Kerry Dougherty

Virginian Pilot

April 7, 2001


If you ever find yourself manning a table at a high-school career fair, try to nab a location near Bobby the Clown. 

            His is the busiest booth in the room.

            I should know.  I was near that hot spot this week at the Virginia Beach Public Schools Career Connection at Tallwood High.

            Just my luck.  I thought as I set up, 108 exhibitors from foresters to funeral directors and I was in a corner with the clowns.

            After just a few minutes on clown alley, I realized that the major benefit to being parked near a coupe of guys in fright wigs and floppy shoes was the increased foot traffic they generated.

            On the downside, they made it mighty hard to sell journalism as a career.

            Bobby, who insists "The clown" is his last name, was trolling for apprentices by talking about all the giggles he has on the job.

I was trying to engage students on the importance of the Fourth Estate.

            Bobby had brought along his sidekick, Phillip The Clown, a graduate of the prestigious Ringling Brothers Clown College.

            I was alone, wearing a sincere suit.

            As the teens approached our little corner of the room, you could watch them playing a mental game of eenie, meenie, minie, moe:  Clown, journalist, clown, journalist, clown, journalist.

            Decisions, decisions, decisions.

            With little hesitation most headed straight for the pair in polka dots, apparently intrigued by a future filled with parties, pratfalls and poodles.

            "Sometimes the line between journalism and clowning is a blurry one," I told a couple of kids who wandered over to my booth after deciding they didn't want to drive around in teeny-tiny cars.

            "Lots of reporters have red noses," I told them.  "None of us dress well

            "And you'd be surprised to know how many editors you can stuff in a phone booth."

            The kids remained dubious.

            "Clowns don't have to sit at a desk," one remarked.

            There's that.

            And we don't get to toss water balloons in the newsroom, either.

            The students who did approach me for a serious chat about newspapers were usually accompanied by a skeptical adult.

            "Exactly how much money does a beginning report make?"  Asked one stern-faced mother of a high school sophomore.

            I told her.

            "Hrrumph," she said, pursing her lips and steering her daughter away.  "Let's check out the clowns."

            I couldn't win.

            "What exactly is the future of newspapers?" asked a computer-savvy mom.  "There will always be birthday parties and circuses, you know."

            How do you argue with that?

            "Can you work your own hours?" asked an eighth-grader.

            "Better go talk to the clown," I replied.

            "Do you get to travel a lot?" asked her friend.

            "Clown table's over there." I pointed.

            "Do you always have someone telling you what to do?" asked one polite boy who said he was sick of people bossing him around.

            "See the clowns," I sighed.

            Funny, before that night I'd never thought of clowning as a career.  But Bobby the Clown was mighty persuasive as he sought a few good graduates to join him to entertain at birthday parties and before the crowds at Harbor Park.

            "It's hard to get good people," Bobby said with a laugh.  "I tell them this is a great job.  You work your own hours.  You make people happy."

            But Bobby saved the best for last.

            "You get to go to all the Tides games."

            As I packed up my gear, I thought about the kids who had passed by our booths that night.

            Oh, to be young enough to peer into the future and ponder:  Clown or Journalist?

            A Metaphor for life.

Virginian Pilot Sept 18, 2008


At work with…….

Bobby Semon

Owner of Bobby the Clown’s Party Animals


     When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I wanted to be a singer but just didn’t have the voice.  So when someone offered me $15 to dress up as a clown at a picnic, I jumped at the offer.  I was 13 then, and I have been clowning every since.

     When the Vietnam War draft started, I had the choice of going to Vietnam or joining the Navy, I chose the Navy and enlisted in April of 1970.  For the next 20 years, I worked as a Navy photographer during tours on Spain and on board the aircraft carrier America and the Guadacanal.  My deployments gave me the opportunity to perform for my fellow sailors and during port calls.  I even got to perform at a school in Greece and at an orphanage in Spain.  As a result, in 1985, the chiefs on board the America gave me an award and a Navy Achievement Medal for boosting ship morale.

     When I retired in 1990, I worked full time as a delivery driver and part time as a clown.  When the delivery gig didn’t work out my wife encouraged me to become a full time clown, so I did.  In 1999 I bought Party Animals, and I have been running the company ever since.

     I’m a comedy white-face clown, in the tradition of Bozo the Clown and Ronald McDonald.  My costume consists of a vest, baggy pants, big shoes and a red nose.  When I’m clowning I’m obnoxious and lit to harass people.  I pick on everybody, including myself, and I like to have fun.  I also do magic tricks, make balloon animals and paint faces.

     I perform at a lot of different events, including almost every Tides home game and the Pungo Strawberry Festival.  My favorite thing to do is probably birthday parties, because they’re up close and personal with the kids and every single one is different.

     I also do a lot of volunteer work for the American Diabetes Association, community organizations because I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to give back as much as you take.

     I run into people who are afraid of clowns all the time.  When that happens I have to gauge whether they’re truly afraid or just looking for attention.  If they’re truly afraid, I leave them alone.  You don’t push yourself onto people who are afraid.  Bit if they’re looking for attention, I usually run over and pick on them.

     Clowning can be a tough business, I’m extremely busy during the summer but get mostly weekend work during the school year.  And During Christmas time, I spend close to four weeks in a Santa costume.  But I rely on my loyal customers who have been hiring me for years.  Some parents even ask me to perform at their kids’ birthday parties because they remember me coming to theirs when they were little.

     I work as a clown because I just love to see the smiles on people’s faces.  They say laughter’s the best medicine, and it’s true.  It just a lot of fun.

     I guess clowning has become somewhat of a family affair.  My son went to Ringling Brothers’ clown school and traveled with the show for a while.  My daughter has also done some clowning for the company.

     My wife likes to say that she’s married to a real clown.  I love what I do and will keep clowning till they put me in the ground.


As told to Pilot writer Kathy Adams