If you want to work as a professional clown, you’ll normally find there are surprisingly few licenses or permission requirements. In addition, with no college requirements for becoming a clown, this is an accessible career option for anyone who is outgoing and can act. While many aspiring clowns find it helpful to attend clown college or school, it’s not necessary and anyone can call themselves a clown.
In fact, if you want to work as a clown, you can do so with no training or clown school needed. However, if you want to perform music you did not write, unless they are in the public domain, you’ll need a public performance license. However, in almost every case, this is handled by the institution you’re performing at. In addition, you might find it easier to work as a clown if you have some training, learn your character and routine, and possibly have makeup or body paint training. You can get this from most clown schools and from theater and performance schools or workshops. You might also choose to seek out more formal education, in the form of an Associate or bachelor’s degree in visual and Performing Arts or Theater Arts. However, both of these degrees are geared towards theater and film work, not working as a clown.
How to Become a Professional Clown
If you want to work as a clown, you can do so. There are no formal or strict requirements as to who can and who cannot work as a clown. In fact, for modern performances, you won’t even always need a costume or face paint. However, if you want to work as an entertainer at parties or at schools, you’ll want to look as well as act the part.
In most cases that means establishing a character, building a routine or act, putting together a costume, and learning how to entertain people. For many, being a clown also means dealing with crowds and managing them. For example, for children’s entertainers, how do you manage when young children are afraid of people being loud and colorful? Can you respond to the audience and play reactions in a way that leaves a shy child with a positive experience? Or will you build the tools to create dialogue and respond to individual people reacting to you differently in the crowd.
Essentially, while there are no formal requirements for being a clown, you might have a lot to learn. That might include costuming, character work, routines, cabaret, or managing the crowd. It might be some of everything. But, it does mean that you want to invest time, energy, and some money into being a professional clown.
Creating a Character
Most professional clowns create a single character to act out. The clown has a personality, motivations, goals, and a backstory – all of which motivate his or her act. Most professional clowns also stick to a single clown persona over the course of their career. You don’t have to. In fact, you can have any persona you want, and you can swap them. However, the idea is often that you create a character and build on it over time. You can do so in whatever fashion you want.
However, building your clown’s persona should involve investment and deciding a personality and sticking to it. That will allow you to build multiple routines or acts around the same character and to develop your character over time. The important thing is that your clown has a personality and a name – which allows you to be more convincing with your act and more human at your audience.
Learn Costuming and Makeup
Clown costuming and makeup isn’t as important as it might have been 40 or 50 years ago. It’s possible to create a clown routine around an act of over-the-top and slapstick humor with minimal makeup or costuming. However, clowns are characterized by over-the-top costuming with a flamboyant mode of dress and makeup.
Clown costumes can be expensive, so it’s always possible to start your costume out small and improve it over time. Costume variations like floppy shoes, rubber noses, colorful wigs, and makeup are all extremely popular. You can combine them in whatever way you want.
You can also learn how to do face paint and greasepaint online via websites like YouTube, via articles like the World Clown Association, or from clown school. Most clown college options will also allow you to learn different aspects of clown design, what they mean, and why. This should help you with putting together a cohesive character that makes sense with both costuming and personality.
Colorful and flamboyant clothing is also optional. There are many famously sad and drab clowns, like the famous Emmet Kelley. However, if you want to entertain at birthday parties or for children, you’ll often find that a traditional or happy clown might go over better.
Create a Routine
A routine is an act made up of skits, jokes, physical comedy, and sometimes music. If you are performing licensed music, you can’t actually perform legally unless you or the venue has a performing license. This means the artist or company that holds the license for the music will receive some repayment for you using their music. Because performance licenses are most often held by venues and businesses, it can be tricky to get one as a clown. However, this does mean that using popular music in your routine can cause copyright infringement issues. In most cases, you’re better off sticking to copyright free and public domain music or writing your own.
Clowns can utilize nearly any type of humor in their routines. This might be:
- Cabaret, which involves music, song, dance, and drama
- Storytelling, for comedic effect
- Jokes, puns, and wordplay
- Physical humor such as slapstick and pantomime
- Personality – Many clowns use simple interaction from the perspective of an exaggerated personality to entertain. This is highly effective especially when working as a children’s entertainer.
In every case, your routine should be replicable, memorable, and it should set the audience up for interaction and for laughter. In most cases, you want to build a scene and then create transition phases in between each – so that your audience is moved seamlessly from one scene to the next. Your routine, or your day spent being a clown, should never appear to be disjointed or made up of different elements.
Whether you’re walking around a party being a character or standing on a stage with all eyes on you, you have to move seamlessly between one part of the act and the next. That requires planning, setup, and practice.
