Sunday, October 27, 2002

Clowns live on laughs

Couple finds true love under the rainbow wigs and red rubber noses

By Laura Baverman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MILFORD - Look at your life minus the 40-hour, five-day-a-week job, the insurance plan and weekly paycheck.

[photo] Ruth Schoner and Peter Lansing are fulltime clowns at the Texas Roadhouse in Hamilton.
(Stephen M. Herppich photos)
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Now add a bright, multicolored wig, some face paint, a large red nose and a tip jar and you've got Peter Lansing and Ruth Schoner, who bill themselves one of the few full-time clown couples in the Cincinnati area.

Every evening about 4:30 p.m., Mr. Lansing and Ms. Schoner become Paddy the Clown and Daffy O'Dill. They travel from their home to one of seven different restaurants each night of the week and perform magic tricks, paint faces and make balloon creatures for area kids and their parents.

[photo] Waitress Jennifer Vollmer takes an order as Peter Lansing makes balloon hats for the kids.
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They make people happy for a living. They make people smile.

But the result is a fluctuating income, high insurance rates and little free time.

Restaurants pay the couple enough to cover their transportation and supplies. The rest, such as living expenses, insurance fees and money for investment, must be earned from tips.

"It was a scary thing to go from a 40-hour-per-week job to a tip job where money fluctuates day to day. It took me a long time to do that. I couldn't let loose of that regular paycheck," Ms. Schoner said.

The two wouldn't discuss their income, but they said weekend crowds are the best tippers.

Ms. Schoner, 43, left her job as a meat clerk at Kroger to become a full-time clown. Before that, she had spent 20 years as a factory worker at New Creative Enterprises.

Paul "Fuddi-Duddy" Kleinberger, the executive vice president of Clowns of America International, says there are 6,000 members of his organization worldwide. The International Shrine Clown Association has about 5,000 members, president Richard Cain said. The World Clown Association includes 3,500 members. Mr. Kleinberger is not sure how many members are cross-members of the organizations. The groups also do not account for independent clowns who are not members of one of these organizations.

The annual International Clown Hall of Fame induction, which occurs Nov. 8-9 in Atlanta, includes clowns from all three of the major organizations.

Ohio has its own full-time clown school, The Ohio Clown College, in Akron. Founded in 1989, it has graduated 85 clowns throughout its existence.

Eight students are now enrolled in the 30-week program. The program emphasizes the importance of broad physical comedy rather than balloons and face painting. It prepares them for performance at fairs or festivals, parades, store openings, conventions or birthday parties. Open to students 16 or older, classes run September to April annually.

Tuition is $400 a year with additional costuming costs. For more information on the school, contact Headmaster Bob "Rufus D. Dufus" Kreidler at or (800) 497-3236.

Clowning has been around for thousands of years beginning with court jesters in Egypt's Fifth Dynasty around the year 2500 B.C. These early clowns were the only members of society given the ability to speak out against the ruler and effect policy changes.

The first known circus clown was Billy Buttons in England in 1768. His act was titled "Tailor's Ride to Brentford," in which he made a fake voyage on horseback to Brentford to vote in an election. He never made the voyage because he had difficulty mounting the horse and then staying on it. His act was imitated at circuses for more than 100 years, and variations can still be seen in circuses today.

Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) became known as the father of modern clowning to through his introduction of the white face clown and his theatrical chase scenes.

Amelia Butler was the first recognizable female clown in 1858. In the past, all clowns had been unisex.

There are three types of clowns: the white face, the auguste and the tramp.

The white face clown is the oldest clown type, traditionally known as the most intelligent of the clowns. He is the ringleader who has very many different emotions. The grotesque version of the white face clown is more buffoonish, wearing mismatched, outlandish clothing.

The auguste clown is typically the least intelligent clown but also the most beloved. This type wears less make-up with more emphasis on exaggerating the facial features. He usually wears oversized clothing and a red nose.

The tramp clown has a "down on his luck" approach to life. His costume is tattered and torn but clean. The hobo version of this clown wears the same dress but is more confident that everything will turn out all right.

Where Peter Lansing and Ruth Schoner do their clowning around:
Sundays: Texas Roadhouse, Milford, noon-5 p.m.
Mondays: Fuddruckers, Rookwood Pavilion, 5-9 p.m.
Tuesdays: (Paddy and Daffy rotate): Roadhouse Grill, West Chester, 5-9 p.m.
Tuesdays: (Paddy and Daffy rotate): Roadhouse Grill, Milford, 5-9 p.m.
Wednesdays: Texas Roadhouse, Hamilton, 5-9 p.m.
Thursdays: Fuddruckers, Fields-Ertel, 5-9 p.m.
Fridays: Fuddruckers, Forest Park, 5-9 p.m.
Saturdays: Fuddruckers, Turfway, 5-9 p.m.
For face painting (FDA-approved), clowns, magic and balloon animals for parties, events or gatherings, call Peter Lansing at (513) 831-1198.
When she and Mr. Lansing met about seven years ago, Ms. Schoner urged him to consider clowning as a profession.

