“Well my husband’s name is Billy Gumbo, and we have Starla, Pickles, Bloopers, Suzie and Sunshine are real- we had a Sunshine the Clown, we have a Suzie Sunshine, we had a Scrap, we’ve got a Scrappy,” says Donna Wilinski as she lists of the clowns of Clown Alley 44 in Kalamazoo.
Clown Alley 44 is part of Clowns of America International—the Mecca of clowns. It aims to unite clowns and educate them on the history and art of clowning. Within COAI, the United States is broken up into different regions. Each has their own “Alleys”. That’s where Clown Alley 44 comes in. The word “Alley” comes from the French word “Aller,” which means “to go.”
“Aller, is what they would say to the group of clowns, in the European circuses, ‘Aller vous, Aller!’ you know, which is ‘go, get out there’ and they’d chase the clowns out in the ring when it was time for them to sort of burst on the scene," says Wilinski. "So we keep that tradition and we call ourselves an alley.”
Wilinski, or as other clowns know her, M.T. Pockets, is the Vice President of Clown Alley 44. Clowning classes aside, M.T. Pockets says there are a few things that are essential to being a jovial jokester.
“I think you have to be naturally predisposed to being a clown, you have to have an optimistic spirit, a lightheartedness, a happiness, and I think a good solid I don’t know, foundation for your personality,” she says.
You also can’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. Here’s Anna Wilinski, aka Clash the Clown.
“You know you have to be willing to have everybody staring at you, and looking at you, and you have to be willing to take on which I think is the biggest task and the hardest part is, to try to be present with the kids that are in front of you, and they expect you to be funny. And sometimes you wake up in the morning and you’re not feeling very funny, but once you see a whole bunch of kids just get the first glimpse at you with your red nose on and big wig and they all start giggling and laughing, you kind of loosen up.”
Some people are afraid of clowns. It might be their wide grins, their exuberant attitudes, or their somewhat eccentric face paint. But Clash finds, in her day to day, that not too many people have the fear.
“If I go to a party and there’s fifty people there, there might be one dad that’s scared of clowns that stays in the corner, or if I come to a party there might be one kid that’s two years old and gets a little nervous or cries when they first see me, but then after about ten minutes if I stay away and they watch from a distance, they know that I’m nice, and safe,” she says.
Clowns can be spotted painting faces at parties, or doing funny jigs in parades, but the clowns at Clown Alley 44 do something a little bit different. They’ve been visiting senior care facilities in Kalamazoo for about nine years.
There are so many things that clowns could say they love about what they do. Some might say twisting balloons. Others, tossing candy into crowds. But Clash loves being a part of the lives of Kalamazoo’s youth.
“You get to really feel like you’re a part of these little kids’ lives," says Clash. "And they tell you later on how happy they were when they got to get their face painted, and they never wanted to wash it off, or they have your picture still on their refrigerator, and so, being a clown really gives you an opportunity to create another little community with the kids around here, and just know that you’re one of the happy moments in their life.”
M.T Pockets and Clash are just two of the many clowns at Clown Alley 44.