Set up a Business
In any case, where you start working as a self-employed or freelance person, you legally have to register a business by October of that tax year. This process is straightforward and affordable in every state.
Here, most clowns choose either a Sole Proprietorship or a Limited Liability Corporation. There are pros and cons to each, but the Sole Proprietorship reduces the complexity of taxes, especially if you’re not earning a great deal. On the other hand, the LLC limits risk and risk to your private assets. For example, if you go into business with someone else, want to protect your home or car in case of being sued by a client, or otherwise wanting to keep private and work finances separate.
However, you may want to discuss your options with an accountant or with a business consultant before making your decision. For most small and private entertainers, a sole proprietorship is the option of choice. On the other hand, if you intend to scale up, potentially hire other clowns, or have a larger act, an LLC might be a better choice. You can check the U.S. Small Business Administration for more information.
- A valid ID
- A taxpayer number or ID (E.g., your SSN)
- Proof of business insurance (the World Clown Association provides specific clown insurance, you can also get performers insurance from many traditional business insurance companies)
- A business name, which you should register with your local state business authority
- A federal registration for Tax ID purposes (this may not be necessary for a Sole Proprietorship) or if you do not intend to work with partners or employees
- The registration fee for the state. Unfortunately, this varies per state and usually ranges between $40 and $500.
Luckily, you only have to register your business before October of the first year you start performing. This gives the state enough time to process your business before the end of the tax year. However, you are liable for taxes on all work performed even before you register your business.
Consider Joining a Professional Organization
There are several organizations you can join to help you on your way to becoming a professional clown. For example, the now-defunct American Clown Association re-formed as the World Clown Association. This organization offers numerous benefits to clowns and prospective clowns.
For example, the WCA offers a yearly convention with education, demonstrations, talks, and networking. It also offers a scholarship to approved clown schools and colleges. If you’re concerned about how difficult it might be to get into clown school, the WCA can help. For example, its Bo-Dino Scholarship offers up to $500 towards a clown education at organizations like:
- American Clown Academy
- Arizona Fire & Burn Educators
- Celebration Barn
- Clown Camp
- Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp
- New York Goofs
- Next Step
- TNT University
The scholarship is only available to members who have been in good standing for at least two years before application. However, the WCA offers plenty of other benefits including insurance, conventions, education articles, and networking. All of that can help you to build your career as a professional clown.
There are no formal requirements for being a clown. However, if you are earning money as a clown, you are required to register your business in the state(s) where you are performing and being paid. This is a requirement in every state in the United States.
In addition, while there are no formal requirements to be a clown, you obviously want to learn and develop the skillset to be a good performer. That means managing your audience, acting well, understanding characters and roles, and using different types of humor in ways that entertain.
How Much Do Clowns Make?
Clowns range from freelancers and party entertainers to full-time and employed persons in prestigious roles at circuses. This means the average clown salary can vary significantly. If you’re just starting out you’re likely to do so as a gig worker. This means your salary depends on your networking and marketing skills. You’ll also have to make decisions like whether you want to be paid an hourly rate or day a rate.
An average salary for a clown varies between $35,000 and $86,000. The bottom earnings are a self-employed person working full time and the top is a circus clown in a prestigious position. That works out to a median of $52,500 per year. In most cases, you can expect your actual salary to be much lower. For example, you’ll probably work for yourself. This means you’ll have to cover insurance, training, costumes, transportation, and makeup yourself. However, all of it will be tax deductible.
What can you charge for working as a clown? Rates usually start out at around $15 per hour and go up to well over $150. Your rates should depend on demand, your availability, and your skills. Using a day rate or half day rate to ensure you cover travel costs and being unable to work other gigs that day may also be important for making your work as a clown sustainable.
Benefits of a Clown Career
Clowns are usually people who like to entertain, who like to make people laugh, and who personally take joy in physical and slapstick comedy. Working as a clown gives you plenty of perks. For example:
- You work for yourself and only when you want.
- Clowns have a high-reward career in that your job is literally to make people happy.
- You get to work in diverse environments.
- Practicing and improving your craft and your routine is part of the job so you always have challenges.
- Many people enjoy the challenge of managing crowds and helping people to have fun, even when they’re uncertain at first.
Eventually, anyone who works as a clown is likely to have a calling for the career. So, the biggest benefit of working as a clown is always that you get to work in a career doing something you love.
If you want to work as a professional clown, there are plenty of opportunities. While clown careers don’t require any licensing or special requirements other than registering a business, they do require education, planning, and a good understanding of entertainment. In addition, you’ll have to manage your work, bookings, schedule, and travel. Working for yourself always means taking on a lot of work. At the same time, it can be a rewarding career option, whether you opt to entertain children at birthday parties or eventually aim to move into circus or theater work.