Although the reputation of clowns has dimmed somewhat in recent years due to a rash of creepy clown sightings in 2016 and the controversial 2019 film, The Joker, there’s still a place in society for entertainers that dress up in silly costumes and delight crowds.
Everyone could use a little cheering up sometimes, and booking a clown for a children’s birthday party or another special event is a great way to liven up the atmosphere. Yes, the world needs clowns, and if you have a talent for entertaining people and don’t mind the spotlight, that clown could be you.
In this post, we’ll elaborate on what it takes to become a clown and guide you through all the essential steps of making your clown business a reality. Happy clowning!
Is the clown business right for you?
Many people would love to become clowns, but not all are up to the challenge. It takes a rare breed to build a truly successful clown business, and many have failed along the way. If the following traits apply to you, you may have what it takes to start a clown business.
You have a background in the performing arts
This is the big one: prior experience with performing for crowds in any capacity will make starting a clown business a lot easier. Additionally, being skilled in physical comedy, juggling, miming, acrobatics, or performing magic tricks will go a long way in shaping your act.
You prefer working for yourself and don’t mind working weekends
Unless you opt to work for a big clown agency, rodeo, or become a circus clown, a career as a performing clown allows you to self-manage your business as you see fit. This arrangement is great for folks who like to be their own boss.
However, professional clowns are at the mercy of the gigs they book. Performing at birthday parties and similar events means working a lot of nights and weekends. As long as you are okay with that, then it shouldn’t be an issue.
You don’t mind taking a little abuse from the audience.
Audiences are usually well-behaved and appreciative, for the most part, but there’s always some joker who thinks it’s funny to heckle or troll a clown in the middle of their act.
Being a clown means that you must anticipate this type of behavior and be able to effectively manage untimely interruptions. This can be done by making light jokes at the expense of the heckler or ignoring them altogether. But getting all out of sorts in the face of adversity could derail the act, altogether.
Clown business statistics at-a-glance
- While little hard data on clown salaries exists, Indeed.com reports that the average salary for a performing clown in the United States is $36,000 a year.
- According to the Houston Chronicle, the average rodeo clown earns around $51,000 annually.
- Brad Reason, a performing clown, and Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey Clown College graduates stated in a 2012 Reddit “Ask Me Anything” that clowns working private events can earn anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars a gig. He also wrote that talented clowns may earn several thousand dollars a day by performing on the street.
Starting a clown business
1. Get an education in clowning
While natural talent and a background in high school and/or college performing arts go a long way, most aspirant clowns will want to invest in a full-fledged clown education before setting out to make a name for yourself as a freelance clown.
Here are a few of the most well-respected clown and performing arts schools in the United States:
- Dell’Arte International (Blue Lake, California)
- The Clown School (Los Angeles, California)
- Pig Iron (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- The Clown Camp (La Cross, Wisconsin)
- Circus Center (San Francisco, California)
2. Establish your clown persona
Once you are freshly graduated from clown college, it’s time to work on your clown persona. Will you work in the tradition of the American clown, with a colorful and goofy appearance and a focus on broad, outrageous humor? Or will you adopt a more subdued, European-style clown identity?
The possibilities are limitless. Just try to build your clown persona off of your natural personality and talents. Remember to keep your intended audience in mind, as well: if you intend to work children’s birthday parties perhaps its best not to wear overly outré or morose clown makeup.
3. Develop your clown act
As with your clown character, your clown performance should be a natural extension of your talents, interests, and performing background. Focus on developing a 45-60 minute act of your best material, and don’t try too hard to include routines that are prohibitively difficult for you.
Here are some skills and routines to consider for your act:
- Standup comedy
- Balloon animals
- Practical jokes
- Prop comedy
- Magic tricks
- Pies in the face
4. Calculate your expenses and purchase equipment
One of the best parts of becoming a freelance clown is how affordable it is to sustain the business. As long as you have the talent, you won’t need to spend much money on makeup, props, or other material. Don’t worry about buying a clown car just yet.
