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October 02, 1977 - Image 12

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Michigan Daily, 1977-10-02
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I I , - -1 , , I

Page 4-Sunday, October 2, 1977-The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily--Sun(

knew she was dying but there was this bittersweet
happiness. She was a happy little girl.
"Later she came looking for me after the show,"
how recalls. I cried then and it's tough to talk
it now."
"Somehow, just her saying 'You're my favorite
clown' meant a lot to me." .
Moments like that must provide Carlyon with an
emotional respite from the often taxing schedule
faced by circus performers. Carlyon says he
makes about a dozen appearances during each
circus performance, and his weekly labor tips the
fifty hour scale. Some lawyers don't work that
hard. Two consecutive days off,,-he says, is a
rarity. And Ringling members take in 45 cities
during the course of a year, negotiating those
thousands of miles by rail.
What's more, Carlyon says its difficult to shake
an illness when traveling with the circus because
the performers and animals are in constant closed
quarters on the train. Germs, too. The whole thing
took a lot of adjustment, he says.
Still, Carlyon says he's amazed that despite all,
the 350 employes manage to give crowds across
the country consistently tip-top performances.
"I sound like a promo hype, but it's good solid
entertainment. There's a lot of skill involved," he
says. "There's something about it-that show af-
ter show, the people get a good show. You won't
get the same 100 per cent every time, but you get
pretty close."
Which isn't too say that each performer always
approaches 100 per cent. Just like basketball
players and law school students, Carlyon assures
that clowns are not immune to their periodic

Just a couple a
found himself in,
is when "I swear
is funny and I'm :
by being here."
"But I was tall
was coming out
"and to cap it of
was waiting to co
standing there, an
couple of young'i
me, so I raised m:
"And for some i
she poked her fri
minutes while I v
with a blank exp
eyebrows every c
cracked up."
Just how long
people up is unce
contracts to perf
Carlyon won't ma
knows if his contr.
Someday, he sa
"The law is ou
the man with the I
and degrees fror
Clown College of
doing this."
And if Dave Ca
what would it be?
an Emmet Kelly?
No way. "An N
Yes, Dave Carly

DAVE CARLYON is running around with
two big slices of foam rubber bread, trip-
ping over balloon-sized shoes and thrusting
his nose into the face of a bewildered little boy
whose mouth is filled with pink clouds of cotton
candy. "Hey, kid, wanna be in my sandwich?" he
inquiries, wiggling painted eyebrows which sit
above his bulbous, red schnozz. He then gently
places the bread on either side of the kid's head
like so much lunchmeat, and is off again on his
motley way, smiling and stumbling and searching
for other human sandwich fillings.
If that's not enough, Dave Carlyon also rides
piggy back on hulking, grey elephants and chases
an orange Datsun around a track, threatening its
windshield with a wrench.
It's hardly the type of behavior one might expect
from the well-spokenson of a college president,
whose clean-cut face appeared in the 1971
Michiganensian as an American Studies major
and who later completed three years of law
training at Berkeley before passing his bar exams.
But Dave Carlyon has a valid excuse for such
nonsense. He's a clown.
"You could say I'm the only clown getting paid
for being a clown who graduated from Michigan,"
cracked Carlyon, who dons his tattered garb for
Ringling Brothers.
At 28, Carlyon needn't be slipping his slender
frame into rainbow striped pants ten sizes too big
for him. Nor need he be toting his big slices of
foam rubber bread into every arena between here
and Omaha. Simply put, Dave Carlyon needn't be
living the hectic, hit-the-road life of the beloved
circus nebbish-whose antics Carlyon himself
equates in hilarity with "elephants defecating."
Rather, Carlyon says he could be working now
at a law firm-where he'd be able to trade his
baggy pants for pinstripes and the bread for an at-
tache case.
But for the moment Carlyon is content with the
nine mohths he has spent with Ringling
Brothers-the circus troupe which has lost little
luster after 106 years of three-ring entertainment.
Despite the physical demands of cross country
travel and strenuous clown routines, Carlyon says
it's an interesting, varied life-a learning experi-
ence, too.
What's more, he says clowning provides the op-
r -rtunity to shed the mild-mannered demeanor
which he claims is representative of the real, out-
of-makeup Dave Carlyon.
"I've never been the class clown or anything,"

he says. "In fact, I'm generally considered a
very quiet person. But inside, there's a bunch of
A grey Michigan T-shirt complementing his
floppy green and purple tie, Carlyon seems
anything but clownish as he lounges back after a
recent performance at Detroit's Olympia
Stadium. Behind the red and white paint and
shaggy orange wig is a serious minded man who
commands enough insight to professionally link
the lawyer and the clown--at first an absurd
proposition. Ask Carlyon why he'll jot "Clown"
on his resume, and he'll tell you that "the perfor-
ming experience is valuable if I plan to practice
courtroom law."
And "simply being in front of people and falling
on your face-not in a clowning way, but bom-
bing-is good for your inner self," Carlyon con-
tinues. A learning experience, so to speak. Good
for a lawyer's character.
But when Carlyon steps on the arena floor, he
blocks his law ambitions from his mind. Fueled by
the howling audience and surrounded by shapely,
sequinned chorus girls, lithe trapezists and in-
S credibly tame polar bears, Carlyon becomes the
classic ne'er-do-well-the gangly, bungling bub-
blehead whose appeal cuts across all generations
of circus fans.
C ARLYON, though,. followed a circuitous
route before landing under the lights at
Ringling Brothers. A Bay City native whose
father is president of Delta College there, Carlyon
peppered his study at Michigan with slapstick per-
formances in Musket and Uie Ann Arbor Civic
While at the University, he had also heard of a
clown school in Venice, Fla., where in two months
students learned to apply make-up, sew their
costumes, -and otherwise be clowns. But Carlyon
had little time to contemplate clown school. After
graduation he was whipped up by the draft and
spent two years near Philadelphia, where he not
only fulfilled his service obligation but did a little
dinner theater on the side. Berkeley Law followed..
In between all that,Carlyon found time to tutor,
fight forest fires and pursue his long standing in-
fatuation with basketball.
' Last year Carlyon-studied hard for the Califor-
nia bar exams and passed. An accredited lawyer,
he looked to the future. Then he recalled the clown
"For some reason," says Carlyon, "it struck me
as an eminently reasonable idea, to use a little
lawyer language."
Never a circus enthusiast, and not particularly
sure why he wanted to join the circus, Carlyon
sent in his application. Of 3,500 applicants, he was
one of 50' selected. Two months of clown
preparation, and Carlyon signed a one-year con-
tract with Ringling Brothers.
He thought it absolutely hilarious.
- "I was in rehearsals last January down in


y Jay Levi


"Images don 't fill you.
People do. It's walking
out the back door and the
first little kid you come to
is standing there waving
and saying 'Hi, Mr.
Clown 'in a way that
every little kid has said it
for 350 performances.'

Levin is Co

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