She had learned basic clowning skills such as face painting when she accompanied her 10-year-old niece to clowning lessons more than 10 years earlier.

"I caught the bug, and she didn't," Ms. Schoner said.

Her sister, Marie Kaetzel, knew clowning "was always on the back burner" for Ms. Schoner.

When Ms. Schoner urged Mr. Lansing to take some lessons a couple years after they met, clowning started to become a reality for her as well.

"She dragged me into it kicking and screaming," Mr. Lansing said.

However, he agreed to try it. He went to Dayton and took an eight-hour lesson from a professional balloon artist.

"At the end of the day, I swore I couldn't do it," he said.

"But a week later, I was doing it, and I loved it."

Mr. Lansing made a living as a mechanical designer for Designeers until age 50 and then began a painting contracting business for several years.

He clowned as a side job for a while before giving up his business three years ago to pursue clowning full-time.

Mr. Lansing attributes his love for clowning to regrets of his past.

During his years in his career, he spent little time with his six children, handing over his wallet rather than his love, he said.

"I spent so much time making money that I was a bum of a father."

For Mr. Lansing's act, he dresses as a tramp or hobo clown because he feels he failed as a father to his children.

He hopes that the metaphor of his dress urges parents of the children he entertains to pay attention and show love to their children.

"Take time with the children 'cause you will never see them at that age again. I missed that with my children," he said.

"I'm now 58. I should have seen them when I was 30," he said.

Two years ago, Mr. Lansing and Ms. Schoner began traveling to area restaurants, clowning as a team.

Mr. Lansing travels to the tables performing magic tricks and creating balloon figures while Ms. Schoner mans a booth painting faces.

Employees of Texas Roadhouse in Hamilton, where the couple clowns Wednesday nights, said the two have quite a following.

"Parents bring their kids on Wednesday nights. They are disappointed they come in only once a week," hostess Sarah Edens of Trenton said.

Jason Meiner, an assistant manager at the restaurant, has noticed a big increase in the number of families dining in the restaurant Wednesdays.

"I like it when they come in on Wednesday nights because it starts the weekend for us," he said.

Middletown residents Bill and Hazel Wilson and their 8-year-old daughter, Samantha, spend every Wednesday night at Texas Roadhouse.

"Samantha can't wait for Wednesdays. The food is great, but we mainly come in for them," Hazel Wilson said.

"I think it's great to be able to fulfill their dreams like that and make the kids happy. It takes a lot," she said.

This particular night, the Wilsons celebrated Hazel's birthday. Paddy the Clown participated by creating a 3-foot-tall balloon hat for her to wear during the meal.

Mr. Lansing and Ms. Schoner have a special relationship with the Wilsons.

A few months ago when Ms. Schoner missed a week because of a family emergency, Samantha brought her flowers the day she returned.

"Those are the kind of people that make clowning `Wow,' " Mr. Lansing said.

"I've had jobs that paid a lot of money in my life, but I've never been paid like that," he said.

The couple reaches out to all ages in their career. Using lessons on dealing with frightened children from clown conventions, Mr. Lansing approaches 3-year-old Tyler Ewen by measuring his head for a hat and pulling away if the boy appears apprehensive.

The Ewens are also Wednesday night regulars at the restaurant.

"He'll ask, `Are we going to the clown place?' " father Brandon of Hamilton said.

Adults also enjoy the atmosphere.

"It adds a little excitement to the place," Bill Burkhardt of Wilmington said.

Ms. Kaetzel says the couple works so well together because they distinguish their roles at work.

"Peter is the one that goes into the limelight. He balances them out. He does the publicity, and she does the back work," she said.

The only problem Ms. Kaetzel sees with their chosen career is their struggle to keep their commitments. They have too much business, she said.

"A year ago, I would not have thought they'd have that problem," she said.

While she is amazed the two have gotten by on such a small income, she isn't surprised because she knows how much they enjoy themselves clowning.

"When you've found your niche, things just fall into place," she said.

"Truth be told, I think I'm a bit jealous 'cause she has so much fun doing what she does."

Mr. Lansing and Ms. Schoner say they'll continue clowning until they can't do it anymore.

"If I have a stroke and I'm in a wheelchair, someone will paint on my face, and I'll be out there," Mr. Lansing said.

While they know their living must be simple, they feel the benefits of their career far outweigh the financial difficulties.

"Are we gonna get rich? No. Are we gonna be happy? Yes," Mr. Lansing said.

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