The following are some the key investments you’ll need to make for your clown business:
- A clown costume – A fun, unique costume is an important aspect of a clown’s identity: it’s what sets you apart from other clowns. Aspiring clowns have a number of options depending on their budget and skillset, including buying a costume off the rack, having a costume custom made by a tailor, or making the costume by yourself. Your costume shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars and may end up being much less.
- Makeup – Most–but not all–clowns wear a bit of makeup. Experiment a bit before you purchase a ton of stage makeup. Be sure to adopt a look that will hold up when you’re sweating in front of a large group of people.
- Wigs and facial prosthetics – Some clowns prefer to wear outlandish wigs and clown noses, while others do not. It’s entirely up to you. Again, these items are inexpensive.
- Props – Balloons, bowling pins, magician accessories, etc. The props you buy are entirely dependent on the needs of your act, and shouldn’t set you back too much. Most of these types of props can be purchased on Amazon or other online marketplaces.
- Business cards and flyers – Professional-looking business cards with your contact information are a must for a freelance clown business. Pass them out to guests at a gig to spread your name around.
5. Acquire funding, choose a business entity, register your business, and obtain federal and state tax ID numbers
Refer to our How to Start a Business Guide for instructions on how to complete these essential steps.
6. Obtain the necessary licenses and permits
While your municipality might require you to obtain certain permits and licenses to run your clown business, you probably won’t need more than one or two. Generally, clowns are not licensed by the state, and there’s no standard “clown license” that performers must get. This is another benefit of starting a clown business compared to other types of businesses.
- General business license – Although it may not be required where you do business, getting a general business license is always a good idea for tax purposes.
- Street Performer/Pedder’s Permit – If you plan on moonlighting as a street performer to make an extra buck, it may be legally necessary to acquire a street performer’s or peddler’s permit from your local city hall. This type of permit is usually inexpensive: about $100 or so.
7. Buy insurance coverage
Believe it or not, even professional clowns may need to take out one or more forms of insurance. In fact, successful freelance clowns usually have liability insurance in case of something going wrong during a performance.
Here are the forms of insurance you should consider:
Required forms of insurance for all business with employees
If your clown business grows to include additional employees, it pays to take out the following types of insurance for protection:
- Workers’ compensation: Covers medical costs and disability benefits if an employee is injured or becomes ill on the job.
- Unemployment insurance: Provides benefits to workers after a loss of job through no personal fault.
Recommended form of insurance for all clown businesses:
- Professional liability insurance: Covers losses as a result of property damage, injury, libel, slander, and negligence claims.
8. Market your clown business
No business can thrive without local advertisements and a well-established online presence, and these steps are particularly important for a freelance clown to spread the word about their act.
Here are the key steps for promoting your clown business:
- Create a website. Register a domain name for a company website (You can use domain.com, Bluehost, GoDaddy.com, or Namecheap.com). Hire a web designer to develop the website (or do it yourself). Be sure to include detailed contact information on the site.
- Open social media accounts. Register accounts on the popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Register a Google profile. This will allow you to add pictures of your business, respond to positive customer reviews, and address customer concerns.
- Respond to online customer feedback. Register accounts on business review platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. This will allow you to write thank-you notes in response to glowing reviews and address negative reviews.
- Take out ads on billboards and in local publications. It still pays to increase visibility by buying ads in local newspapers and on highway billboards.
Clown business resources
- Just for Clowns – A website with news, resources, and educational material for professional clowns of all persuasions.
- Clowns Without Borders USA – A wonderful organization that sends performers to areas experiencing conflict, refugee camps, natural disaster zones, and other places where folks are in desperate need of a laugh.
- Clown Antics – An online clown supplies store with a large selection of stage makeup, wigs, balloons, and other essential clowning accessories.
- Clowns International – The oldest clown organization in existence. Founded back in 1947.