Alums Clown Around At Ringling Bros. Reunion
NPR: rodeo clowns, dancers who dress up like clowns, and clown colleges. So imagine our excitement when we heard that an old friend was going to a clown college reunion. Well, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College graduates include the magician Penn Jillette, actors Bill Irwin and David Strathairn, and our friend Murray Horwitz, a Broadway lyricist and director of the American Film Institute's Silver Theater. He and other clown college alumni are in Baraboo, Wisconsin, this weekend for a reunion. Murray, thanks for being with us.
MURRAY HORWITZ: Thanks, Scott. I'm sorry, I thought you wanted me to talk about dulcimers.
: I mean, do you guys make balloon animals with each other? I mean, what do you do at a clown college reunion?
HORWITZ: That's an awfully personal question, Scott.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HORWITZ: Actually, you know, more than anything else, people are, like, sharing the vibe. I mean, there are a lot of stories, as you can imagine. I was reminded of the time when in Miami in 1972 I was driving the clown car filled with 26 performers and hung it up on a slant wire, and we couldn't do the number. And it's one of the most embarrassing moments of my career.
: What kind of lives have clowns gone onto?
HORWITZ: This is the 40th anniversary year of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. Some people - a lot of people have gone on in performing and in show business, and a lot of people have taken it upon themselves to continue making people laugh in one way or the other. I mean, I think if you're going to be successful as a clown - why has this turned into a serious interview? If you're going to be successful as a clown, it means that you have mastered the art of being yourself. That is making a fool of yourself in front of audiences of thousands of people. And once a clown, always a clown, really. I mean, that's spiritually and intellectually, even, who I am.
: As you know, we're having an unexpectedly serious interview. And is that because clowns, when they get off the makeup, tend to be serious people?
HORWITZ: We're very serious about making people laugh. I mean, it is a cliche, but laughter is a serious business because it's so important to humanity. I think there's a kind of a shared sense if you're a clown that we're the people who understand that most people take life too seriously. But, yes, what we do here - and of course people are swapping stories - probably the most noteworthy session was they actually had a dean's symposium where three former deans of the clown college came and told stories.
: Oh, my gosh. Deans of the clown college?
HORWITZ: That's right.
: I'd give anything for one of those business cards.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HORWITZ: Well, actually, somebody did give me their card. I said, oh, let me get your information. He said, I'll give you my card. And sure enough it was one of those cards that says "My card."
: Murray Horwitz speaking with us from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College reunion in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.