall and make mistakes and people don't notice. They think it's part of the show."

With my makeup done and my clown clothes in place, I was ready to take my first clown steps.

Weiss gave me some simple instruction for my first day as a clown.

"It's not about acting like a clown, it's about letting the fun side of yourself come through. That's clowning."

For a start, Weiss, Matti and I tossed juggling scarves into the air.

We initially tried to juggle the light scarves that floated in the air and make juggling for the beginner easy, but - well, let's just repeat that mistakes and mishaps are part of clowning.

The dozen juggling scarves filled the air and soon Matti, Weiss and I were smiling and laughing with our exaggerated grins. The breeze carried the juggling scarves and the three of us collided as we chased them.
In short, we were clowning.

"Clowning is a customer-service job. The audience wants to be entertained and your job as a clown is to sense that, and do your best to keep them smiling," Weiss said.

Circus Vargas opens today at 7:30 at the Westfield Valencia Town Center, with 18 shows to follow over the following 10 days. But no, I won't be there as a clown. It's probably better that I keep my day job.

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